14 tips for surviving the first year of teaching– a letter to my first year teacher self

When I was a first year teacher now nearly five years ago, I knew as much about teaching as I do about the types of clouds or the kinds of rocks: I had a vague recollection of learning facts about these things in school long, long ago, but put me in a rock museum or ask me to describe the clouds above my eyeballs, and I’d be stumped.

As a first year teacher, my knowledge of teaching was academic. In teachers’ college, I had been fed from a trough of fun, impractical theories; I had viewed classroom simulations comprised of perfectly behaved adults who playfully mimicked rebellious teenagers; I drank Starbucks lattes and sucked on bonbons as my professors talked about creativity, fun, and social justice.  In short, I had no idea what hell awaited me.

Here is my practical advice for first year teachers.

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Why I’m a teacher (revisited post-graduation)

This is me.
This is me.

 Fresh out of teachers’ college, I still find this old post  about why I teach rings true…

WHY I’M A TEACHER

People react to my telling them I’m a teacher in predictable ways. They all seem to assume the same things: I must enjoy spending time with children, living vicariously through teenagers, teaching a pet subject, or lounging about during summer vacations. In small part, these reasons are true. Alone, though, these reasons are insufficient: I’ve only nodded along with these people’s ideas about my choice of profession because I haven’t the time to explain my reasons. It’s complicated. It’s too much to explain in one sitting to a stranger who asks the inevitable: “Whatcha do?” and “Why you doin’ it?” expecting a few words wrapped in a smile. Let me explain now: Teaching is like being a stream in a forest. I want to be that stream.

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Every teacher & parent should watch this!

An old post I wrote while studying to become a teacher.

Activist, author, and child prodigy  Adora Svitak  makes the case for childish thinking in her compelling TED talk.

She’s 16-years-old but eloquent as my 40-year-old aunt…and that’s eloquent.

I’ve taken the quotes that really stuck out to me and pasted them for you below.

“WHAT ADULTS CAN LEARN FROM CHILDREN”

[by Adora Svitak]

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Every teacher & parent should watch this!

An old post I wrote while studying to become a teacher.

Activist, author, and child prodigy  Adora Svitak  makes the case for childish thinking in her compelling TED talk.

She’s 16-years-old but eloquent as my 40-year-old aunt…and that’s eloquent.

I’ve taken the quotes that really stuck out to me and pasted them for you below.

“WHAT ADULTS CAN LEARN FROM CHILDREN”

[by Adora Svitak]

Straight from Svitak:

‘irrational’ thinking

“The traits the word ‘childish’ addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking.”

“…who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs?”

optimism & dreams

“For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things.”

“…we kids still dream about perfection. And that’s a good thing, because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first.”

control & care

“Now, what’s even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”

“…to show that you truly care, you listen.”

legacy

“But there’s a problem with this rosy picture of kids being so much better than adults. Kids grow up and become adults just like you. Or just like you, really? The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather better adults than you have been.”

my two cents…

I agree with Svitak about everything, except  for one thing; as a student, I don’t think she fully appreciates classroom control. It’s necessary.  No classroom can function well without some rules and guidelines. I know, because I once set very little rules or guidelines (not my thing, anyway), and my students were less focused and less successful because of it. It’s a fine balance. We teachers need to give as much freedom as possible so long as learning is not impeded.

one more thought…

Svitak paints an accurate picture of kids who “still dream about perfection.”Listening to her, I remembered a situation that captures the child mentality perfectly.

Once, I left my black handbag in a classroom over lunch break. I returned to the empty room to find a one of my grade 5 students, Emma, hunched over my bag. “Oh no!” I immediately thought. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I though to myself, “she must be taking something from my bag.”

Rushing over to Emily to “catch her” red-handed, I soon became embarrassed. I saw that she was holding a mop of soggy tissue papers, cleaning my bag from the grit it picked up from the floor. “What are you doing?” I asked. And then she looked up at me, a small mess of freckles,  and said in her slow, deliberate way, “Cleaning…your bag…” I thought she had been stealing, when she had just been helping me behind my back.

Kids do really think a different way, see the world differently. It’s a shame that we grow up.

Do you think you’re childish enough? Or, have you become too serious and narrow-minded to the see the big, bright picture? Have you lost your rose-coloured glasses?

Something to think about…