Be all that you can be. Find your future--as a teacher.

Musings of a second-year teacher.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Return to the Blogosphere!

Although I vowed to make a better effort to document my year on this blog, once again I've failed due to the fact that teaching requires a great deal of time and energy (and this blog is right around last on my priority list of things related to school that I need to complete). However, I recently received some comments on a blog post that reminded me a few people out there do read my blog and maybe I should update more than once every year!

For tonight, I just want to do a quick update on my year. There are quite a few issues I'd like to tackle in posts later down the road, but I figure I should minimize confusion and keep to one topic.

So, year one is down. Year two is halfway through. Thankfully, year two is somewhat easier. (I had hoped and prayed that it would be!) I did not realize it at the time, but I had two extremes in my class last year. Half my class was relatively high academically and the other half was extremely low. As a first year teacher, this was very difficult because half of my class was unable to master our skills each grading period. This year has proved significantly easier because my class is not so divided. The gap between my highest-achieving students and lowest-achieving students is much smaller. I'd like to think that the experience of the past year have also helped to make this year easier. Having a year of experience "under my belt" definitely gives me more confidence.

With the past year behind me, I think it would be a good time to share some things I learned/wish I had known at the beginning. Along the same lines, I'd love to hear from others who have been teaching more than two years (I know there are lots of you out there!) who can share things they wish they had known at the beginning of their career.

1. Before you start teaching, write down why you want to teach and why you love kids. Post it in a prominent place.
I look back at things I'd written before I started teaching and I was so optimistic! I truly do love children and I truly wanted a profession where I knew I would make a significant impact on others' lives. However, it is very easy to lose sight of that goal when day after day you are constantly reminding kids to be quiet, to listen, to stop touching their neighbors, to use the bathroom before it is an emergency and on and on and on. I have days sometimes where I think, "why, oh, why did I choose this job?" And then I think back to why and it definitely puts things in perspective. (That and remembering that I have summer and Winter Break and Spring Break and snow days....:))

2. SAVE everything you do
Hopefully this goes without saying, but save your lesson plans, your form notes to parents, etc. I thought I would remember everything, but when August of year two rolled around, I barely remembered what I had done the year before.

3. Come up with a good organization system
It was difficult for me to organize things at the beginning of last year because I didn't really know what I had, what I needed, or how I would be using things. At the end of last school year, I did some organizing and it makes a huge difference. I'm constantly working to become more organized, but the sooner you can do it, the better! I misplaced so many papers last year because I didn't have the specific place to put them. Finding an organization system that works for you is definitely key!

4. You don't need to save everything that someone gives you
Please read carefully because I realize this contradicts my advice in #2. Do save things electronically. Use careful judgement when saving material things. Teachers are incredibly generous. As a new teacher at my school, I was given tons and tons of supplies. Other teachers gave me posters and books and art supplies as they cleaned out their room. The only problem: my classroom isn't very big. I'm a big saver and I hate to waste things. But I'm already completely out of space in my classroom. I've realized that I might need to be a little more selective when accepting (or deciding to keep) items from generous donators. Think about how easy an item might be to replace. That stack of magazines I've been saving on top of my file cabinet? They're getting pretty dusty and I'd say there's a fantastic chance that if I recycled them all and decided I needed more, I could get a stack donated in a jiffy.

5. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have students line up near your deak.
In fact, if you can blockade your desk from students with bookshelves and tables, go for it. My desk had the misfortune of receiving two vomit blasts last year. Not only is this disgusting, but it's a big problem if you keep anything important on your desk. I threw away everything on my desk after the second vomit-incident and there was no sorting through it to determine if it was important! I've rearranged my classroom this year to put a little more of a buffer between my desk and my kids. I love them, but I don't love throw-up.

6. Make sure you know how students are supposed to go home everyday...if you fail to send them home the right way, it can result in tears from the teacher/parent/student. Realize that parents frequently change the way their child should come home from school. Realize also that 5 year olds can barely remember their last name, much less a change in how they will go home. They definitely can not remember how they are supposed to go home unless you tell them 5 times as they walk out the door.

7. Student teaching is nothing like real teaching.
While student teaching is a fantastic experience, it really doesn't give you the whole picture of teaching. You have very little to remember as a student teacher. You also come into a room that has a pre-existing infrastructure. As a real teacher, you discover some of the biggest challenges are creating a schedule, arranging a classroom, creating a classroom management plan, remembering what time you have lunch, remembering how all 18 children go home, remembering who needs to be reminded to use the bathroom 3 times a day....and on and on and on.

8. Ask, ask, ask for help.
I hope someone has already told you along the way that coworkers are wonderful for sharing ideas. They have experience and advice that (hopefully) they just can't wait to share. They are a fantastic resource for any and every question you encounter. (I've been lucky to have coworkers that put up with every little question I have!)

9. Utilize parent volunteers.
I spent many hours doing "busy-work" instead of things like lesson planning or working with students when I should have been asking parents for help. Lots of parents would love to help out in the classroom doing things like bulletin boards, hanging art projects, listening to kids read, or filing folders. I'm still perfecting
my ability to plan far enough ahead to actually recruit parents for the help I need, but I've learned that they can be a valuable commodity.

10. Take time for yourself.
Some may disagree, but I think it is very important to remember that you do have a life outside of teaching. You must take time for yourself so that you don't burn out. I have been blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to leave things somewhat of a mess and somewhat unfinished. I would sleep at school if I needed to have a clean desk every night and have everything for the next week completely finished. Learn to prioritize. Get the things finished that you HAVE to finish and the rest of the things will fall into place. If your desk is a mess at the end of the day, the world will go on. You'll probably like your job more if you leave at 5:00 each day with a messy desk than if you leave at 7:00 with a clean desk.

With that, I end my advice! I'd love to hear words of wisdom from others!


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