4 Things I Learned About Teaching My First Year

by - May 31, 2023

It's hard to believe that this school year is over. What a learning experience it has been for me (and hopefully my students)!

In a lot of ways, teaching has been like working in a newsroom, especially a managerial or supervisory position. Back then, I was the executive producer, which means I was in charge of managing the moving parts of several newscasts each day, supervising 25 reporters, producers, and anchors, and coordinating with two other departments: production and advertising. These days, I manage three classes ranging from 17-28 students with remedial, special education, and gifted learners.

I've gone from planning daily news coverage to creating lesson plans. Instead of meeting daily deadlines, I plan content to fit specific class times, accounting for bathroom and locker breaks, with an ultimate deadline that is state testing. Instead of fixing other people's writing, I'm helping create the next generation of writers by teaching elements of plot, information gathering skills, basic grammar, and more.

Like reporters, students are always hungry, always pushing up against deadlines, and are rarely happy with their assignments.

Basically, both situations are like herding cats. Or attempting to anyway.

This past school year was eye opening not only about the things teachers deal with on a daily basis but  also about the strange and unusual happenings between kids during what is arguably the most awkward age range in life.

Despite the short amount of time I've been in the classroom, I feel confident I could write a book if I were so inclined. I always knew what it was like because my mom has been a middle school teacher for years, but now I know know. So, here are the top four things I've learned about teaching so far.

1. Teachers are always overstimulated. Always. As a parent, I wasn't a stranger to overstimulation before, but now I have a greater appreciation for the depth to which teachers feel it. If a parent can feel overstimulated with one child, imagine what a teacher feels with classes ranging from 20-30 kids each.

I feel this most acutely on Tuesdays when I take Alexis to gymnastics. There is a viewing room, which is about the size of a standard bedroom. It's always filled with parents and siblings, a lot of whom are running about hairy scary with no regard to the other people in the room. After a day of teaching and near-constant noise, sitting in that room watching Alexis's practice is akin to being forced to endure nails on a chalkboard for an hour with no way to protect my ears. By the time we leave, my skin is crawling.

2. Consistency is important. This was something I learned working in television, ironically. People have routines and expect certain things to happen at or around the same time every day, especially the weather forecast. Surprisingly, the same is true for the classroom. Having a consistent schedule helps with giving my students the structure they need to be successful. Do they push back against it? Absolutely. But when we veer from that pre-established breakdown of our class period, they're inevitably thrown for a loop and chaos is imminent.

3. You cannot and will not reach every student. Whether that's with individual lessons or at all throughout the year, it's an impossible standard to set for yourself. Some students just will not get it no matter how many different ways you try to reach them, others just don't care, and some will always look for something in which to find fault even in a lesson they won't admit that they enjoyed.

4. Choice goes a long way. One of the best classroom management techniques I've implemented is giving students options to take ownership of their behavior. The conversation usually goes something like this: "You have two options. You can choose to stop doing [unwanted behavior], or you can choose to go see an administrator. Choose wisely." Usually by this point I've already given a few warnings, so those students who continue to act out don't get another chance. Luckily, nine times out of ten, the student settles down, and we move on with class.

Year one is officially over, and year two will be starting before we know it. To all the teachers out there, make the most of your summer vacation. You've earned it!

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