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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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New Kid on the Block: Surviving My First Year in the Classroom

Mark Nichol

Editor / Writer

What does it take to ensure that new teachers have a fair shake at succeeding? Perhaps my experience is instructive.

I come from a family of teachers: My father, both grandmothers, and an aunt all spent time at the front of a classroom. A few years after I graduated from college, though I had not studied education, I decided to follow in their footsteps -- and the prospect of doing so excited me. After earning my teaching credential, however, I couldn't find a full-time job. I spent a year and a half working as a substitute teacher, and when I again failed to get a classroom assignment, I resigned myself to another twelve months of pinch-hitting.

But then, two days before the start of the school year, a principal asked me to substitute indefinitely in a third-grade class whose teacher had abruptly taken another job. I showed up the next day, bright eyed and eager, and a couple of teachers happily skipped a long, boring districtwide teachers' assembly to help me set up my classroom at the last minute.

When I greeted my thirty-two little charges that first morning, I had to be honest with them and tell them I might not be their permanent teacher, but I was hired at the end of the second day, and we settled into the routine. Soon after, I was told that my predecessor had loaded the student roster with many kids with behavior problems, but they seemed a nice enough group, and I knew from my experience as a substitute that eight-year-olds enjoy the novelty of a young male teacher. (The school had only one other, in a kindergarten class.)

I had delusions of being a super teacher, creating much of my own curriculum, and inspiring these young minds to think outside the box (this was long before such phrases as "project learning" had been invented), but that school year was very difficult. The principal, at the insistence of the parents of one of my students, transferred their son to another classroom, then promised he wouldn't remove any other children from my class, but soon after did exactly that.

I dutifully followed all the advice I had heard and read about classroom management; nevertheless, I had trouble making it stick. I tried to reward engaged, well-behaved students with my attention and to give attention to the more difficult ones whenever I caught them being good, but my classroom was often chaotic, and I struggled to succeed.

The principal met with me informally about my challenges. Though he meant well, I left his office no more hopeful than when I had entered it. The vice principal observed my classroom a couple times as part of the evaluation process, but her official forms and officious meetings with me told me nothing I didn't know about my shortcomings and offered little in the way of practical advice. (I also had the feeling that she, a brand-new administrator, was as overwhelmed in her job as I was in mine.)

At the end of the school year, I was exhausted from spending almost as much time at home preparing lessons and grading assignments as I spent in the classroom each day, but I hung in there, teaching in the relatively relaxing environment of summer school and determined to do better the next year. Plus, I was optimistic about the opportunity to work with slightly older children as a fourth-grade teacher.

Does any of this sound familiar? Share your remembrances of your first year of teaching, and read my follow-up to this post.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,
I started teaching in February of 2007, so I am just about to reach my first-year mark as a teacher and it has not been the best of experiences. I,too, got "thrown" into the job, but in a different kind of way. I graduated college in December of 2006 and got hired as a part-time ESL teacher in February. (I ended up picking up another part time job at another district which,together,made me full time) My situation is a little different though.

Because I only had a few kids at a time, class management wasn't an issue. I was thrown into a district without an ESL program and was hired as a teacher but am also expected to create the program/curriculum from the ground up-without a mentor, and without another person in the district who knows how to do my job. I had materials ordered in September (I was using free online materials up until then) and JUST recieved them this past month only to find that they did not make the complete order of the materials (Teacher's editions and resources) thus making the materials pretty much useless.

I also do not have a program director, so if I ever have a problem, I have to e-mail my boss who is also very busy, and, if I even get a response, it won't come for up to 2 weeks. I am trying to get through this year and I'm beginning to feel that I am going to have to find somewhere else to go because I feel far too underappreciated and I would like to be in a district where there are people I can go to that I know will be willing and able to help me when I need it.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,

This is my first year of teaching. I go to work early and still manage to bring work home with me. I have heard that after the first year it gets better. I feel like I haven't stopped; always on the move. There are some days I ask myself why am I doing this. But then I have the good days, when the students make you laugh and smile. This is my calling. I am here to teach and be a role model for my students. I am looking forward to the second year begin a little easier.

Stacie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It was really interesting reading about all of the awful experiences from the first year of teaching. I am now in my 4th year and loving every minute of it, but I did not feel this way 4 years ago. I was hired at the end of September for a kindergarten classroom. The other classrooms were over crowded, so I was hired into the school. I started on a Tuesday, was placed into an empty room, and was told "Here is your room. The children you are getting will come and see the room and meet you on Friday, and you will have them on Monday." My first thought was WHAT. I have 4 days to get ready to teach on Monday and I do not even have a table or a chair! It was already a month into the school year and everyone was finished with this process. The school was not so helpful in getting me the things I needed, but a kindergartedn teacher across the hall was a great help. She did a lot to get me ready. She even gave me her lesson plans for the first month I was there because nobody even told me what I was really supposed to be teaching or how I was supposed to be teaching it.

