Five Times a First Year Teacher
You read that right! By my estimate, I've been a first year teacher five times. But I've only taught public school for nine years so far - how can that be? One word: transitions.
Change is the Constant
I started teaching in the fall of 2011. My first students were 11th graders. As is typical with first groups of students, I learned at least as much from them as they did from me. Most of my lessons fell into the "things not to do" category. ('Let kids set their own classroom rules,' seemed like good advice but went poorly in practice. I finally figured out how to do it well... seven years later.) Based both on test scores and feedback letters that spring, most students seemed to have gained more positive lessons from me, so that was a relief.
The next year, I moved down to teaching ninth grade. I was excited about this for one reason: honors classes. However, I quickly discovered that new grade level + new curriculum = first year struggles all over again. For added flavor, I was also tasked with teaching an elective course for the first time. It went something like this: "Mrs. Dause, we'd like you to reinvent this class. There are books in the book room if you want them, but most are far too juvenile for use. Also, try to avoid using any of your predecessor's materials or curriculum. We look forward to seeing what you come up with!" That's the year I recall a well-meaning coworker telling me, "Electives are supposed to be fun to teach!" I managed to hold back my stress-rage in the moment, but that afternoon I punched my steering wheel. Hard. In the spring, my principal asked me "to consider" taking over the suddenly leaderless Student Council Association. So much for finally finding my feet!
A Change of Face
My third and fourth first-year-teacher scenarios were life-experience oriented: in 2015, I was diagnosed with kidney disease, and in 2016, my husband and I adopted our teenaged son out of foster care. Kidney disease meant I had to totally alter my methodologies (no more standing up all day!) and expectations of myself. The medicines meant to save my life also changed my face and body in ways that first horrified and then depressed me. The following year, having just gotten the hang of living with chronic disease, my son came home. Adoption meant I couldn't work my usual nine or ten or eleven hour days. Plus, there was the transformation from "teacher" to "parent of a kid in the school where I teach" over the course of one summer to deal with. It was a joyful but deeply stressful transition.
A Change of Place
Finally, in the summer of 2019, my family and I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. We came seeking expanded job opportunities and a fresh start of sorts. In my case, that meant trying not just a different district but an entirely different type of school: I joined up with Jouett Middle School. My new placement was a high-performing, low-income middle school that served a vastly different population than the mostly middle class, mostly white folks I'd become accustomed to teaching in my first placement. A bit more prepared for the cold-water shock of the learning curve this time around, I determined to start a vlog recording my latest "first year teacher" experience.
That vlog will be the subject of many more blog posts to come. My hope is that by combining vlogging and blogging, you can learn a lot of the "first year teacher AGAIN!" lessons and mistakes that I made without actually having to make them yourself.
Until next time,
As you start this new school year, remember that nothing stays the same. But it's still your job to establish a safe space for students to learn. Aim to teach from a place of dependability ("I always keep my word") and flexibility ("Life changes quickly and so can I.") As a bonus, kids thrive on novelty! When something that used to work isn't getting the same traction any more, it's probably time to switch things up.