Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First year teacher? Here's why you're unprepared.

I got my teaching certificate by following the so-called "traditional" route; I minored in Education in college. I sat in safe, quiet lecture halls and listened to professors use words like "pedagogy."

True, I was also a student teacher. In February, after the classroom teacher had done all the real work of getting the class organized and settled and ready to learn. By the time I got there, the class ran so smoothly that my first-graders probably could have done it without me.

I used to be wary of "alternate certification routes" like Teach for America. How could you become a teacher when you hadn't done your share of sitting in safe, quiet lecture halls and listening to professors use words like "pedagogy"? But now I think that perhaps I don't really have so much of an advantage over those Fellows. Because if you're a first-year teacher, there are always going to be reasons why you're unprepared:

1. You don't know how long anything will take.
Time does strange, twisty things when you're alone in a classroom with children. You may spend your entire lesson cajoling your students to sit down and be quiet. You may envision an entire, 5o-minute lesson that flies by in 20 minutes. This makes it impossible to plan lessons with any degree of certainty.

2. You don't know what your personal teaching style will be like.
I did my student teaching in a classroom with young children, and without consciously meaning to I ended up mimicking my cooperating teacher's style for the sake of continuity. I adopted her phrases and even her tone of voice so that my students would respond to me the way they responded to her. Now I'm wondering: Who am I as a teacher, anyway? I love to make my kids laugh, but if they laugh does that mean they respect me less? What noise level should I tolerate during independent work? For how much longer should I keep forcing myself not to smile?

3. You don't know who to turn to.
During a conversation I had today with another new teacher, she told me she felt lonely, stressed out and completely without guidance. In short, it was like talking to myself in a mirror! She suggested that maybe it would make me feel better to know that other people feel the same way, but actually it just made me feel worse, as if I were trapped in some unfortunate hazing ritual for new teachers: We all pay our dues.

What else happened today?
  • I learned, once again, that if you have a Band-Aid on your finger, your young students will ask you about it. More than once. When you think they're raising their hands to make insightful comments about the alphabet.
  • Two first-graders gave me completely sneak-attack hugs. One came from behind with the force of an atom bomb, and then the hugger ran away, later remarking, "I know you from kindergarten!" Alas, she is mistaken, as I am most definitely a New Teacher. The other was also an end-of-the-day surprise hug that came with the heart-warming comment, "I like it when you come to our class." Too bad my heart is already hardened and I suspect it's because I am Too Nice. (And because I, unlike their classroom teacher, would never threaten to lock the bathroom so that they all wet their pants...!)

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