I am a first year teacher who is teaching Freshman English (English One) and I am constantly battling my administrator’s expectations for state testing scores and cultivating my students into life-long learners.
I have always wanted to be a teacher. Every day I walk into my school, I live my dream! However, I am struggling with the aspects of teaching I thought would be easy. I thought my students would be able to tell I cared about them and would immediately buy into everything I said and did. However, that’s not the case. I have some struggling learners who I can’t seem to reach. I struggle with facilitating discussion and helping them make this class about them, not about the knowledge I have. They are so used to being “taught” what they should know, they don’t think or challenge themselves. I spend so much time planning lessons and then when they flop consistently, I don’t know what to do! I refuse to settle for “lecturing” or a “notes driven” atmosphere. However, so many of our educators are willing to do just that, I’m having a hard time finding a mentor who will help me create the environment that I so desperately desire in my class. If you have any advice or resources you can send me, please do!
Frustrated in the First Year
First, I hope you know that we’ve all been right where you’re at. There can be a big difference between our ideal classroom and the one we walk into on any given day. What’s important this that you’re persevering through these tough days as you make your way to more consistently brighter ones.
One of the things I learned early on is how much culture impacts learning. And while there can be culture of a community, or a school, I think there’s also the culture of our classrooms. Getting students to shift their expectations of what a class should be can be very tough. I remember my first year here at this school when I confronted that very thing. It took a couple of tough years until students started to understand what being in our class was all about. Remember to hold that vision so you can always see it, even when their actions and behaviors may cloud it. You’ll get there and so will they!
I had a professor who always said that it takes three years for a new teacher to “grow her teacher skin.” I thought it was kind of silly, until I got to the end of year three and it made sense. Our students react to us in pretty transparent ways. The clearer I got about how I wanted the classroom to be, the less room for vacillating on my part and therefore more confidence and less resistance from students. However, this doesn’t really help in the short term. Here are a few practical pieces of advice that (I hope) will help you take some deep breaths.
- Don’t take it personally. I know, this is tough, but so true. We can spend hours on a lesson and then the students act as if it were worthless. We have to remember that the more they become invested, the more likely they are to be motivated. So, I often ask myself: who is doing most of the work here? If we’re not doing at least equal amounts then there’s an imbalance.
- Tell them why. I find this to be a hallmark of my teaching. Always, always tell them what you’d like them to learn and why they’re engaged in whatever the work of the class is. It’s good for us and it’s good for them. Having a clear purpose can make a huge difference.
- Find the good things. I would often do a “list of 3” at the end of the day. This would be a quick list of 3 things that went well that day. They might be pretty basic: Tyler brought his pencil or Lisa smiled. They always helped me accentuate the positive.
- Take some time for yourself. Those first years always made me feel like I had fuzzy brain. It’s good to step back a bit. Sometimes I really like to listen to the kids talk to each other before or after class. If I’ve forgotten to ask how they’re doing for too many days in a row, I sense that distance. And too much distance makes it hard to teach them anything.
Most importantly, remember that you’re doing fabulous work and that you’re making a difference even when you don’t know it.
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