5 More Things I Learned as a First Year Teacher - Part 2

1 - Balance, Balance, Balance

Honest it's not a swear word but it is hard to do - very hard, especially when we are just starting out. 

We so want everything to be perfect, we want to cross all our t's and dot all our i's, perfect lesson plans, perfect classroom and so on and so on.

It is so easy to be at school at the crack of dawn and be the last one to go home, and of course you take your computer home too and work on it until bedtime.  

Of course because you have had no down before we go to bed, your head is spinning, coming up with ideas, thinking how we could have done something better, been a better teacher and so on and so on.

But here is a reality check 

- it doesn't make you a better teacher - 

Actually it makes you a burnt out teacher that catches every illness going around and then some.  It can leave you wondering at the end of 6 months why on earth you became a teacher.

Was I doing it this way - you bet yah - was I any more effective because I was - nope. 

Actually I spent the first 7 months of the year sick (I contracted bacterial tonsillitis that kept coming back and it's hard to teach when it feels like you have no air passage).  

It was at the beginning of term 3 before I came up with a better plan.

I like getting up early (and staying up late - I'm a night owl and early bird kinda gal), so I would be at work about 7am which gave me an hour of prep time before the odd kiddo started to arrive and 2 hours before the start of school.  After school I would stay until around 4-4.30 (staff meeting dependent) and I would go home, but I would go home without my computer - no school work - nothing (except during report writing time).  On Fridays I would stay late if my planning wasn't finished (but normally it was) so that I wasn't taking work home on the weekends either.  This meant I had recharge time, research time, me time, idea thinking time - you get the idea.  If I wanted to work on a concept for school I could but there was no pressure.

By using my time smarter I was getting more things done and actually able to go home and it made term 3 & 4 much better trust me.  It's all about finding what works for you.  Finding systems that work for you and allows you to use your time to it's best.

*Focusing on one job at a time for 20 minutes can produce amazing results and you can get so much done - you'd be surprised.

*Batching tasks together like planning your photocopying for the week and getting it done in one go then file ready to grab, can save you so many trips.

2 - An Emergency Kit

Keep an emergency kit and no I don't mean a first aid kit.  This is a box or a draw or a cupboard in your room (hopefully that the kiddo's cannot get into) that can be your go to place when things go wrong.

You want some snacks (e.g. snack bars, nuts, chocolate what ever makes you happy) for those days you either just don't get to sit down and eat or you run low on energy.  Plasters just for you (you know the ones that don't have the latest Disney character on them).  

Nail clippers, toothbrush and toothpaste in a bag can be a life saver on those days you just know you ate the wrong thing at lunch when you now have to be up close with kiddo's. 

Socks can be handy when you are caught out on a cold day or you ended up in that puddle that has just soaked through your shoes so they are gross to wear.  On that note keeping a spare jacket or warm top is handy too, the whether can change quickly and you don't want to be caught out on duty with no coat or cold and no jacket.  

Then there are the obvious things like a hair brush (I mean after duty hair can be a bit wild), spare hair tie if you have long hair.  I have heard it's even a good idea especially if you are in juniors to have a spare top cause you never know when a child may be sick on you or you get covered in paint (thankfully neither have happened to me......yet).

3 - Sense of Humor 

Honestly you need more than anything a good sense of humor and be able to let things go (which is hard).  There are days when you are sure each and every child in your class has been possessed by a monster (p.s. check for a full moon on those days) and nothing seems to go right.  But it can just be one day, you need to learn to let it go and move on and most importantly treat the next day as a new day.

You also need to learn to laugh, laugh and their antics (not in front of them if they are playing up), at yourself for your mistakes, at the jokes the kids try and do.

Some days both of these things are easier to do than others - some days it seems near impossible.  But you need to find a way to shake those days off and not let them get on top of you.  

Whether you love the gym, a walk, yoga or a glass of wine, find time for yourself and breathe, relax and as Taylor Swift would say "Shake it off".

4 - Talking to Parents

I think this is almost the scariest part of the job (even for more experienced teachers), you just don't know what you are going to get when you talk to a parent - especially if they have requested to see you.

Parents come in all shapes and sizes of attitude and approach when it comes to talking about their child.   

They range from parents who believe with all their heart that their child can do no wrong and therefore it is always someone else's fault, too parents who believe their child can do no right.  

If you are lucky you get the parent in the middle, who knows their little darling can be a fault and is willing to listen and work with you to support encourage and ensure their child is the best they can be.

