Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lessons I learned as a first year teacher

Well, my first and last year at Simeon Career Academy High School is over.  I took the job, thinking I'd be here for as long as I'd be teaching in the classroom, but God has different plans.  Of course, He knew the end from the beginning... but I didn't.  And I'm glad.  I could not have put the energy and effort into my students this year if I knew all year long I'd be leaving at the end.

Anyway, I definitely couldn't describe my experience in one word, but I can say that overall, I loved it.  There were days I wanted to quit (literally), there were days when I thought "okay, I'll stick out this year, but I am definitely applying elsewhere for next year," and there were days when I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.  But, overall, like I said, I loved it.  I loved my students (on most days).  God taught me lessons that one blog post can't even BEGIN to cover. 

Over the past couple days, I've been thinking about things I learned from this year, as a teacher specifically.  I suppose I'll continue thinking about things I learned as a person, a Christian, a wife, etc... But today, I'm thinking about teaching.

[I'm writing this sentence after writing the list below - it's a sporadic collection of thought.  Nothing refined or categorized.  Sorry for the lengthy randomness, but I think this is one of those posts that's more for my reflection.  Sometimes I need to just get all the crazy thoughts simultaneously running through my brain out in words in order to think clearly.] 

1.  Throw most things from college out the window once you enter a classroom.

2.  The Chicago Teachers Union, as an organization, thinks they're at war.  Their monthly publications often speak about "news from the home front," "30,000 members strong," "protesting the attack on the children," etc...

3.  Classroom management - learned a lot of don't lessons from this one, although I don't know if I have a lot of "do's" yet. 

4.  Make teacher friends at your school.  I did a TERRIBLE job at this.  I felt isolated, like I didn't know anyone except the band teacher who shared my office, the assistant principal, and the principal, none of whom I could go out with after work for a bite to eat.

5.  Ask a lot of questions.

6.  Teenagers are teenagers.  There are a lot of factors that influence a high school student.  However, the "teen" part - hormones, facebook obsession, attachment to cell phone, thinking high school drama is as problematic as the war on terrorism, mood swings, etc... - all that is the same across the board.  Regardless of where you come from or who yo' momma is, teenagers are teenagers.

7. Be as perfectly consistent as is humanly possible.

8. Admit mistakes to students.  If you tell them when it's your fault, you have more "cred" when you tell them it's their fault."

9. Greet students by name as they come in the class.  Your smiling face greeting them at the door each day of the week as they walk into your classroom (slow moving and gloomy) might be the only thing that is consistent in their day.

10. Although "teenagers are teenagers," where you come from makes a difference.  What happens at your house, who supports you, how many jobs you work, how much money you have, it all makes a difference in your education.  Some kids have to overcome a lot more obstacles than others to get that 23 on the ACT. 

11. The #1 most accurate predictor of a child's ACT score is his or her family's income.

12. "African American" is not a term to describe all black people living in America.  As a friend put it so bluntly, "not all black people are from Africa."

13.  Black teenagers and white teenagers, generally, view cops very differently.

14.  Don't box kids in - try new things.  You might be surprised by what they might enjoy.  I took 20 students to the opera this year and they talked about it for the rest of the school year, begging to go back.  When I announced I would not be returning, a few of the kids that got to see the opera asked if the new teacher would take them.

15. Love love love your students.  It is almost impossible to teach a child you don't care about.  As my principal says, "I'm not asking you to buddy up or live here on the weekends or run after school programs...just like them enough to teach them while they're in your room."

16. As a teacher, you can come to work late every day (as in, later than 1st period actually starts) and not loose your job, thanks to the union.  [And no, I did not learn this from experience.]

17.  On "professional development days" (aka teacher institute days), your itinerary will tell you that teachers are to report at 7:30 (the start of the normal work day) and the first meeting is at 8:30.  This is code for "we will look the other way if you come in closer to 8:30."

18. Most students will not come to school on the following days: the last day before any sort of break, the friday before a 3-day weekend (i.e. friday before Columbus day), the first day after any sort of break, the days before and after mid-week standardized testing, days when it snows or rains heavily (i.e. 3+ inches of snow), the last week of school after final grades go in.  Also, some seniors habitually do not attend school Mondays and Friday.  When you ask them where they were they will respond with "ugh, it was a monday!" or something similar.

19.  Be sarcastic as little as possible to the class as a whole when teaching, especially not at first.  They get a LOT of sarcasm from adults already. 

20. When 2 students escalate a fight, don't try to ask them to stop - just get security to get them out of your room.  They're putting on a show.

21. Come up with a filing system at the beginning of your first year, and keep up with it! 

22.  Keep your room neat.

23.  Do not make a habit of free days.  For 2 months straight, my students asked for "free days" without one given.  (They told me all their other teachers give free days and "it's a friday... ugh.")  I believe without "free days," they learn better work habits.  Plus, then if you do give 10 minutes of free time after finishing an assignment, it's a BIG deal.

24.  Come up with an orderly way to begin class as soon as the bell rings.  Stick to it every single day.  If I were returning to Simeon,  I would start class COMPLETELY differently.

25.  If you stick with something, the very thing they hate might be something they come to love.  In my case, singing.  I couldn't get them to open their mouths, much less sing, in September.  At the end of the year, I asked "what do you wish we would have done in class?" on a class evaluation and 90% of the kids said something about singing more, or performing a concert. 

26. Have inside jokes with the class and with individuals.  It communicates they are important to you.

27.  Establish a positive working relationship with students.  "Positive" is different in different classrooms, but make it positive in whatever way it works for you.

28.  Do not make a habit of taking days off. 

29.  You know you're doing an okay job of teaching if the students are glad when you are back because they'd rather have you than a sub.

30.  Do not take a week off.  (woops!)

31.  Many teenagers like doing favors for teachers as much as 2nd graders do.  "Hey can you do me a favor" goes a long way, especially with that "special" kid that drives you crazy :)

32. Do not cuss at students.  They will notice.

33.  Ask questions about their lives outside of your classroom.

34.  It is easy to let those 2 problematic kids take over your mental energy and to forget about the other 198 students who are working, learning, improving, and fun!  Consciously focus on the 198.  It'll make your job more enjoyable.

35.  Tough situations will come up.  VERY tough situations.

36.  Pray for your students.  I can name 3 instances off the top of my head where a child's behavior and learning in my classroom took a 180 degree turn (for the better) after I prayed for them by name!

37. God is faithful.  If he puts you in a teaching job (or any job for that matter), He will equip and strengthen you to complete the job.

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