Instruction & Curriculum

What I Learned From My First Five Months of Being a New Teacher

by Javiera Green
May 30, 2017, ended my first five months as an English educator. Upon starting my first job on January 4, I never thought the end of the year would come. I have learned so much, especially teaching Title 1 English to freshmen and sophomores. As a new teacher, nothing can prepare you for your first day on the job.
I had countlessly been told before my graduation in December of 2016 that it would be hard to get a teaching job since it was mid-semester. Because of that constant reminder, I applied for jobs long before graduation. I applied to about 100 jobs over the course of two months last fall. After weeks of applying in late October, I finally scored an interview, which landed me my first job.
Reality Hits:
After getting my first job, I had to uproot my entire life two hours and 35 minutes west of my college alma mater. Although this was overwhelming, I was very excited to close one chapter and start a new one. Once I had finally moved to the area that I would teach in, a few of my colleagues took me to lunch. From our discussion, I was told that the class I was taking over had eight other teachers prior to me. I was extremely scared when I heard that because I was fresh out of college; however, I decided to ignore my fear and prepare for my first day.
Beginning Woes:
My first day was nothing short of horrible. Since I was new, it was almost like the kids could smell my “new-ness.” Therefore, they would say things that were extremely inappropriate that I am quite sure they wouldn’t have done if I weren’t so new. I’ll never forget what one of my former students said to me after I called his name: “I’m not Mexican.” Immediately after he said this, the class erupted in laughter. Later, I found out that he said this because he was always being teased for his name. Another moment that will forever be engrained in my mind is my first parent phone call about a student’s behavior. The parent told me, Just fail him. He isn’t going to pass anyway.” Upon saying this, the parent abruptly hung up on me. From this interaction, I was mortified about the parent’s lack of regard not only for his child but also his child’s success in school. These instances made me think that I might have been way over my head accepting the job.
Not So Great Expectations 
Before stepping into my role as a Title 1 English teacher, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I hadn’t paid much attention to the term “Title 1.” Sooner rather than later, it was apparent that students within that program had a certain stereotype associated with them. I quickly realized I had to follow a set of expectations based on those stereotypes.
The first expectation was that students should not be held accountable for their supplies. When asked why this was the reality, I was told: “that’s just where they are at as Title 1 students.” Students were expected to leave their supplies in the classroom because if they left with the supplies their items would never return again.
This was a huge issue I struggled with because as educators one of our jobs is to hold our students accountable—not just for keeping track of their things, but for their behavior as well. I felt as if I was doing my students a disservice by not giving them any responsibilities. However, this was already an expectation placed on them from the very beginning of the year, so I felt as if I could do nothing about it. Therefore, their supplies stayed in my classroom the entire semester.
I was also made aware that students weren’t allowed to be assigned homework at all. All work was expected to be done in class. I had never heard of this until I took on this role. Yet again, this was another learning curve that I was expecting. The rationale behind this was that students weren’t going to do the homework because they didn’t care about school. I found this assumption to be true within the first week of school. Because of this reality, I made sure to make our study of literature as engaging as possible through connections my students could relate to. Nevertheless, I didn’t go against the expectations outlined for me.
The last expectation was that students shouldn’t be writing essays because they weren’t going to college. As a new teacher, this was alarming to me because I hadn’t consciously realized not all students would go to college.
I had an epiphany that college didn’t prepare me for what I was actually going to be doing Click To Tweet
Faced with these realizations, I had an epiphany that college didn’t prepare me for what I was actually going to be doing. The quality lesson plans, unit plans, and course designs weren’t as practical as I thought they’d be in college. In fact, they weren’t useful to me at all. I was devastated because I felt as if I didn’t know what I was doing. There were so many times I wanted to give up, but I knew that several other adults had given up on my students, so I couldn’t do that to them.
Rising above the obstacles:
After being filled in on what I couldn’t do, I decided to focus on the positives of what I could do to help my students. I knew that there had been a lack of structure in the classroom with so many substitute teachers. Therefore, I drafted a detailed classroom management plan that outlined clear expectations for my students. At first, this didn’t go over too well with my students because they were used to controlling the classroom, but eventually, they adjusted to the policies and procedures. Discipline was a major issue walking into this role, so I made sure that I was consistent with the behavior policies.
Not being able to hold my students accountable at all was an issue for me, so I found other ways to hold them accountable for certain things such as having them sign a policies and procedures contract that stated they were expected to follow necessarily rules or consequences would ensue. Although I couldn’t hold them responsible for keeping their supplies, this contract was a more meaningful way to teach them accountability. For example, many of my students didn’t take the behavior rules outlined in the document serious because they were accustomed to misbehaving without any repercussions. Therefore when behavior issues arose, they received necessary consequences such as a lunch detention or referrals, depending on the severity of their actions. From this, they quickly learned that they need to be accountable for their actions at all times.
Since the expectation was that no homework should be assigned, I made sure to establish a late-work policy that would hold them accountable for our in-class work. If students failed to complete their in-class work within 3 days, there would be a percentage deduction for each day it was late. I also established an absent system because some of my students were frequently absent. Therefore, they were also accountable for their in-class work.
To cope with the paper expectation, I made sure I taught my students how to draft each paragraph of an essay. We would work on one paragraph over the course of three days. After drafting all the paragraphs, we would combine them to create an essay. I felt that it was beneficial they knew how to craft an essay; we just completed the drafting process in small chunks rather than all at once.
Coming into this profession, I was extremely optimistic that every child could learn. I still hold this mentality five months later despite opposition from colleagues. I’m not going to change my teaching mentality because I feel that every educator needs to take this approach when teaching children, especially underrepresented groups. Every day, I ignored the stereotypes associated with my students. I worked hard to instill in them a work ethic and accountability because I believed they could be successful even if they chose not to further their education outside of high school. At the end of the semester, I was thanked by my students for how much they could tell I cared about them. My students could tell that I needed them just as much as they needed me.
Words of Wisdom for New Teachers:
Nothing prepares you for this profession until you are on your feet. As much as you are “prepared” for this in college, the real training occurs in the classroom where you are interacting with your students and working to teaching them based on their needs as learners.
Relationships are extremely important. I have learned that the most important relationships are the ones you have with your students. Knowing even the smallest detail about them will help you engage them in the day’s lesson and more importantly make them feel special because you know something about them. I have found this extremely important working with Title 1 students because they are often stigmatized based on that label. Another set of important relationships are those you have with your colleagues. They can be a tremendous help to you, especially if you have taught some of the same students and curriculum. I leaned on my colleagues quite a bit this semester; she was a huge help in my success.
Mistakes are what make you human. You are not going to remember everything in your content area. If you make a mistake, students appreciate you letting them know you made an error. It shows that you all are similar. You are not going to know everything about the school in a week not even a year. As you continue to teach, you will get stronger in these areas.
Positivity is key. I know this is a cliché, but it is the truth. The state of education may not be in the best hands; however, we as educators need to stay positive. Every day presents its own set of challenges, so I found that simply being positive helped me get through each day. When I was surrounded by negativity, I remained positive.
Each day was a struggle to get through. At least once a week, I would cry over something I felt I didn’t do well enough. It was also extremely difficult to build relationships with my students who had constantly been let down in their life by other adults. Nevertheless, I was able to persevere through constant stumbling and picking myself back up, which is what you have to do to keep growing. Looking back on this past semester, I am extremely grateful for the challenges I experienced because they taught me to keep going. I am excited and equipped for my first full year of teaching next year. Always remember, teaching is a continuous learning process.

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