There is actually no easy answer for this one, you literally just have to suck it up and speak to parents.  What I have found is the more you get to talk to a parent about how well their child is doing, the more they are going to listen to you if something has gone wrong - it removes the 'you've got it in for my child attitude' and you have more chance of getting home help.  It doesn't always work but it can help.

Different schools have different approaches when it comes to this so you do need to establish what your school expects of you in regards to contact with parents.  One approach I read about and started at the end of last year (and will be continuing with) is sending home positive notes. I made up a few templates which I printed on colored paper and keep in a draw, then once or twice a week I make a point of sending a note home that they can show their parents.   Now I would point out I teach 5 & 6 year olds so this does have a lot of currency with them, but older children love being able to experience this too.  If you would like to give the notes a try just click on this link HERE and it will take you to a Dropbox download.  I also ensure that all my kiddo's get a note at some point.

For some children you do need to work harder to find the reason, and sometimes that reason is small, but that's okay as long as you can find a reason, but remember that child is often the child who needs that note more than anyone else in your class....so look hard for a reason.

5 - Discipline

You cannot wing this.  

You must have it clear in your own mind what you are going to do and handle situations. You have been in classrooms, you have seen the sorts of things kids do and the sorts of things you don't like, so be clear in your own mind how you are going to handle it.  Also be transparent with your class, set clear expectations and consequences when it comes to negative behavior, so they know what to expect as well.

Be familiar with your school's expectations when it comes to dealing with bad behavior (and what they consider to be bad behavior), some schools have better plans in place than others, some even have it written down - read it!  

Talk to your team leader, mentor teacher etc about their methods and expectations.  But most importantly, have it clear in your own mind (gee I think I said that already).

You can adjust it, nothing is set in stone - but if you adjust it, let the class know.  

You will come across behavior that you hadn't planned on (there will be those sorts of classes), it's okay to come up with a plan for next time (and hope there isn't a next time). 

But if you are going to have consequences be consistent and be consistent with all the students in your class.  

You maybe used to 'Mary' always doing xyz so she has to have the consequence, but if 'Jan' suddenly does the same behavior out of the blue you can't ignore it, she has to have the same consequences.

I know right now you are reading this and going - well that's obvious, tell me something I don't know.   

But you know what, when you are in that class and you see one of your normally good kids act up it's easy to over look it cause normally they are good, but the 'Mary's' of the world see that and they know it's unfair and it can lead to bigger problems.

They say it takes 20 positive comments to undo one negative comment.  So please, please, please choose your words carefully.  Never say 'you always...' 'you never....'  and before you think teachers don't do that - yes they do.  I observed a teacher last year berating the students on the mat as they were not listening, they were over it, they were tired, but she had a lesson to teach.  So she picked on a few students named them and said "...you are always talking and never listening",  and ".....you are always making the wrong decisions" 

Yup, that's the sorts of things she was saying, I don't think she even realized what she was saying, she was just so frustrated with the class,  and I honestly think if she heard herself she would have been mortified. 

Time out zones are a good idea - they don't have to be horrible sit in the corner, facing the wall, sort of time outs, they can be sitting in a chair with a relaxation/thinker timer or a calm down jar.  Time out can be as much for you as it can be for the child (give you a chance to calm down too).  Don't call it a time out spot, call it a 'Thinking Spot' cause you want the child to think about what they have done.

I tried to always make a time to talk to the child if I sent them to the thinking spot, see if we can find out if something bigger is going on, or simple re-establishing a good relationship and inviting them to join in again.  Some kiddo's will even take themselves to the time out spot cause they need at break from whatever is happening in class - it shows such amazing self management.

Acknowledging the positive behaviors that you want to see in your students.  It's so important to do more praise than telling off, not just for your students but for you as well.

I caught heard myself one day, it was just one after another of correcting behavior, I didn't once acknowledge those who were doing the right thing.  I didn't like what I was hearing and I sure as heck my class wasn't either.  So I stopped, I actually stopped mid sentence, I sat back in my chair, I let out a big breath and just looked at the class and said "Well I certainly have my grumpy face on today, lets see if we can change that" (Our class talk is teacher grumpy face vs happy face and how they can be in control of the face that comes out and how if I am having to have my grumpy face out to tell the class off, I always end it with "okay grumpy face away now").  I then turned around and made a point of complimenting the positive behavior I was seeing.  The reality is, if you are only seeing the negative it gets into your own head, the children aren't the only ones affected - you are as well.

So that's my two cents worth about being a first year teacher.  There is and always will be so much more, it's an amazing journey and it's not easy, but you are in for the time of your life and when you look back you will be amazed at just how much you have learnt in a year compared to all the time you spent studying.   Remember to take time to enjoy something about each and every day.

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