I am no longer at that school!! I am currently teaching first grade instead of kindergarten at a primary school with 14 other wonderful first grade teachers. The teacher that helped me get through my first year is now one of my best friends!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you all so much for your honesty and transparency. As a first year teacher, I feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and alone many days of the week. When I meet with other first year teachers they all seem to have it all together and don't blink an eye at working 10-12 hour days. I have always wanted to do this job, but I want my energy, my hobbies, my relationships....my LIFE back! There are so many students I thought I could reach and now realize that I can't. I have wanted to hear so badly from someone else I am not completely crazy and selfish for having these feelings. Thank you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My son was placed in a regular classroom with an inclusion teacher. he is in small group for all other classes but history/english (combined class). we told the school it was not a good idea but they said with his testing he would be okay. 1st quarter "d" second quarter "f" final exam "f" 3rd quarter "d already". i signed the iep because they talked me into this. they said he would be fine and that he could handle this. now he has to go to summer school and no one is taking him out of the classroom. I am trying see if an advocate can come with me and try to have a meeting with the school,but they seem to just walk all over me and use big words and i am being ou maneuvered by school administrators with their pursuasive arguments. my son is failing even if the testing says he is okay. he not surviving in a large class he can't. he is an A student in all of his small group classes. why are they doing this? is it the money? i'm so fed up

Benjamin Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an administrator and I don't agree with what you say is happening. No, they are not getting any extra money. They just want to minimize the "work" they have to do. Certainly, the administrators and teacher would be doing you and your son a disservice if they did not encourage the most rigorous placement possible. So challenging your son is a good thing. However, the thing that is worrisome to me is that there should have been an immediate change or adjustment before the very first "f". Your son's special education teacher should have intervened at the first unacceptable progress report. Did that happen? In the IEP I am fairly certain that it doesn't say that your son was to be placed in the regular classroom, with no aide or assistance from the Special Ed. teacher. Also, given the grade, it is pretty clear that the help the IEP describes, was not given during the year. In essence, the school did not follow the IEP and is out of compliance.

The special education law is clear on what rights a parent has. I need to point out that the law is there to protect you and your son, but be prepared because when you begin to apply your rights, given what you have already stated, you will meet with resistance. If you don't feel that you can hold your ground, by all means request an advocate, or at the very least another person who you think can help you stand your ground. Also, please understand that you want to work with the school as partners rather than adversaries, but if they force you, the law is on your side.

The other advice I would give you is to read the documents that they give you carefully. Rather than just calling the school, write them a letter. It may even be time to write a letter to the district Special Education Department. In that letter be detailed and include names and dates of when you met and who was there. State that you felt they were pushing you and your son into something that was not right. Indicate what you did when you got the progress reports and what the school said they would do and if they did it. If they do not respond after 10 days, then send a letter to the State Special Education office.

The bottom line is that the schools have to listen to you, by law. If you do not like what is happening in the IEP, you can appeal it, even if you signed it. Good luck.

Ben Johnson, Assistant Superintendent

Renee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark-
I will be a first year kindergarten teacher in the 2008-2009 school year. I, like yourself, struggled to find a full time teaching position after recieving my teaching degree. I graduated in December of 2005, so it has taken me almost 3 years. It was a struggle and discouraging experience to go through interviews and substitute teach for a while. I have been an Specific Learning Disabilites tutor at the high school level for 2 years. While it is not a permanent position, I feel I have gained insight into the teaching profession. (At least I hope) Dealing with high school kids with learning disabilites and kindergarteners will be a drastic change for me next year. However, I hope to start off with a behavior management plan that will stick. While I know there are always kinks with any plan,I hope to stick by my decisions as an educator and "enforcer" (for lack of a better work) of the behavior mangement plan. I am comforted to know that I am not the only "new beginner" in the teaching profession that is wiery of starting and sticking to their plans in the classroom.

Aida's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! What a year you had! I am in my last semesters to get my AA in Elementary Edu, and very excited and at the same time nervous because i dont really know whats coming ahead. You must be very proud of yourself beacuse more than half of first year teachers that go thru that just leave and change careers. Hope i can be as strong as you were.

Sandra Richardson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As first year teachers we all experience tghe feeling of being overwhelmed. August 2007 marked my first year in the professional teaching field. Susan, I am employed in one of those school systems that have a mentor program for new teachers. Not only is it aprogram for first time teachers, but alos for those teachers who maybe transfering from other schools into a new grade level. I was very fortunate to have a mentor available to me to assist me when needed. At times I was pulling my hair out and possibly facing as burnout. However, the mentoring group did not meet as often as I had hoped, but treh mentors were available for us when needed. Classroom management was a big issue for me. At times I found myself not keeping with my rwards system which lead my students to become discoraged. I spent so many hours after school trying to catch up with paper work and other needed tasks. The curriculum coordiantato at my worksite at the time was very instrumental as being the school liasion. She would always come by to greet everyone in teh mornings and to see if we needed anything. At times I just needed her to a sounding board so that I could keep my sound mind. Eventhough, my first year of teaching was very much challenging, the support staff was awesome. I am aware that some did not have the privelge that I had duirng my first year of teaching in the area of mentoring. I hope to see more of this happening around the country with teh growing need for teachers, teachers who care love to teach.

Sandra

Jen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'd been considering teaching for several years, and at the end of last year I finally decided to begin work towards a teaching license. I am almost forty with two middle-school age kids, I was getting nowhere in the job I had, and I thought I would enjoy teaching and be good at it since I really enjoy learning and sharing knowledge. After three weeks of intense professional development training (which I had to quit my job in order to take), I am no closer to finding a teaching job and I now have serious doubts about my ability to teach and, especially, manage a classroom. I am an introvert, very quiet and reserved by nature, and I worry that I will not be able to maintain control in the classroom. I have had several interviews, but have not been offered a job yet, and I'm positive it is because I lack the assertiveness needed to be a teacher. I have tried to tell my husband that I am starting to think this is a mistake, but he just gets angry at me, telling me I am a quitter and accusing me of wasting the money I used to take the preparation courses. My fears, both of getting hired and not getting hired, have become so powerful that I can't sleep at night and I've gone days without eating. I'm falling apart, and I haven't even gotten in a classroom yet. I have faced a lot of stressful situations in my life -- I've lived in foreign countries, been through a house fire, and even survived cancer -- and I've never been as scared as I am now. Can anyone suggest ways to deal with these fears and build my confidence?

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