At the beginning of this year when I moved to my new school, I ran into a caretaker that was doing some summer shifts. She asked me if I used to work at Woodward Avenue School. I said that I did in my first year of teaching. It turns out that she was in my Grade 1 class. I totally remember teaching her. I remember connecting with her family. I remember that year at Woodward. I remember questioning if I made the right choice. Was teaching for me?
I always wanted to be a teacher. When I graduated from the Faculty of Education, I met my goal, and I thought, “I’m going to get to spend the rest of my life doing what I love.” I had many teaching experiences prior to this point. I was confident that it was going to be an amazing first year!
But instead …
- It was overwhelming.
- I never felt like I could get ahead.
- I was teaching two different grades at two different schools, and travelling between them on my lunch hour.
- I was completely disorganized: I had piles of paper everywhere.
- I was more concerned with teaching programs than teaching students.
- I was sharing two classrooms, and never had things in either one ready to go.
- Students could sense that I was feeling flustered. I always found myself managing behaviour and never actually teaching.
- I thought that I would be a good teacher, but instead, I felt like a failure.
Thinking back now though, I learned a lot from that year.
- I learned that I’m calmer in an organized classroom, and my students are as well.
- I learned that we need to connect with our students and learn about their needs.
- I learned that one program does not meet all student needs.
- I learned that all students deserve our best every single day.
- I learned that we need to connect with staff. Teachers also need support systems.
- I learned that a deep breath and a calm voice can make a big difference.
- I learned that “teaching” is also about learning, and that I’m determined to keep on learning.
- I learned the value in hard work and perseverance, and that it’s worth sticking with something you love.
- I learned the value in change, and I learned a lot from the changes I made.
- I learned that we all need to try, and fail, and try again. If we want our students to do this, we have to as well.
And to that student that I taught back in my first year, I apologize: you deserved a better “me.” I did get better though — and I continue to improve — because of what I started learning 14 years ago. I can only hope that you learned as much from that year as I did. What did you learn from your first year of teaching? What have you learned since then? I’d love to hear your stories!
Aviva your post brought back many memories. Made me think of all the things I have learned since that 1st year. Your last paragraph actually brought tears to my eyes when I too think back to my first students. Wish I could do over. Wish I could show them some of the things a real teacher is suppose to do. I know I showed them I cared as I remember them running to my car to help me with my bags but I also remember that I didn’t push them to reach their true potential. That’s why I would love a do over so we could learn together and grow together and I could help them develop a strong love for life long learning. So I could show them that they have a voice and have the power to question things in our world.
Thanks for the comment, Jo-Ann! I think that we both want to be able to do things over for many of the same reasons. The good news is that even though we can’t, we can make this kind of positive difference now. Thank you for being one of the people that have inspired me over the years, and helped me improve. I’m very fortunate to get a chance to learn from and with you!
Wow. Such an amazing post. As this is my first year teaching…I can totally relate to all the things you talk about. I wish there were more hours in the day so I could get around to being organized! The piles of paper everywhere are quite indicative of my classroom, and I never feel ahead.
Someone told me something in January when I began this journey…”Try your best, because your best is good enough.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t improve as teachers, but as a first year teacher it is rough. You have to remember that you are trying to do everything right, and as long as you’re trying and learning you are doing what is right. Putting students first is key.
I hope that I grow and learn over the remainder of this school year. Thanks for reassuring me that everyone has felt this way at some point!
Thanks for the comment, Frances! Looking back now, I think that so many first year teachers feel this way. I always worry about saying, “… your best is good enough” because then I wonder if people think that there’s never any need to improve. The rest of your comment makes me think differently about this line though. Keeping the kids first while continuing to learn and grow are so important!
And Frances, as someone that gets to see you in action both online and in-person, I’d say that your students are incredibly lucky! You do so much to provide them with engaging programming that help them succeed. You’re constantly reflecting and trying new things. I bet that the students love learning with you!
Have a great day!
Thank you! Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am trying really hard to do my best for them. As a human being, there are only so many things you can juggle. Every teacher needs to seek ways to improve, but at the same time find balance.
I think that if you constantly remember that you are teaching kids, and that you are putting their needs first, that you can only get better from there!
Thanks for the encouragement!
Thanks for the reply, Frances! I absolutely love your second paragraph. I think this is key. I continue to wonder if balance needs to be “equal.” I don’t necessarily spend an equal amount of time between home and school, but I do try to find a balance that works for me.
This is a great post! Thank you Aviva!
It has been on my mind a lot lately with just over two months left of mat leave. I have been getting some help from my sister in law to organize my house and “school stuff” in preparation. I think the points you made are great, support is so important and reflection is key. My struggle is with balance of home and school. Being the very best parent and educator and making sure that I am meeting the needs of my children at home and the children entrusted to me at school. I love being a mom and I love being an educator!! I hope that by getting organized and prepared I can find a good balance so that I can give my very best to both home and school. I’m so grateful for all the support from family, colleagues, parents, and educators such as yourself! If I had any advice for someone in their first year it would be to develop a good support system and never be afraid to take a step back to reflect and get help when needed. Thank you for being such a great example and an inspiration.
Thanks for the comment! Balance is something that I always struggle with. I’m not sure that I’ve found an equal balance, but one that works for the personal and professional “me.” Not having kids though makes my situation different than yours. Having seen you in the mom role, I can only imagine how wonderful you are as an educator, and I know that you’ll do everything you can to find this balance. You will definitely have some lucky students at school when you go back! I do love your reminder about the support system and asking for help. This can be hard (or so I think from my own experiences), but it is important.
Best of luck as you continue to get ready to head back to school!
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I’ve learned almost everything on your list. My advice to new teachers would be to stay positive. It’s amazing what the power of positive thought can do. For me, it’s as simple as leaving the room when a negative conversation pops up. I would like to share your list of lessons learned (and the comments) for a presentation I’ll be doing in the new year for new teachers. Is that all right?
Thanks for your comment, Jon! I definitely agree with you about the power of positive thinking. My principal and vice principal last year reminded me about the importance of “thinking positively,” and I loved the way it made me feel. You can definitely share this list at your presentation — thank you! I’d be curious to hear what others have to add to it.
I could not help but go back to this blog and post my comments. How I have changed my teaching practice through these years? When I started teaching, I solved the assigned set of Math/Science problems and before heading to class. I would only take up those problems in class leaving me with little scope for surprises or new learning experiences. Over the years, I have started taking the risk of the unknown. This means that I pick up any interesting problem I see during my class which will enhance student understanding and learn as-you -go during the lesson. I am not scared of making mistakes or students pointing out to them anymore. My new approach is “let us learn together”.
Thanks for the comment, Sandhya! I love this new approach of yours. I think it’s valuable for students to see that we can make mistakes and learn together. I’m curious to know how much more we’ll change 5, 10, or more years into the future.