9 Comments on “Remembering My First Year Teaching”

  1. jd2718 Says:

    We’ve been teaching about the same length of time, and while my first year wasn’t with as, shall I say, as colorful a group as yours, it was still a pretty typical Bronx set of kids. 167 kids on my first day. Also, I was miserable at it. Not first year miserable. Worse than most, by a lot.

    I learned a ton from what I did wrong that year, and the next. Our lessons overlapped. But there are a few I can add (and I still rely on them, at least to some extent)

    1. Administration may give you 17 rules to give the kids, but don’t give a rule that you are not going to consistently enforce. Combine the 17 to produce a number that you can manage. (These days my syllabus says “this classroom is governed by general rules of mutual courtesy and respect. Everyone, teachers and students, are bound by this.” or something like that)

    2. If it’s us against them, make the ‘us’ you and your class. I rallied class after class against the state, against the school administration, against other classes, against the disruptive element wandering the hallways. (ex: “They (the state) doesn’t want 100% passing these tests because they will look too easy. So they wrote it so that you guys will fail and the kids in the suburbs will pass. Should we try to prove them wrong?” I had classes asking me to shoo kids out of the hallway, or call deans. If it was us against the world, it meant the class was working with me.

    3. Let them move. 45 minutes is too long to sit still. I fidget. Make them shift their desks. Or come to the board. Or put things away and take other stuff out. A break. A stretch. It really helps.

    4. Give them control of some aspect of the room. It can be minor, but the symbolism is big. I ‘give’ kids about two thirds of my board space, and let them put homework that they choose at the beginning of class. In some classes I let them choose seats (bad idea with freshmen, I learned the hard way). Some classes get to choose which day a quiz will be, or I consult on the due date for a project. Once a kid has participated in decision making for the class, either on an individiual item, or as a whole class thing, he has ‘bought in.’

    5. Let them work. If you are chronically exhausted, you are doing too much, they are not doing enough.

    6. Don’t get too keyed up if your lesson doesn’t fly. Or if you get side-tracked. Or if you do something more interesting, or off topic, instead. If the lesson was important enough, you will work it back in. It is okay if learning trumps your planning (occasionally)

    So, I did all of yours wrong, and all of mine. For about two years. But slowly I learned. This is the start of my tenth year, NYC high school math, and I don’t even give this stuff much thought any more. I should.

    Nice post.


  2. What a fantastic post here! I actually wasn’t reminded so much of my own first year of teaching but rather of my middle/high school days and all the havoc I caused for my teachers. Anyway, it was interesting to read your thoughts here. It really sounds as though you’ve come a long way since that first year…!


  3. JD2718,

    Thanks for your insightful comment. From your comment it seems that one of the largest lessons you learned your first year teaching is to give the students some control of their education – input, space and cohesion. Great lessons! I have learned these along the way as well.

    It feels nice to reflect on the things we know now (especially on days we struggle). Thankfully, I am not a first year teacher again, but I still get to remember what I learned when I was. 🙂

  4. jd2718 Says:

    If I can’t remember how it was, I don’t see how I can help new teachers. I received a lot of advice that while well-meaning was worthless to someone who couldn’t control a class. It’s funny, really. I’ve learned to take complete control at the beginning of the year, just so I can hand it back to them (but in a form I am happy with) as time progresses.


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