What I learned my first year of teaching

What I Learned My First Year of Teaching

I have often thought about my what I learned my first year of teaching and what I would tell new to profession teachers or those who are preparing for their first year. If I was to teach a college course, I believe the course’s name would be something like, “This IS What Happened at School Today – Really.” “Really” became my mantra during my first year. It sounded something like:

  • Really, students are allowed to speak to adults like that.
  • Really, this parent wants me to ____.
  • Really, they are allowed to come to school with lice???
  • Really, I need to make 10 extra copies in case students lose their first copy???
  • Really, they throw-up without trying to get to the wastepaper basket?

Certain things are simply out of our hands when it comes to school. However, if you plan for those certainties, your first year teaching will be smoother. Notice, I did not say perfect; smoother is a milestone worth reaching for.

So here are a few helpful hints to remove some of the “really” in your first year:

  • Accept that you will make mistakes
  • Be their teacher, not their friend
  • Keep your lessons on target
  • Let students know what outcomes look like
  • Give yourself a break

1. Accept that you will make mistakes in your first year of teaching

Veteran teachers make mistakes. It is part of the learning curve that does not end until retirement. Learn from the mistake and move on. This is what we want from our students as well, so be a model for them. It will help make your classroom inviting and safe.

2. Be their teacher, not their friend

Your job is not to be the students’ friends; your job is to be their teacher. However, building relationships is important. The best way to do this is to first establish rules and routines so you are consistent. Students will notice when you are “not fair” and will make it a mountain in which they will be “King.”

3. Keep your lessons on target

Keep lessons on target. Know what you are teaching and avoid “squirreling”. It confuses students. Determine your learning intentions and success criteria.  Then lay out your lesson keeping time in mind. How much time will you give for each step? However, be flexible – progress monitoring may show students need more examples; it may also show they are ready to move on sooner than you planned.

4. Let students know what outcomes look like

Going along with number 3, let students know what the outcome looks like. Show them an example that is done accurately. It’s better for them to process correct information than stumble with incorrect thoughts where they may or may not know it is wrong.

5. Give yourself a break in your first year of teaching

Finally, give yourself a break. Take personal time. It is easy to spend all day, every day, including weekends, trying to create the perfect lesson. Great lessons do not come from cutting and pasting items for students to oohhh and aahhh over. Great lessons do not happen because you created the most amazing bulletin board.

Great lessons are built around a no-nonsense sequence of learning steps clearly laid out for students to follow, by asking good questions to check their understanding, building consistent routines for learning as well as management, and using the steps for learning to determine grades.

Being a teacher truly is a Superhero profession. Find a Superhero cape, wear it proudly, and know that making mistakes does not need to be your kryptonite – REALLY.

What are some of the things you learned during your first year of teaching? Let us know in the comments section below!

Kim Watts spent 21 years teaching middle school in both inner-city and affluent schools. During her time in the classroom, Kim taught English/Language Arts, brought AVID to her campus as a certified AVID teacher, and taught Capturing Kids’ Hearts Teen Leadership. Kim was the SIM Coordinator for her campus’ Literacy Leadership Team, helping them to implement a school-wide approach to improving literacy using the Strategic Instruction Model.

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