What? The school year is already more than half over?! Woah. After 100 days of being a “real” full time teacher, I have learned A. LOT. More than I probably realize if we’re going to be real here. 100 days of school has showed me the kind of teacher I really want to be, and the kind of teacher I am. So, what have I learned? Well, I though it would be really great to do a list of 100 things I’ve learned…but that seemed like it would a, take way to long, b, be super boring, and c, really not get into the main lessons I’ve learned. So instead, I’ll give you my top 5 lessons learned as a first year teacher tackling a very busy specialist teacher position where I teach approximately 450 students per week, 8 grades and 5 subject areas (with some special circumstances thrown in).
- You can only do what you can do .
This may seem like a very simple statement, but it is probably one of the hardest lessons to actually learn. In pre-internship and even in internship I feel like I had more than enough time to really prepare my lessons. I could make them focused, have great slides or videos or other supports to accompany them, plan out all of my discussion questions, and feel like everything was just clicking into place. In my position this year though, with so many classes, it’s tough! I am not able to build the same types of relationships with all of the students that I would be able to as a homeroom teacher, yet I still need to try and plan for all of the students in the room, differentiating as needed, and adapting similar lessons for similar grades because each classroom has it’s own personality! That really wasn’t something I’d totally realized until about October/November when I was finally getting to know how each class sort of ‘worked’. What I teach one class of grade 3s I can’t do with the other because they just don’t work and engage in the same ways! It’s really made me look at each classroom teacher that I work with and adjust my lesson style to work with their classroom structure. That being said, you can only do what you can do really comes down to only adapting things so much as you go. If I really made unique lessons for each of my classrooms I would be planning for 17 or 18 different classrooms each week, and most of them times 2 or even 3 lessons per week. That’s just nuts. So, I’ve come to realize that I can’t make everything “perfect”, but I do what I can and what I need to make sure that the students are engaged, are learning, and are having fun while doing it.
2. Be you. That’s what’s most important to the students.
With teaching so many classes and adapting for their unique needs, it is easy to get caught up in the crazy piles of work to be done, or in the day to day “little deals” that happen in classes, on the playground, or the ones you hear in the staff room. The key is to never let go of who you are in order to get something done. Now, does that mean I haven’t temporarily “lost it” on a grade 1 class and raised my voice when they weren’t listening for the millionth time in a 20 min time span? No, it doesn’t (…cuz ya, that happened). What it does mean though, is that I don’t try to teach or act like their classroom teacher. I’m still me. Sure, I try to use many of the classrooms’ systems for leaving the room or gathering supplies, but I don’t do everything like them. I’m still me, and do things my own way. If I’m having a rough day, I’ll let the kids know! If I’m upset with them I’ll let them know that too (usually in a calm manner, but hey, sometimes they get to you), and we’ll try to find a way to work together. So far I’ve found that if I’ve tried to take on too many ideas or strategies from other teachers that it just gets to be too much, and the kids notice. They know you, and they like you as YOU! I love that kids say hi to me in the hallways, that they’re excited when I get to come work with them, and that they are bummed out when I don’t! That tells me that they really like me just for me, and they appreciate the time I spend with them.
3. Many lessons will be nothing like you imagined.
Another kind of given one, and sure, I experienced this to some extent in my internship, but as a specialist teacher I think the stakes are even higher for lessons that don’t go as planned. With a classroom of your own, you have a really good gauge on how your students are feeling/behaving on any given day, or even week, and can make adjustments in advance for that. Me, I walk into rooms not knowing anything of what’s happened before I arrive. Sometimes I don’t see a class until Thursday or even Friday after they’ve been at school all week! So much can happen in a day or a week that can affect the atmosphere of the classroom and the behaviours and moods of students. There have been many times where I’ve had some discussion-type lessons planned and I walk in and the class is totally shut down, and no one wants to say anything because something’s gone wrong in the day, or their tired, or many other reasons. Similarly, I’ve had classes planned to do a lot of work on a project, or to dive into something that needs a lot of focus, only to find a class that’s totally going off the walls with excitement and chattiness. The other thing I frequently encounter is assemblies, presentations, field trips or other events that the classroom teacher has forgotten to tell me about, and now instead of having 45 minutes for a lesson, I have to do something for 15 minutes. Or, half of the class is going to something, so I need to do something with the other half.
