I can’t believe it’s already the middle of May! Less than two more weeks and I will have finished (and survived) my first year of teaching – I am so stoked.
I’ve been scribbling daily reflections in my notebook of things that have gone well, things that I could improve on, and things that have just gone horrifically wrong. Out of all these experiences, I’ve learned some very important lessons on how to survive and be effective as a first year teacher.
1. Make phone-calls home. I was nervous and anxious about calling the parents of my students at first, but after I saw what a huge support they were and how much students’ behaviours improved the day after, this has become an enormous help. When it comes down to it, we’re all on the same team!
2. Use positive reinforcement. Like any beginning teacher, I tried just about anything under the sun to find ways to motivate my students and to get them to listen – and for me, point systems (both as a whole class or team effort) have worked wonders. I have a chart in my room of how students can earn points so they know they need to be quiet when entering the class, on-task when working, and ready to listen. Positive reinforcement focuses on the good.
3. Freedom to sit with one condition. I actually borrowed this idea from two other teachers. I give students the freedom to sit with their friends, but I also tell them that with this freedom comes the responsibility to not distract each other and to listen when I am talking. If they are unable to do this, I tell them that I will move them. I asked if they thought this was fair and it was a unanimous “yes” from both elementary and junior high classes. When I do move a student, everyone else automatically becomes extra focused because they don’t want to be next. This is great because it’s their choice and their responsibility.
4. Mean what you say. This one I am always trying to work on. The key for me is to think very carefully before I say something. For example, if I say: “This project is due on Tuesday, no exceptions!” But I forget that students lose one class to work because there is an assembly on Monday. So what do I do? I can keep it on Tuesday, but students will be stressed out because they’ve had little time to work. Or I can move the due date – but then my words lose credibility. There is more power in my words when I always carry through what I say.
5. Collaborate with colleagues. What a life-saver! I am so thankful that I work with such a wonderful and open team of colleagues who are always more than willing to share with me their ideas. I in turn have done the same – even if it’s to help another colleague brainstorm ideas on a lesson or activity. This is something I strongly believe in – sharing and collaborating. It lessons your workload and I find it creates a warmer and more exciting atmosphere at school.
6. Use a non verbal signal for call to attention. It took me half the school year to realize my verbal calls for attention were a huge contributing factor to me constantly getting sore throats. Finally, I switched over to using a desk bell. It’s quick, it’s clear, and it gets the students’ attention. I began conditioning students to react appropriately by adding points to their team for whichever team is the quietest and quickest to respond. This has completely removed the stress I had at the start of the year and I am a much happier teacher because of it.
I am sure there will be more important lessons that I will be sharing with you in the near future. This is why I love this profession – there’s always more to learn and there’s always room to improve. I’m so excited that I’ve begun to find my niche and polish my teaching philosophy a little bit more each day.