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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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Meghan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,
I too was an overzealous third grade teacher and now a fourth grade teacher. However, I feel that starting out my year a little more strict than normal really let my students know that I was not going to mess around with misbehavior. This year I started my master's degree and am learning more about myself as an educator and classroom teacher. I would suggest that you read an article entitled "Becoming Expert Teachers" by Robert Garmston it suggests focusing on six knowledge areas: content, pedagogy, students and how they learn, self-knowledge, cognitive processes, and collegial interaction.

Rachel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently graduated from college with my teaching degree and started "pinch-hitting" in various schools and districts at the start of this school year. I was fortunate enough to receive a long term position as a first grade teacher for literacy. I see my classroom as a little chaotic at times and struggle with management. I student taught in a fourth and fifth grade classroom and found effectively managing them an easier task than first graders. I am optimistic of finding a full time and permanent position next year as a teacher, possibly with older students. I am already exhausted and the first semester isn't even up yet. I am learning something new every day about being an effective teacher and effectively managing my students.

Charissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark,

Your story made me chuckle. I have felt exactly like you have. I have had adminadstrators, who were just beginning, evaluate me too. I am in my second year of teaching now, and I still feel that I have a lot to learn, but I know what to expect this year. I have found, after working with younger and older students, that it is harder to maintain classroom management with the younger students. Their thinking is all over the place. Thank you for sharing your story.

Felicia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After completing my student teaching in the 6th grade with a class who was labeled as the worst class ever to walk the halls in our school district, I decided teaching was not for me. Even though my evaluations were glowing, I took a year off and did not even substitute teach. To make a long story short, a job "fell in my lap" and I was hired THE DAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED! Unprepared is an understatement. And guess who my students were? Yes, the same difficult students I taught during student teaching. That first year was a rough ride with regard to classroom management, familiarizing myself with the standards, and defining students' learning styles and what strategies would benefit them. The year was exhausting for me but lesson-filled to say the least. Thank God for my mentor. She encouraged, supported, and advised all the way through. I am forever grateful to her. Did you have any type of "official mentor" to be your sounding board during trying times?

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