Teacher For Life: Tips for New and Struggling Teachers

When I first started teaching, I honestly had no idea what I got myself into. There were any things I learned during my first year that I was not made aware of during my Education degree; some things cannot be taught in the classroom, like the different ways boys and girls learn. Many surprises included the endless paper work, phone calls, meetings, organizing, lesson planning, and involvement in extra-curricular activities. I did not fully realize that when I signed up to be a teacher, I would not only be an educator, but I would take on many roles. I soon realized: I have a lot to learn.

Playing with Fruit Loops

Playing with Fruit Loops

In my seven years of teaching thus far, I have learned far more than I could have imagined. Somehow, I keep taking in new information. Teaching is definitely a learning experience. I always knew that I was meant to be a teacher, but I guess I did not really plan or expect the struggles that I would go through along the journey. I have learned much, but I will always have more to learn. One of the reasons I love the field of education is because I love to learn. I get to be a student every day. I am always challenged and I am always experiencing new things. My students were often the ones teaching me. I believe in showing my students that anyone can be successful. Let’s just say teaching high school and middle school for seven years leaves you with a lot of memorable “experiences”. Moments that have helped me grow to be the teacher I am today.

Freedom Writers

Freedom Writers

During my first semester of teaching, I can remember thinking: I did not sign up for this and I have no idea what I am doing. Most teachers can relate to how I felt, as most felt the same way at one point in their career. I was discouraged at times because I did not completely understand what was really involved in being a teacher and most importantly: how to manage it all. It was not out of the ordinary, during that first semester of teaching, for me to stay at the school lesson planning until 8:00pm then have to drive home and continue marking until the wee hours of the morning.

In the beginning, I worked most days from 7am until midnight and still did not get everything done that I felt ‘should’ get done for the next day. I was always worrying about what I missed– always thinking about the future. It was like I had something to prove. My friends and family were concerned that I was working too much and stressing myself out by all that I had committed to. Not including my teaching responsibilities, I quickly established myself as an involved teacher in the school community: coaching soccer and rugby, chaperoning dances and formals, volunteering for prom committee, graduation events, while also participating in any other student events in my ‘free time’. It was a lot to manage as a brand new teacher and it brought on a lot of stress. To this day, I still do not know how I did it. Another lesson I needed to learn: know how much to take on. Through it all, I was able to gain a positive reputation for myself, gain tenure, and be recognized throughout the province for all of my accomplishments in my first few years of teaching.

Novel Black Like Me

Novel Black Like Me

I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would end up teaching middle school and high school. My background is in elementary education, while I also have certification in secondary education. My dream was to teach in an elementary school. However, after graduating and a lack of teaching positions, I had to be open to opportunities. When applying for jobs I was hoping to land a job in Elementary, as I had experience there, and that is where I thought I wanted to be. I was ever so lucky to be offered a job right out of University, but to my surprise, I was offered a position teaching grade nine English in a high school. My first thought after graciously accepting the job: I just did my teaching practicum in Kindergarten– the last time I was in a high school was when I was a student there; this should be interesting. I didn’t have a sweet clue how I was going to teach hormonal adolescents. Would I, a 23 year old teacher make it? Would I command their attention? I soon realized: be open to new opportunities.

That first semester, of my first year, was a tiring and trying one; one that really changed who I am today. I soon learned that things needed to change. I could not possibly teach forever, by putting in the hours I was putting in and by being involved in all that I was involved in — and stay sane. I just needed to be myself and do what I love. I went home that first break and committed myself to getting better. One thing was made for certain, this is my calling! I had to make a commitment to get better every day. After attending countless professional development seminars, classroom management workshops, and reading many books; including The First Days of School, Boys’ and Girls’ Literacy: Closing the Gap, Fair isn’t Always Equal, When Kids Can’t Read-What Teachers Can do, Teaching Adolescent Writers, among many others, I realized: I can do this! I was a changed teacher. I have never looked back since and I have never been happier.

Student Show Case

Student Show Case

Second semester was my turning point. I started meeting the needs of my individual students within the classroom. I started teaching in a way to engage all my students. I needed to make things clear to them. I started using the Freedom Writers Teacher’s Methodology within my classroom to enlighten and empower my students. Although I was young, and naïve, I grew into my role as a teacher and gained control.

During what I call the period of re-establishment I worked on the following:

  • Learning what to let go
  • Learning when to let things go
  • Learning what to address
  • Learning when to address things
  • Learning how to address things
  • Creating and re-establishing clear rules, regulations, and procedures
  • Modeling rules, regulations, and procedures
  • Creating fitting consequences for rules and a method of follow through
  • Following through with rules, regulations, and procedures
  • I stopped asking questions when addressing discipline problems and started prefacing with statements of what I wanted the student(s) to do/change
  • Mandatory study hall for those students with omitted work or low test scores
  • Opening up my classroom at lunch for extra help/study hall
  • Give more responsibly to the students for their own learning
  • Work on hands-on interactive learning
  • I really took some time to get to know my students and to show them that everything I was doing was because I wanted them to succeed and I wanted to help them get where they wanted to go in life
  • Allowing my students to get to know me
  • Completing all assignments with my students that I assigned to them
  • Completing professional readings in connection with teaching strategies which helped make me a stronger teacher
  • Continue my learning of classroom management – taking part of any professional development sessions available

These are excellent tips for new and struggling teachers.

Erin Gruwell and I

Erin Gruwell and I

By the end of my first year, I fell in love with teaching. The passion was flowing out of me. I could not stop talking about my students and the fun we were having. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have such a wonderful job. I also realized that teaching high school is not so scary. Working with students who are trying to find themselves is a rewarding job; helping them to create goals and dreams. I am blessed with the ability to connect with my students. I have the best job in the world; I only hope that I can be the best teacher that I can be. I still have a lot to learn, but I learned the most in my first year.

Eight years later, I can only believe that good things will be coming in the future. I hope my story encourages teachers out there to believe in their students and themselves. Especially for new teachers, it might not be easy in the beginning, but it’s so rewarding if you stick it out. Find a way to fall in love with teaching. Take what I did during my re-establishment and apply it to your teaching practice. I hope all teachers are as passionate about teaching as I am. You and your students will be the beneficiaries.

-Jessica

Teacher and Traveler

Teacher, Learner, and Traveler

One thought on “Teacher For Life: Tips for New and Struggling Teachers

  1. Pingback: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn | Turquoise Compass

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