Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

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.

Comments (94)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Karherine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Last year was rough. It was my first year teaching and I couldn't think of a job that I've had that I hated more. I am now in my second year with a brand new job, school, students, staff...the list goes on. I'm gladt that I stuck with it becasue I'm actually liking my job. I feel that I am being effective as a teacher and connecting with students. Last year I felt none of those things.

Allison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,

I had similar experiences with students being moved out of my room, but it all happened in my fourth year of teaching. That can be so frustrating! I learned how tough it can be when a "lead parent" decides they don't like you. Anyway, in the years since then, we have all found our place and things are going much better.

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an elementary school music teacher, and my first year was the best excuse for suicide I have ever experienced! I spent hours on end planning, and then could not teach my lessons because I simply couldn't keep my classroom under control! I went home nearly every day frustrated and in tears from trying to do a job for which I felt my education had left me ill-prepared. I nearly quit.

Now, in my second year, I have my colleagues commenting on what a major difference there is in me. My classroom management skills, my lesson plans, the way I interact with students, and even my classroom environment has been so much better. I feel effective, stable, and confident. What a difference a year makes!

Shannon
Viva La Musica!

Shawn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too was not originally intent on teaching. I only subbed because I needed to pay the bills. I enjoyed it so much that I went back and got my teaching certificate and here I am. However, subbing is so much different than your own job. When you sub it is thier lesson plans, not yours that you slaved over. It is thier students and if they don't learn that day it is ok because you are not responsible for thier failure. Now you are responsible. I hated teaching my first year and wondered why I had just wasted the last 2 years of my life. I too am glad I stuck with it because it is one of the joys of my life, it is who I am.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am now in my third year of teaching, but after reading your blog it made me remember my first year. When I got my job as a teacher I had already been out of college for over a year and I thought it was becoming hopeless to find a job in my hometown. Then one of my sorority sisters told me about a job opening in her school. I was so excited when I got the job as a kindergarten teacher it did not even bother me that I would have to pack up and move my life sixteen hours away from home. I had to move from Maryland to Florida. It was a rough transistion but once I got into my new classroom I was so excited and could not wait to start. Well after a couple of months I realized that teaching kindergarten was not the right grade for me. I had a meeting with my principal and assistant principal and it was agreed between the three of us that after winter break I would move into a fourth grade classroom. After moving into fourth grade I became more comfortable and realized that the upper elementary grades were where I belonged.

Mark Nichol's picture
Mark Nichol
Editor / Writer

Felicia:

Unfortunately, official mentorship had not yet been invented when I was a teacher -- at least not in my school district. (It was probably quite rare at that time, in the late '80s. I'm interested in carbon-dating mentoring. Who among veteran teachers reading this post can come up with the earliest recorded sighting of a mandated mentor?) I'm glad to learn from our reportage that mentorship is such a widespread phenomenon these days. I had some nice colleagues who were vaguely supportive, but I did not solicit significant assistance, and none was offered. Would I still be teaching if it had been, or, better yet, if I had had an assigned mentor? I can't say.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,

This is my first time blogging but I found as I was reading your story and the reactions from other teachers, that this is one heck of a way to gain ideas, share insights, and reflect from other teachers, regardless of location.

As I read your post, it definitly brought back feelings of emotion, fear, challenges, successes, and failures for me. As those are all feelings I encountered during my first year of teaching. I was hired as a 6th grade Special Education Teacher and "clicked" with the principal during my initial interview. I went to Korea that summer before school started to run a summer camp for military children. I came back to my job, to find out there was a new principal and I was now taking the job of a self-contained Special Education Teacher, a job very different than an inclusion/resource room teacher. Not only was I "thrown" into an unknown area of teaching, I had ten studetns on all ends of the learning spectrum with no teaching assistant.

Needless to say, that year was very challenging and demanding, however, now that I am in my third year of teaching those students allowed me to become a more effective educator because they allowed me to take risks in teaching strategies and at the end of the year I felt very rewarded to have such a dynamic group of students.

Pam's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I read all these blogs, I am comforted. I have just finished my first semester of teaching, and find it sometimes extremely overwhelming. I think the veteran teachers and administration see the "new" teacher coming and see us as push-overs. I cannot believe all the extra things I say yes to! Like many of the bloggers, I guest taught for some years. The job market for teachers is terrible, so I did three long-term sub jobs before a charter school hired me this past summer. Thankful for a full time job, I am eager to be involved and please administration.
I would be grateful for any advice to get me through the remaining school year.

Erin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,

I, too, went into my first day of teaching with this idea of being a "super teacher". I wanted every child to love me for who I was and because they loved me they would follow the rules... HAHAHA! Yeah right! What was I thinking?

My first year of teaching did not go as smoothly as I desired. I had a behavior child in four corners of my room. I wish I had more corners because I sure needed more! The gym teacher labeled my class as "the worst first grade he has every had." Everything I tried, failed. Every day I was coming home with a headache and in tears. Like you, I worked numerous hours at home and even worked an hour before school and an hour afterschool in my classroom. I was trying to develop lessons to make learning more interesting and I was trying to create reward systems to encourage these children to be "good." Some things worked, other did not. Thankfully I made it through the school year so that was a plus.

I started this school year with a different motive. My co-teacher/my mentor told me that I could not be the "nice teacher" on the first day of school like I was last year. Instead, I needed to be the disciplinary teacher who was going to have an orderly classroom. My goal was to have every child follow the rules. I must say that this approach worked. I made sure that every child followed the rules and when they did not, I made sure I corrected them. Now 3 months into the school year, the class is OUTSTANDING! I was able to get out of the disciplinary role once the class respected me, and was able to be the fun teacher that I wanted to be. We have fun activities and projects, and always follow the rules at the same time.

I am so thankful I gave myself a second chance! First time around a made a mistake and now I fixed it and look where I got myself! Best of luck to you all.

Erin

Nathan P. Butler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think the worst part of my first year had to be how I overloaded myself. I wasn't sure how to create assignments or grade them in such a way that would minimize how much time I had to spend outside of work grading. I managed to basically get up, go to work, and then grade and such until about 1 a.m. It was hellish. Needless to say, I changed many of my assignment practices by the second year.

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.