I began my teaching career in January, after a December graduation.
That first day, I took a deep breath and started to tell my first period class of eighth graders about my expectations.
A boy I’ll call Ben bounced out of his seat and turned away from me.
“Sit down,” I said.
“No,” he said. “We have to say the pledge.”
Just then, the speaker crackled to life and a voice from above asked the students to stand.
Ben was a challenge throughout the semester. But the first day Pledge of Allegiance was just the first of many things that could’ve gone better — if only I’d had someone to tell me the simple things about the school’s routines, and was there to help me improve my classroom management. By the end of the semester I decided to give teaching one more year, promising myself that if it didn’t get better, I’d look for a different career. The next fall I had a new job in a different district, where I was happy to stay.
Over time, I’ve benefited from the help of many of my more experienced colleagues. And I’ve mentored numerous student teachers and first-year educators, both formally and informally, and learned from them as well. Unfortunately, many districts still expect beginning teachers to “go it alone.”
What can you do if you find yourself in this situation?
Your only choice is to be your own mentor.
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“High school students hate history. When they list their favorite subjects, history always comes in last. They consider it “the most irrelevant” of 21 school subjects, not applicable to life today. “Borr-r-ring” is the adjective they apply to it. When they can, they avoid it, even though most students get higher grades in history than in math, science, or English. Even when they are forced to take history, they repress it, so every year or two another study decries what our 17-year-olds don’t know… “
And so begins James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.
The study of society and our collective past is important. It helps us understand ourselves, how we got to the present, and the world around us. It’s interesting that, as a society, we show a great interest in our culture and history. Whether it be historical novels and nonfiction, games, television programs, feature films, museum exhibits, or Broadway shows, American audiences — young and old — are fascinated with the “story of us.”
Yet our students sleep through the classes that present it.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series by Tch Laureate Emeritus Sarah Brown Wessling for new teachers wrapping up the school year.
“Every fear hides a wish.” — David Mamet
My first year of teaching was equal parts fear and wishing. In fact, they each pulled me from opposite directions, sometimes so tautly, everything seemed to bounce right off me, into the distance, uncatchable. That was my first year of teaching: lots of wishing for magical teaching moments and lots of hiding from my fears. I wished the kids would like me, but my fear meant I had some classroom management issues early on. I wished my colleagues would think I was doing a good job, but my fear meant I wouldn’t reach out to them with my own insecurities. I wished my lessons would all be inspired, but my fear meant that too often I would think about a “cool lesson” instead of a scope of learning.
My first year taught me that the rest of my years would be about shrinking the fictions of wishing and fear in order to opt for the beautiful and real mess of a teaching life. In case you’re finding yourself, at the end of this first year, needing a little less fiction and a little more beautiful mess, here are some common end-of-first-year struggles and how to use them to launch yourself into an even stronger year two. Read more
I felt the blood rushing to my face. I was standing in front of a group of teachers presenting on a topic I was very familiar with and all of the sudden, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was saying. The teachers were very gracious, but I was cringing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the strategies to make my next move. I sure could’ve used some coaching in that moment.
I often have the opportunity to work with teachers as a professional learning provider or coach around the implementation and assessment of the three-dimensional learning expected from the Next Generation Science Standards. In this work, I’m expected to be the “expert” and the collaborator, but sometimes I need coaching too.
Did I just say that… and do I really sound like that?
I’ve always been told I look and sound exactly like my younger sister, just with darker hair. I’m still not convinced we look alike, but after listening to my most recent presentation, it easily could’ve been my sister speaking. Scary!
Even more frightening is the wording I chose and the stammering that occurred throughout my delivery of the professional learning.
Those poor teachers.
Without the close vetting of this “unwanted” video, I’d never have realized how much I needed to improve. Sometimes “looking in the mirror” can hurt.
To be 100% truthful, I’m considered the “face” of our school district and I conduct numerous interviews that are then streamed on our local cable channel and on our district YouTube channel. How many of those interviews have I watched to see how I can improve on the next, you ask? ZERO!
It’s time to change my paradigm and realize that video self-reflection can be one of the most valuable tools we have as educators. Here’s my most recent glimpse of my reflection.
Last April, a group of colleagues and I applied to the New York Teacher Leadership Summit (powered by Teach to Lead). It was billed as an opportunity to:
- Develop the skills to design and advocate for a teacher-led initiative
- Network and build relationships with critical national thought partners
- Connect with teacher leaders and administrators from across the NY Metro region
Driven by our love for our south Bronx public middle and high school students, we aspired to improve our practice. To do so, we wanted more professional learning opportunities and a structure to help us share what we learned with each other. We submitted a proposal that would allow us to do just that. Our proposal was one of twenty selected from across New York State, and we were excited to join other teams working to create opportunities for teacher-led learning and leadership at their schools, in their districts, or across the state.
I was frustrated.
I was angry.
I get it. I work in a Title I school with overcrowded classes where not every teacher is blessed to have their own room, especially new teachers. I was fortunate to have my own room for my first year of teaching. I already tasted what it was like to have my very own space, which is why it was that much harder to give it up. Year two I would roam.
It wasn’t easy to hear the bad news from the principal, especially because it dropped at the beginning of the first week of school. It’s moments like these when you feel unappreciated, devalued, and sometimes you want to quit. The thought of traveling to six different classrooms throughout the day made me feel defeated from the start. Six different rooms. That meant six different seating charts, six different classrooms to set up, six different offices, six different teachers to negotiate with, and the list goes on. As predicted, I had a miserable first week of school, but my despair ended quickly. After that first week, I realized that roaming as a second year teacher would be beneficial to my growth as a professional.
Think back to a time you implemented a new idea with a group of your peers. What made it successful or challenging? For me, this process is both exciting and intense, wanting the idea to work and also understanding the stress that such changes bring about.
This school year, I’m trying a new role on for size — Instructional Coach. In this role, I’ll be bringing a lot of new ideas to the table. I’m nervous, energized, and filled with hope. Yet, I needed some reminders on how to successfully implement new ideas within systems that may or may not have equivalent buy-in from all members.
Enter Mark Barnes, author of Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School (special thanks to Mark’s co-author, Jennifer Gonzalez, as well). This summer, a group of 50 educators and I embarked on a journey as we read their book. Now, we’re preparing to implement hacks as individuals at our respective schools. In talking with Mark via Google Hangout, he guided our thinking with five key elements that will help provide focus and direction as we implement new ideas in our systems. Read more
As teachers, we all know the cycle. It seems just as our heads stop spinning from the end-of-year craziness and we have some downtime, we just can’t seem to help ourselves from reflecting, reading, learning, and planning for the upcoming school year. Not to say this reading, learning and planning isn’t mixed with a healthy dose of beach, pool and golf outings, but no matter how hard we try to relax, we just can’t seem to shake the teacher in us. Now that my head has finally stopped spinning and I have some relative downtime, I wanted to reflect on what has been such an incredible learning year for me.
If you’ve ever taught in a classroom, you get what few other people understand — there is no such thing as summer vacation. Yes, we do receive that precious eight to ten weeks (depending on where you live) of time without children in the months of June, July and early August. But, depending on where you are in your career and whether you’re working summer school, those months can look drastically different.
I’ve always loved the summer; not just because of the weather and the holidays (Hello, 4th of July!), but because of the time it gives me to rest, recover and reevaluate what happened in the past academic year. Each summer of my career has looked different, and this one is no exception.