Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Year of Teaching is OVER

This year was hard.

But then, a teacher's first year of teaching is probably always hard.

I learned a lot- these are just some bullet points.

* Be consistent
* Be explicit (in directions, expectations - you need to be EXTREMELY clear and specific)
* Do your best to distance yourself from mean statements or words that you know to be untrue (accept critique but do not accept criticism that is not phrased in a constructive way)
*  If you say you will do something, do it. The kids will remember it.
* More than what you actually taught, the kids will remember HOW you taught it. What was your attitude like? Were you passionate about it? Were you kind?
*  Kids are not our idealized versions of them. They are real breathing human beings and sometimes they can be mean. You will have to determine limits and what behavior or actions are unacceptable to you.
* It is okay if some kids hate you. You are teaching to try to get material and knowledge across, not in order to win a popularity contest or to be validated by students.
*  Lessons must be flexible.
*  If you've never taught before and it's your first year of teaching, read 'The First Days of School' before embarking on the journey.
* You will cry before the year is over. This is normal. (See article below that was helpful in this regard).
* You will also want to kill someone before the year is over (this could range from yourself to uncooperative others). This is also normal.
*  Some of your students will come to you at the end of the year to tell you that they want you to be their teacher again next year, and this will make you feel better about yourself. It will also make you feel like maybe you have done something right.
This is an article I found helpful that was forwarded to me by my mentor this year:

I'm Just Surviving Right Now                
by Emma McDonald

As a new teacher are you feeling as though you aren't living up to your own expectations of what a teacher should be and do? Are you feeling a sense of despair that perhaps you aren't cut out to be a classroom teacher? Do you wonder if your administrator and the other veteran teachers in your school are second guessing the decision to hire you? If you are feeling this way, then you are not alone. The majority of new teachers experience these same feelings during their first year of teaching. Some continue to experience these feelings during their second year as well.

Why is it that you started the year with energy and excitement, but now you feel as though all of the energy has been drained out of you? Research completed by Dr. Mark Littleton of Tarleton State University shows that beginning educators hit a period of disillusionment that begins around November and lasts through January or February. The realities of what teaching really entails is so different from what most new teachers imagine - the politics, the lack of support, and the energy required.

Student teaching offers a small taste of the life of a teacher, but sometimes the full dish is simply too overwhelming. This is also normal. It will get better. Right now you are drained from trying to learn everything as quickly as possible so that you can provide the best possible education to your students. It isn't just about teaching lessons, you have had to learn how to interact with the other staff, the students, and the parents. You've also had to learn the policies and procedures of the school, both written and unwritten. All of these little details cannot be fully experienced as a student teacher and can be overwhelming. Just think about it this way - your brain is trying to absorb, process, and use an incredible amount of information and skills. As a new teacher you are not given time to absorb each part one at a time - you have to absorb it all at once. This takes an enormous amount of energy and as such is very draining physically, mentally, and emotionally. As you continue, it will get better - we promise! Below are some tips and thoughts to help you make it through a period of disillusionment.

Use holiday breaks to recharge. Over Thanksgiving break, don't do anything school related. Take the time to get your lessons and your classroom ready (board set up, materials out, lesson plan on desk) for the Monday after Thanksgiving so that you can do this. Don't take papers home to grade either. Leave everything at school. It will feel strange, but you can do it. Walk out of your classroom the day before your Thanksgiving break with just personal items. Over the break do the things that you enjoy - visiting friends, going to the gym, reading a book YOU want to read, seeing a movie, and so on.

 For winter break, you want to take at least a week to do nothing at all but relax. Then, take the next week to think about what worked for you last semester and what you want to do differently next semester. While it doesn't seem so right now, by the end of winter break you'll be ready to try new ideas in the classroom.

Here are a few more thoughts:

 *   Don't stress out that you aren't Mr. or Ms. Innovation in the classroom. Right now you are still in survival mode. If you feel as though you need to be doing fun creative things in your classroom, then pick ONE activity or one lesson to be creative. The entire day does not have to be full of innovative creative activities. That can be overwhelming to your students as much as it is to you.

 *   Right now you must actively think about each aspect of the classroom - managing behavior, planning lessons, lesson flow, transitions, closure, interactions with students and staff, school paperwork and procedures, etc. The longer you stay in the classroom, the more some of these issues will become instinctual and habit. You won't have to actively think about behavior management strategies - you'll just do them. You won't have to think about lesson flow or transitions - they'll just happen. At that point you'll find that you have more energy and excitement to try new activities and new strategies in your classroom.

 *   You won't be a Master teacher overnight and no one expects you to, so stop expecting that of yourself. The job of your professors in school was to give you as much of an overview of effective teaching as possible. This doesn't mean they expected you to start your new job with the knowledge and experience of a Master teacher. Becoming an effective teacher and a Masterteacher is a journey - just like everything else in life. Right now you are at the first step of that journey. Don't beat yourself up because you are not yet at step 150 of that journey. Accept where you are, do your best, and when you feel ready - move forward.

 *   One way to do this is to set one goal per year or one goal per semester and work towards that. Right now your goal is to survive through the end of the semester. Over winter break set a new goal. What do you want to accomplish professionally for yourself over the course of the next semester? Right now you don't want to think of that, so put it aside and think about it over winter break.

 *   Don't talk to non-teachers about your concerns and feelings about teaching. They won't understand. You need to find another new teacher who is experiencing the same thing, or even better would be a 2nd or 3rd year teacher who has made it past the firsthurtle but still remembers what it feels like to be overwhelmed, stressed out, and tired all the time.

 *   If your administrator has an open door policy and has encouraged you to come by and talk, don't be embarrassed to go to him or her with questions, especially to check on your progress. Obviously you don't want to go in and ask every little question that pops into your head, but it doesn't hurt to ask for clarification. It especially doesn't hurt (and will help you in the long run) to ask what he or she expects to see in the classroom. If the principal discusses a strategy in faculty meetings, make an appointment later to talk one-on-one about that strategy. Explain how you interpreted the information and then ask if you are on the right track. Your administrator will let you know what it is he or she is looking for. It is also okay to talk to your administrator about where he or she thinks you are professionally - Do you think I'm on target with my teaching? Is there something I should be doing differently? Are there any glaring issues that you feel I need to think about and work on right now? Think of it as a status check. Be honest, and let him and her know that right now you still feel in survival mode, but hope it will get better. Your administrator will probably agree and encourage you, which will help you feel better about the situation.

 *   Crying at least once a week is perfectly normal. Crying every day after school is also perfectly normal. Again, you are going through an intense physical, mental, and emotional time in your life - teaching is not easy. Crying is one way your body releases tension and stress. So go ahead and enjoy a good crying jag. When you're finished, take a deep breath, pull yourself together, and remember that it will get better. You are making a difference in the lives of your students, even if it doesn't feel like it.

 *   Don't quit, even if you feel like it. Make a commitment to stick with teaching through at least the end of your second year. I think you'll find that by the time you hit the end of your second year everything will seem much easier and you won't want to quit.

    Being a new teacher is tough and stressful. You will make it through this stage, though, with determination and persistence. Each year gets better. Before you know it a new teacher will be looking at YOU for guidance and help. For now just do your best and keep your chin up.