5 Things I Learned In My 1st Year of Teaching

Mr. Teach’s family has a lake house in Wisconsin – actually ON the lake.  The last couple Labor Day weekends we have spent sitting on the back deck with his mom drinking wine/beer (Mr. Teach is most decidedly not a wine drinker), cheeses, meals made with farm fresh ingredients, and the sound of rushing water on the beach.  It’s quite relaxing.

Bliss

Bliss

Such is the way I find myself this gorgeous Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend and I can’t help but think about the difference a year has made in my life.  Since last Labor Day the following has happened:

  • I found out I’m going to be an Aunt
  • I finished my first year of teaching
  • I got let go from my district due to student enrollment numbers going down
  • I got married
  • I went to Jamaica
  • I got hired back to my district due to student numbers going back up
  • I began my second year of teaching

All that happened from May-April and has meant I’ve had to learn to do many things – throw a baby shower, say good-bye to my first classroom of first graders, accept that the first decade of teaching might mean no job security, change my name and plan a party for 130 people, prepare for a second school year and make plans for change.

That last one is what I want to hit on in his post.  As I begin – or began, considering we’re now 2 full weeks into the school year – thinking about how I want this year to look, I thought about the 5 BIGGEST things I learned last year that I want to change this year.  And so…

5 THINGS I LEARNED IN MY FIRST YEAR OF TEACHING

  1. Behavior management does not mean all sunshine and giggles.  The kids will need consequences.
    I started last year thinking “I’m going to be so nurturing!  The kids will learn to make good choice because I encourage them!”  And yes, I encouraged them to make good choices and I was nurturing, but I forgot one very important aspect of managing behaviors: students need consequences for when they go too far.  I didn’t do this last year.  They didn’t lose privileges or have free-time/recess taken away.  I didn’t have a clear behavior plan and the students and I suffered from it.
    This year I have set a plan in place that is similar to other teachers on my team and is working (so far) for me.  I have clear expectations, I give 1 warning, and then there is a consequence.  If a student isn’t following expectations (we are  a PBIS school so we use “expectations” instead of “rules”) they have to also tell what expectation they struggled to follow.  I figured out (and will still have to figure out in the future, I’m sure) how to clearly communicate MY LINE and what happens when you cross it.
  2. Reading homework needs to be something you can track too.
    It’s easy to hand out spelling homework and math homework and see who actually does it.  It was harder for me to figure out reading homework and how to tell who actually read the books.  Why would I want to track homework at such an early age?  Because it gives me insight to the kids – are they getting support at home or do I need to allow time in school to give them that support?  Are they progressing in reading at home?  Are their parents reading TO them or are they reading TO THEIR PARENTS? (This is a very important distinction in the early grades….as some of you well know).  Last year, I just sent books home and hoped parents read them with their kids.
    This year I have taken and am using the reading log my neighbor teacher uses in her reading folders.  Students must read TO their parents (as stipulated in a note from me that is stapled to the folder) and then parents must mark how their student read on the bright orange log and sign.  If they did not sign, I know the student probably didn’t read the book (or that maybe she did but I can’t tell for sure).  I cannot tell you how excited I am to see this work this year.
  3. Data tracking does not mean stuffing work samples and office referrals in a filing cabinet folder.
    I’m not going to lie, I sucked at this last year.  I literally did ^^this^^ and was ashamed of it.  I had nothing good to show, no data showing growth, and no freaking organization of the file whatsoever.  As a Type A personality – and thus notorious for being very organized, just ask anyone who observed my plan my quite recent wedding – it was beyond embarrassing.
    This year I printed and copied these Student Data Packets from Welcome to First Grade Room 5 and am giving them a try.  It tracks students behavior based on my management system, spelling progress, writing samples, reading levels, sight word recognition, math test scores, math facts levels, and their homework.  I also added a parent contact log to the Homework Log section to keep track of who/when/why I am calling or writing home.  So far, these have been great – a little time consuming, but great.
  4. A desk calendar is a must.
    Last year I was at the mercy of my team for things like gingerbread houses, bookmobile, holiday celebrations, days off, institute days, Chinese New Year (and basically every other holiday that happens during the school year), etc.
    This year I bought a monthly planner – with literally just the months – and am keeping track of everything on my own.  I feel much more confident, much more organized, and – the best part – I can help my team by knowing important dates.
  5. You need to teach students how to be organized, which means giving them the tools they need to accomplish organization.
    I mean both yourself AND the students.  I learned that I have to teach them how to use their desks because in kindergarten they had tables.  Seriously, on the first day of school when you say, “Put your folders in your desk” they look at you like you’re speaking a foreign language.Kevin Hart Confused
Crayon Organization

Aaaaahhhhh no more discarded crayon bin 🙂

And not only do you have to tell them how to use their desk, I also have to help them learn to organize it.  Where do folders, books, pencil bags, etc. live.  Oye…last year was a mess when it came to organizing supplies.
This year I got smart.  I talked with another teacher about wanting to have a bin on their desks for pencils and she told me about these little red cups that you drill a hole in and zip tie to students desks for pencils/scissors/glue sticks.
I also did some searching and discovered the amazingness that is having different colored bins for lost crayons – oh the happiness that is not having 20 children flooding the discarded crayon bin looking for the ONE RED CRAYON.
I purchased student bins at the dollar store in which students put their excess glue, pencils, markers, erasers, dry erase markers and erasers, and any other accoutrement they brought with them into the classroom – be it on the list or not.

I call these their

I call these their “Snoopy Bins”. I did a Peanuts theme this year. This is clearly before the kids put all their stuff in the bins….

I have a few other things this year that help with organizing and finding places for everything one needs to teach 1st grade, but that’s another post for another day.

Just because I like the happiness that is organized shelves.

Just because I like the happiness that is organized shelves.

So there you have it, the 5 probably biggest things I learned my first year of teaching.  I’m no where near the teacher I want to be, and I probably won’t ever feel as though I’ve achieved my best (because I’m Type A and that’s kind of our thing), but I’m happy with where I am and the progress I’ve made.

So to all you new teachers who may be reading this (or veteran ones who may be reading this with nostalgia behind your eyes), just remember to breathe, be consistent, keep track, and know that it gets easier.

Oh, and just so you know, I’m no longer Miss Teach.  I am now….I’m Mrs. Teach.

Wedding Rings

(I also learned that planning a wedding in your first year of teaching is not ideal.  I would not recommend this.  Avoid it if you can.  If you cannot….weekends are your friend.)

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