Author: Confessions of a Novice Educator

Rural grown, I have a strange affinity for fields full of corn and soybeans. I went into teaching on a whim and never looked back! I don't have a particular age that I absolutely love, but I do prefer the early elementary years. I recently finished my 1st year of teaching full time. I taught a group of first graders that taught me patience, firmness, and much, much more. My hope with this blog is to encourage other first-10-years teachers to plug along through the murky waters of beginning a teaching career. Too many good teachers are being lost early on. Maybe, if we ban together, we can turn that around.

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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The hardest job I’ve ever had was….

I apologize for my absence.  I could give you a number of reasons for my lack of postage, among them beginning wedding planning and starting my first year as a teacher.  I could tell you I have a tough class this year and I’ve been swamped with trying to figure out how to manage them.  I could tell you I just didn’t have time.  All these reasons are true, but what I’m really trying to say here is…

Teaching is hard.

Not hard like math was hard.  Not hard like vodka is hard.  I mean hard like going outside when it’s -45 degrees and asking yourself why you live where the weather hurts your face (and you can’t come up with any good reasons but you know you’ll never leave).

Wind hurts my face

This is the hardest job I’ve ever had.  I often find myself asking, “Do I really want to keep this up?” “Maybe I should think about another profession” and “An office job sounds really freaking nice right about now”.

But….I stick with it.  I stick with it because I know after 3 months I’d be sick of that office job, but after 3 months of teaching I’m not sick of school.  I stick with it because I know I would miss the constant interaction with tiny minds and the consistencies (and inconsistencies) they face each day.  I stick with it because I honestly believe that “it gets better after the first year” (If I had a nickel for every time I heard that….).  I stick with it because I like my colleagues and how they always build each other up and never shoot each other down.

Mostly, I stick with it because at the end of the day I actually enjoy teaching.  Today was a bad day – the kids were chatty, my patience was waning, the power went out so we couldn’t take our online benchmarking test (so I had to reschedule it twice because of other unforeseen circumstances and by that point I was throwing my hands in the air in surrender).  At the end of a bad day I can’t wait to go home, but I still stop in to talk to other teachers, play piano for the music teachers, and pause to get that one math building exercise from another teacher.

There are three things people have told me so far this year that have turned my mood around instantly.

  1. A fortune cookie fortune from my mentor (that she’s had since her first year of teaching) that reads, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Be patient.”
  2. “I’m so overwhelmed with everything going on….and I’m not in my first year like you!  I can’t imagine how you’re holding up!”
  3. “I’ve been teaching for 14 years and I still have days where I’m wondering if I’m a good teacher.”

So I’m home, drinking a brew and getting ready for frozen deep-dish pizza (not the same as real deep-dish, but it’ll work in a pinch).  Soon I will cuddle up on the couch with a good book and my fiancé will walk in the door all sweaty from the gym.  Then we’ll go to bed and I’ll toss and turn thinking about all the things I have to do at school and how I’ve not gotten them done yet.

Then I’ll get up, eat breakfast, and go to school – not because I have to, not because I get to, but because somewhere in my being I still know that I want to.

Overwhelming FIRSTS

School starts Monday.

Holy. S***.

SCHOOL STARTS MONDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

image

Pretty sure this is what I looked like when I was talking to my team today. The good news: we all had this look on our a face today.

I have school supplies everywhere. I have un-laminated things everywhere.  I have lesson plans un-done, curriculum materials missing, and a couple empty spots on my walls.

i walked past a teacher who had all the supplies put away.  I saw books on her students desks and stuff on every wall.  In her classroom I saw everything I wanted: organization, assurance, and success.  In my classroom I saw empty walls and school supplies.

But as I cried in my car 5 min later I started to think about something: this other teacher has been teaching for at least 3 years.  The teacher next to her has been teaching for longer than 10 years. So no, my classroom isn’t going to look like theirs this year. Or next year. Or maybe even the year after that. What my classroom does have is me and my devotion to my students. I might not have all the walls covered, but that gives me space for students to fill. I might not have my school supplies put away, but that gives my students the chance to help me figure out where to put things.

My first classroom isn’t founded on what others are doing around me. Instead, my first class and classroom is a going to be founded on US – my students, myself, and how we work as a group.  It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be a disaster. But this classroom will be something no other group I teach will be: uniquely and unequivocally OUR FIRST YEAR.

image

By the by, the word “first” starts to look funny after a while….

Overwhelming FIRSTS

School starts Monday.

Holy. S***.

SCHOOL STARTS MONDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

image

Pretty sure this is what I looked like when I was talking to my team today. The good news: we all had this look on our a face today.

I have school supplies everywhere. I have un-laminated things everywhere.  I have lesson plans un-done, curriculum materials missing, and a couple empty spots on my walls.

i walked past a teacher who had all the supplies put away.  I saw books on her students desks and stuff on every wall.  In her classroom I saw everything I wanted: organization, assurance, and success.  In my classroom I saw empty walls and school supplies.

