Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Hello! My name is Connor Carson. I live in a small suburb near Chicago, Illinois. I graduated in Spring 2019 with my bachelors degree in Elementary Education at Illinois State University. During the last month of student teaching, I landed my first job at an elementary school about 20 minutes away from my house. It was additionally with second grade and I student taught with second graders, so it was perfect!
Preparing for the Year
During the summer before the school year, I read so many professional development books, from The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey and Joan Mosser and the First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary. (💡Fecich tip: Consider adding EduMagic Shine On A guide for new teachers to your cart too!) At the beginning of the school year, I had a blast designing my classroom. I designed a classroom esthetic, red, white, black, and shiplap (I am kind of a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines and their show Fixer Upper). I bought inexpensive book bins and had my entire classroom library stamped, labeled, and organized by genre and interest. I am big on organization and enjoy having everything prepared and ready. I felt very prepared for my students and thought that I had everything figured out.
What I didn’t prepare for was some of the needs of my students. One of my students came into class and had trauma and struggles that I had never worked with before. I had to change the plan that I came into school with because the plan was not going to work for this student and their classmates. In your first year, you are going to have to change and adapt and find what works best for your students. What’s going to work during student teaching, may not work with your students during your first year. Every year and every class works differently. I learned many different strategies and by the time I had a new student with similar needs enter my room later in the year, I was able to implement the things I had learned. I reflected multiple times and noticed the growth that I had over the period of the school year and it helped to realize how far I had come.
Something that I noticed throughout the year was that I was always comparing myself to other teachers. When I logged into Instagram or see what other grade levels were doing in the district and school, I would notice they had the most amazing classroom management and they had their classrooms very decorated. I became anxious as I was not doing the same for my students.
Were my students going to miss out on these opportunities?
My class did not look as fancy or sophisticated as these other educator’s rooms?
How can I make every lesson a big experience?
I am going to tell you that you just can’t do that. As stated above, every class is different. Every student’s needs are different. I am not saying don’t do those over the top activities and don’t invest in fun classroom decorations, but, understand that you are new to this! These other teachers have years of experience. As long as your room is functional and you’re doing the best that you can for your students, that’s what matters! You will learn what looks and works best for you and your room will not look the same one year from now or even ten years from now. So, remember, don’t compare yourself to others because it’s not fair to do to yourself!
I remember during student teaching, my faculty mentor from the college told me to be careful in the lunchroom because that’s where the most negativity lies. You are fresh out of college. Be that positive light for your students and find your group of teachers that have a similar mindset as you. In my first year, there was some negativity in the building.
I know sometimes I had that urge to be negative as well, but, you have to take a step back and think if someone else heard the way that you are talking, would they be upset. It’s important that you are giving students your all and being the best you that you can be. A book that really helped me think about this negativity in schools was Kids Deserve It! By Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney. They really make you feel that you can be this positive energy for your students, your coworkers, and your community. I additionally want to tell you to not let parents bring you down! In my first year, I had parents that did not believe in me because it was my first year in the classroom. You just have to realize that you are doing the best that you can for students and not everyone may believe in you! I know that that may not sound great to hear, but you can do this! Don’t let staff members or parents bring you down!
Reflection was very important within my first year and will continue to be until I leave teaching. It’s very important to take a step back and reflect on how your teaching or how your class management is. At our school, we grade students by standards-based reporting. This means we give students a 1 (struggling with the concept), 2 (may have some irregularities in understanding), 3 (on grade level, understands the standard), and 4 (above and beyond). I always reflect and think about how I would grade myself in the way that I teach. I try not to think of myself at 4 because there's always room to improve. You can always be better than where you are at. I am someone who reflects by reading. I read so many different professional development books, just because I am curious about what others are doing in their classrooms and how I can improve.
Lastly, something that I learned in my first year is that there are many staff members that want to see you be successful. There are staff members and teachers in your building that will want to help you succeed. They have taught for a few years to several years. Get their advice if you are unsure how to help a student or how to add grades to the grade book. Your staff can help you. I would even look for resources across your district! In my first year, I frequently would communicate with second-grade teachers across the district and I really created a relationship with them. I would share resources that I would be using in my classroom and they would share theirs. There's always someone that can help you! Just reach out!
In your first year remember to be flexible. Great teachers need to remember this! Sometimes a student's social and emotional needs need to come first before going into a lesson. If students are scared or sad, they are not going to be able to learn. This was something that I struggled with this year. I had a student that would make others feel down, but I tried to keep teaching because I wanted to make sure to get to the content. But, I learned that that was not correct. I should have stopped and asked students how they were feeling and what we could do to continue.
Something I learned about from my team was the Zones of Regulation. You check in with students and see how you can get them into the Green Zone (Ready to go). Additionally, I would say be flexible because like you, I did not know the end of the school year would end the way it did. I had to quickly adapt and change lessons. Luckily, my team considers me the Tech Guru, so I quickly was able to change our lessons into online materials using Google Forms, Video lessons for students, and at-home activities.
You are going to do great in your first year. I know you might be nervous to start, I know I was. But, if you ever feel worried, think back to why you became an educator. Think back to the educators that made you feel important and loved. Think about how you want to bring that to your classroom. I know that the end of this school year was not how we planned, but I was still able to show my students I cared for them and I’m there for them.
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