This post started as a single idea, which developed into a very, very, very long post. So I’ve decided to make it into a series of posts, of which this is the first. I hope that some of you who are in your very first classroom this year can commiserate and might find some support in the fact that you are not alone out there your first year.
I remember my first day in front of my own students. I remember feeling terrified. I remember feeling inadequate, and completely intimidated. I was really lucky my first year teaching. I only had to work as a substitute teacher for 2 months before I found myself with my own classroom. Those stories are for another day, however. Today I want to tell you about my first year in my first classroom.
The classroom was old, as many are, in the city where I teach, which meant it was very big. It was a Kindergarten classroom, so it had its own bathroom, an art sink, and a huge storage cupboard. The kids were almost completely ELL, which was also something that I was struggling to get my head around. Most of these children, although born here, did not speak English at home. It was also a Kindergarten class. My training had been in Grades one and two. Fortunately, I had spent many days in those 2 months of substituting in a variety of Kindergarten classrooms in my district, so I had lots of ideas, just minimal experience.
The teacher who left this classroom, two months into the year, was close to retirement and had injured her back. She didn’t return for the rest of that year, so I got to consider the classroom my own after some time. She did pop by a few times to pick up some of her own things, but left most of them for me. She had been teaching Kindergarten in that same classroom for 25 years. She told me that of all the classes she had taught, this group was the calmest and easiest to manage of all the classes she had ever taught. I didn’t realize at the time, but I had been given a true gift, with this well-behaved class. I was able to concentrate more on covering the curriculum, and less on classroom management. In fact, I must have reorganized that classroom multiple times over the year, and the kids were able to take the change with minimal disruption. I can’t imagine that happening now.
The curriculum here was very vague and open-ended in 1992. It was student centred, and very unclear. I know I missed out a lot. I feel badly for those kids, but I also know that I did my best. I am a very organized and structured thinker, and open-ended curriculum was hard for me to get my head around. I was also the only Kindergarten teacher at this school, and it was before the internet and social media, so I had nobody to reach out to for help. Eventually I found an older curriculum guide that was much more specific, and I used it to guide my planning and lessons for the rest of the year.
I realized that if I wanted to stay teaching Kindergarten, then I needed more guidance. So I enrolled in an Early Childhood Certificate program at the local University. This helped me somewhat, but I also found an excellent mentor my second year teaching and she really saved my tail if you know what I mean.
If you are a new teacher, remember that all of us teachers started somewhere, and most of us remember our first days. Nobody is perfect. One piece of advice I’d like to offer is to be open to all suggestions. You don’t need to follow this advice, but you should at least listen to the ideas of more experienced teachers. Just because someone is older and they don’t relate to you on a personal level doesn’t mean they don’t know a lot about teaching. Something that contributed to my struggles as a beginning teacher was my resistance to advice from older teachers. I call it the “arrogance of youth”. I thought I knew a lot, when in fact I knew very little. I only know that now in retrospect.
So whether you are starting this year with your first class, or your 20th, I hope you have a great one. Remember that all of us started out somewhere and there is nothing more rewarding than that look in a child’s eye when they finally “get it”. And there’s no better job in the world than teaching to experience it.
Thanks for stopping by again today.