(Listen to this while you read this post!)
My first couple years of teaching were rough. Though I had a lot of experience running children’s programs, being a child’s primary teacher– the adult who sees them 8 hours a day for a whole school year and is responsible for their education– seemed so daunting.
The thing that I was most worried about was classroom management. While I enjoyed my teacher training, I don’t believe that we were adequately prepared in this area. Then again, a lot of classroom management is really learned “on the job.”
I know that I can’t be the students’ friend, to establish the routines and be clear and firm in my expectations for the first month, to be consistent, etc. etc. All of this completely made sense to me and I scoffed at the thought of other teachers making these mistakes, knowing that I never would.
I think I practically made every rookie teaching mistake in the book. I was tired and frustrated and didn’t get a lot of (useful) support from admin (who assumed that I was fine since it was, on the surface at least). It was a tough first year because, well, it was my first year teaching and the environment in which I work wasn’t particularly…healthy. Out of the five new teachers (this is in a small school), I was the only one left by the end of the year who didn’t quit or get fired. So make your own assumptions about that.
I remember that I dreaded going to work every day, and started to feel anxious every time we got off the highway and I knew that I was approaching the school. I would keep The Sound of Music soundtrack CD in the car and blast “I Have Confidence” on repeat for that last 10 minutes of the drive. Sounds silly but it actually helped!
Even though I felt so beaten down and like a failure, I decided to stay one for at least another year. I felt that I needed to redeem myself to the students and their families and also to prove to myself that I could do it. I had a year of teaching experience behind me and a new admin member became a source of inspiration and support that next year. By the second year, even though I think I did much better and had more support, I still didn’t think it was the right place for me and found a job at another school.
I stayed there for a couple of years, teaching Lower Elementary. I enjoyed it much more because I believe I’m better suited, personality-wise, to this age group and it was bigger school so I could talk with other teachers teaching the same age group (my old school only had one classroom of each level) and share ideas with them. There was an admin team member who specifically supported the Elementary program and I felt that I had more autonomy in the classroom, which also helped.
I know that the quitting rate in the teaching profession is very high within the first five years of working and apparently a lot of that comes from lack of support from administration.
If you’re a new teacher, my advice would be to ask for help as soon as possible. Don’t worry about looking “weak” or “incompetent.” I found that it’s better to ask a lot of questions upfront and get it right rather than “wait and see” if the issue will work itself out and then have to ask for help when the problem is bigger than before! I think admin would appreciate this as well because they do have a big job and can’t be everywhere at once, so they may have no idea that you’re struggling. I know that’s just common sense, but I found it very easy to forget once you’re actually in the situation!
Remember that of COURSE you’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does. Just don’t be too hard on yourself but also work extra hard to correct them and strategize ways to prevent it from happening again. Like your students, you’ll be constantly learning.
In a recent Canadian Family magazine article, a teacher who won one of their Great Teacher Awards, Janet Shillinglaw, was asked what she would tell her young self if she could go back in time. I loved her answer:
“Be acutely aware that you will be part of the life story of every child you teach. You will have membership in a privileged group of people who will shape how the children in your care see themselves and their places in the world. Stay the course! Act justly and walk humbly. Live your careers with the goal that, at the end of it all, you will know that you were good to children, good with children and good for children.”
Isn’t that great? I will definitely remember that in mind when I go back to teaching in the classroom!
All the best to the teachers beginning a new year!