But as I cried in my car 5 min later I started to think about something: this other teacher has been teaching for at least 3 years.  The teacher next to her has been teaching for longer than 10 years. So no, my classroom isn’t going to look like theirs this year. Or next year. Or maybe even the year after that. What my classroom does have is me and my devotion to my students. I might not have all the walls covered, but that gives me space for students to fill. I might not have my school supplies put away, but that gives my students the chance to help me figure out where to put things.

My first classroom isn’t founded on what others are doing around me. Instead, my first class and classroom is a going to be founded on US – my students, myself, and how we work as a group.  It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be a disaster. But this classroom will be something no other group I teach will be: uniquely and unequivocally OUR FIRST YEAR.

image

By the by the word “first” starts to look funny after a while…..

New Name. New School. New Relationship Status.

Everything has changed since my last post. How, you ask? Let me count (literally) the ways…

1. I graduated (whoop!) with my masters from the University of Illinois.

2. I turned 26 and got booted off my parents’ insurance (less-whoop)

3. I got ENGAGED!!! That’s right, Potential Mr. Teach, or PMT, is now Future Mr. Teach, or FMT.

Engagement Ring

Picked it out all on his own. Fancy, no?

4. I submitted countless job applications.  I think the total number came to around 75?

5. I finally got a job as a first grade teacher (super woot!!!) and I could not be more excited to start the school year!

dancing

How I felt after getting the offer! I may have refrained from these exact movements, considering I was eating lunch with the future MOL at a Jimmy Johns….

So,  yep, with all the change I thought it would be appropriate to change the blog to something more long-term.  Enter Confessions of a Novice Educator: Making first-decade teachers look good since 2014.  I’ll use this as a place to celebrate the successes, vent the frustrations, grow from mistakes, and muddle through the struggling lessons.  If there is one thing I hope my readers will get from my blog it is this: 

We all start somewhere, and I am a teacher starting at Level 0.  I will give my all to my students, but I will learn from mistakes.  I am a strategic thinker, observer, and substitute parent at times.  I am a teacher, and I am a human being just like you.

Voila.  New me.

(Also, before I go I have to tell you that this new me made a class schedule today.  It feels weird, making a schedule for 20 six year olds to follow.  It also feels weird having a classroom.  A good weird.  Like I’ve been handed the keys to an apartment in Teacher City and am officially a resident…weirdly awesome)

States of Matter Graphic Organizer

I’ve been teaching my kiddos about matter lately. We’re past this stage in the game, but definitely keeping this for later use!! Thanks Squarehead Teachers!

Squarehead Teachers

States of Matter G.O. STICKER I’ve got another graphic organizer for you! This is my second graphic organizer on states of matter . It would be effective to teach students with one graphic organizer and then test them with another (since they cover the same content). Using a second graphic organizer could be a good review right before an exam/state test also.

Click here for the free printable PDF: States of Matter graphic organizer

Don’t forget that today’s the last day of my first giveaway!

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BB: Blog and Basketball

Holy crap it’s been freaking forever.  Sorry about that.  I have no good excuse for my absence, but I have a few mediocre ones:

  1. The six weeks of class at the beginning of the semester were “kinda” busy
  2. I haven’t had anything interesting to post about
  3. Student teaching has me trying to keep my head above the water so I have, admittedly, put this sucker on hold until I get a better grip on lesson plans, projects, and other student teaching related stuff
  4. I forgot I had a blog

Fortunately, Potential Mr. Teach has reminded me that I had a blog, as did the lovely lady over at Performing in Fifth Grade.  If you are a teacher friend, go check her out.  She has some useful tips and tricks up her sleeve(s).  (She also has a pretty groovy Facebook page)

A fun story from this past week to finish off the post:

At the beginning of my student teaching placement I sent home a letter to families introducing myself.  In this letter, I like to put down little bits and pieces about me when I was the age of my students, in this case when I was 8 or 9 years old.  I also try to think of things I know my students relate to by picking sports or activities my students and I have in common.  I have a couple sporty boys in my class, so I mentioned, “When I was in third grade I played basketball, gymnastics, and dabbled in figure skating.”  My cooperating teacher read “I played basketball” and volunteered me for the 2nd v. 3rd grade basketball game that was to take place, in front of students, the following week.

Never mind that I scored a whopping 2 points in my two year career as a ball player.

And thus I found myself dreading the afternoon last Monday morning, donning my new maxi skirt (work out leggings hidden underneath in the event of a quick change later) and green for my team and, conveniently, St. Patrick’s Day.  I thought I was being smart wearing a maxi skirt with my leggings underneath – I looked professional yet was ready for the ball game all at once!

The students were skeptical.  Not just of my maxi skirt.  The following is a conversation during our morning cursive lesson:

Student 1: You’re not going to play basketball in that are you?

Me: (suppressing a giggle) No, I have leggings on underneath

Student 1: Phew, I was gonna say…

Student 2: Do you even have any experience playing basketball?

HA!  I politely responded, “Yes, I played for two years when I was your age” and then redirected him back to his cursive As, or Qs or whatever letter we were on that day.  He still seemed skeptical, but that changed when I scored 8 points and had two rebounds in our game that afternoon.  My team won, and Student 2 asked me for my autograph the rest of the afternoon.

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Teaching.  WIN.