So, what do you do? You just go with it. I’ve learned to have tons of “back up” ideas on hand that I can pull out as required. In a way, it’s kind of how a substitute teacher might have some additional games or activities for students to do.
4. No one is watching you…and yet everyone is watching you.
When you’re doing field experiences, pre-internship, and internship in university you are under the constant supervision of a mentor teacher, yet as soon as you’ve got that teaching certificate in hand you’re on your own. It’s wildly exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s very cool to be able to spread your wings and fly solo, but it’s also a little scary to try things totally on your own for the first time.
As a new teacher I had this feeling that other teachers (as many homeroom teachers will stay in their rooms when I’m teaching their class) were watching and judging me and that I was always being watched and evaluated in some way. In some cases, sure, they listen in and may perk up when we’re talking about something that they’re interested in, or may chime in with a fun comment in a suggestion, or may give a “look” to a student who’s doing something they’ve already had a discussion about that day, but for the most part they really are just focused on their own work. That being said, I have heard through my administration about what other teachers have commented on with regards to my teaching, and in a way it is nice to hear that others do notice what I’m doing. My admin team also pops in rooms all around the school during the day to say hello, perhaps to mention something quickly, or to thank a student or staff member, so even there I feel like my administration also have a small glimpse into what I’m doing. Overall though, you’re really on your own, and everyone does their own thing without the scrutiny of others. Once I realized this my teaching seemed to become a lot easier, and more freeing. I feel much more at ease trying something new, which makes every day really fun!
5. You are amazing, but you’re not that great.
The power of positive can be really helpful in getting through some days. If you can point out what you did great at, it’s easier to build from. It’s also good to remember though, that you’re still new, so you’re really not all that great at a lot of things and are still trying to figure things out! While you may be awesome at some things, you can always improve at others. The bottom line is that someone is always more amazing, and by realizing that you’re not that great will open up the heart and brain space for you to learn from and with them.
Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to make a 100 list, but seriously, there are just so many fun and entertaining things I’ve learned in addition to these five big things. I’m going to try to get to 100, so here goes, my 100 learnings as as first year specialist teacher in the first 100 days of school:
- Everyone was new at some point and they can empathize.
- Grade 1s aren’t as scary as I first thought.
- Kindergartners are still terrifying.
- Kids are gross. Like really gross.
- Hand sanitizer is amazing. Always have it handy
- Kids are really weird and aren’t afraid to show it (at least in the primary grades)
- There really is a certain “smell” once you get to grade 5 or 6. Some teachers do a great job at combating this…I hope to do the same if I have a classroom in this grade level.
- Bribery will get you a lot of places with kids.
- Kids LOVE games and contests. Make anything a competition or a game and they’re engaged.
- Dodgeball – even though I don’t teach PE, I still hear about this all the time and still don’t like the game.
- Dollar store baskets are the best things ever.
- You can always make lessons and materials better, but sometimes you have to be ok with what you have time for.
- Being honest with students is key. If you don’t know something, tell them.
- Being real with students is also so important. Be you, not someone else.
- Have fun. Always.
- Try new things.
- Be brave.
- Write down everything.
- Borrow/steal ideas for lessons from other teachers even if you can’t use it right now.
- Find a way to use the idea right now with what you are teaching.
- Be flexible.
- Be vulnerable.
- Take time for you.
- Say yes as much as you can.
- Get involved in the school. Make yourself known.
- It’s ok to say no.
- Say hello to students, even if you don’t teach them.
- Ask students questions about things outside of school
- Challenge students to take their learning home.
- Connect learning and subjects everywhere you can.
- Talk to other teachers.
- Avoid negative talk.
- Stock your desk with “essentials” like pain relievers, lotion, hair brush, deodorant, snacks, etc.
- Always have a spare phone cord.
- Never travel without a pen.
- Always know where the projector remote is.
- Get kids to help you.
- Make a list of helper kids so they don’t fight over who gets to help you.
- Make lots of lists.
- Get excited about what you’re teaching.
- Even the ‘boring’ things.
- Photocopy less.
- Hands-on more.
- Talk more.
- Question more.
- Read more.
- Use tech, even if it’s scary.
- Teach kids about tech – they really don’t know anything.
- Find connections everywhere and bring them to your teaching.
- Listen to music in class (Cirque du Soleil albums are a favourite of mine for work periods)
- Laugh a lot with kids.
- Read with kids! There’s a book for everything.
- Check out the resources available at the division office. There are some gems!
- Ask your admin, seasoned teachers or other mentors about other great resources they can recommend.
- Keep your desk/work space organized. It’s much easier to have a relaxing day of teaching if you can come back to a space where you know things have a home.
- Labels are key to organization, and also make your space inviting (because chaos is not so inviting).
- File great resources to use later.
- Decorate your space for holidays that you enjoy. Students share in your joy of the seasons.
- Showcase your support and inclusion of activism – LGBTQ, FNMI, etc.
- Bring those activist ideas into your lessons.
- Use the resources you have in other teachers as teachers! If someone is an expert, invite them in!
- Keep great communication with your administrators.
- Talk to as many teachers as you can each day, just to say hello.
- Make connections with other teachers in your building, even if you’re not in the same grade or subject area. It may take time, but you may find some great partnerships and be able to do amazing things together.
- Stop by the staff room from time to time…there’s often snacks!
- Don’t go to the staff room every recess…because there’s often snacks…
- Do your photocopying, laminating and other things either after school or on weekends. There’s no one else around usually. Avoid the morning rush!
- Get an HP Instant Ink printer and account…then you can print at home (in colour!) for a reasonable cost and not rack up the bills at school printing all of your resources that you plan to use for years to come.
- Make your work space cozy. You’ll appreciate it on late nights and weekends.
- Bins and drawers are your friends. They make everything look like you’ve got it together.
- Library books are also your greatest friends. There is seriously a book for everything! It’s cross-curricular with very minimal effort.
- Try new things, especially when it comes to cross-curricular! Don’t settle for “those subjects don’t go together. ” Give them a try – it may surprise you and your students at what is fun and itneresting!
- Just go with it! If you’ve got an idea, just try it, even if it’s not “perfect” yet.
- Don’t work all. the. time. I’ve done it, and while it seems helpful it’s really not in the long run. Didn’t finish something? Do something simple the next class, even if it’s just talking to the kids!
- Give compliments; to students, to teachers, to everyone!
- Always pre-watch videos. Always.
- No, we can’t always have “free time” days, but they do provide a nice break from time to time.
- Incorporate games into lessons! That way they won’t ask for “free time”
- Be firm. But be nice. But dont’ give in.
- Use a notebook to keep your ideas organized. I keep a coil notebook in my teaching bag and it travels to and from school with me. Beats a million sticky notes!
- Use Planboard. Seriously, it’s just the best thing ever.
- Stay connected. Don’t loose your PLN!
- Seek out new people for your PLN!
- Check out the library! There’s often really cool new books that may just spark a lesson idea!
- Listen to your students! They might just spark a lesson idea!
- Get students to help you. Eager students will help build buletin boards, change displays, cut laminating, and help you organize!
- Trust students’s help! Give them opportunities to develop and demonstrate their growth by doing things like helping you make displays and bulletin boards. It might not be “perfect”, but that’s ok!
- It’s ok to be loud…just warn your neighbouring classes. Everyone else will want to join in on the fun!
- Make connections with people in your community. Reach out to people on Facebook, at a craft market, or through a friend. You’ll never know the kinds of pepole who might be able to help your class learn something.
- Take time to breathe. Yes, I know I said this one already, but it’s really important.
- Write notes to other teachers. It really brightens their day.
- Be silly. It lets kids know it’s ok.
- Change when change is needed. Don’t push through something if it’s not going to work or be helpful.
- Use a rolling crate when you’re a specialist teacher. It’s really a life saver. (I added sparkle tape to mine of course)
- Drink water. You need it! And join a water club at school if there is one. Filtered water is just so much better.
- Support projects and events put on by other teachers and classes. Worth it when you need a favour in return!
- Love. Simple.