MAT Blog

First-Year Jitters? Words of Zen From Veteran Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 3, 2014 4:09:08 PM

zenI recently discovered a social networking site for educators called While perusing the site’s first-year teacher message board, I came across a thread that I think is worth reposting here. The original post is from a reluctant “future teacher” who is in the final stages of completing his certification and having second thoughts about his choice to become a teacher.

If you are a first-year teacher, or even a veteran teacher who is feeling discouraged, I think you may find some comfort in what these veteran teachers have to say.

Original Post:
“I'm a future teacher just finishing the first term of my masters/certification program—and I'm terrified.  It seems like every day in class we talk more about how broken the system is, how hard it is to work within it, and how hard it is to change anything.  

Everything I hear about the profession is that teachers are undervalued and stressed about assessments and just worn out by everything.  I was really excited about becoming a teacher and maybe making a difference for even just a few kids—but everything I'm hearing is just leaving me more and more discouraged and apprehensive.  And this is before I've even started my student teaching!  Does anybody have any advice or words of encouragement?  Is it worth all the hard stuff?”

Response #1
“Don't be discouraged. Sometimes all you hear are the bad things and not the good. People are upfront with many issues, but they are well worth fixing. To just change one life is great! Teachers aren't undervalued at every school. Give student teaching a chance and see what it's like. Although substitute teaching is a different experience than having a class of your own, it will certainly help you get a feel for what teaching is like.”

Response #2
“Do not be afraid! This profession, like all others, requires a spirit of resilience and hope! You mention you want to "help even just a few"—you will "help" hundreds, thousands in ways you may never know! I've been in the trenches for years and it can feel like a “war zone” for both teachers and students. But YOU/WE are offering a way out: Education. Hold on!

I get to laugh every day because I hang with young people. Every day I am creative and challenged. There is NOTHING I would rather do with my life.

Response #3
Try to find someone at your school who is willing to listen to you and give you advice you won't get from administration. Sometimes it helps just to talk; you don't need answers all the time. Such a person is hard to find. But reach out, especially your first year. There are people who will extend a hand back. Maybe someone from a graduate class, even a fellow student teacher. And, after you've been at it a few years, approach the new teacher in the building and offer her/him support.

So there is it. Please feel free to share your own words of wisdom in the comments section. If you could give a reluctant teacher one piece of advice, something you wish you'd have known when you started, what would it be?

Photo credit: RelaxingMusic / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Pedagogy with a Personality

Tags: Master teacher, first year teacher, veteran teacher

Words of Wisdom: Advice from Veteran Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 16, 2014 4:03:00 AM

veteran_teachersLast week, I wrote a blog about five things I wish I would have known before setting foot into my first classroom. This is a conversation I’d like to continue, but instead of doling out my own advice, I decided to reach out to all of the teachers who regularly post on Edmodo. Here was my question: If you could give a new teacher one piece of advice, something you wish you'd have known when you started, what would it be?

Below are their responses:

Be flexible, always have a Plan B, be able to immediately recognize when your lesson plan is failing, and be willing to toss it, then and there.
-Ms. Butchikas

Establish a silent signal to get your students' attention. Yelling is not necessary in typical circumstances.
-Mr. Swaney

Bring a lot of laughter to your classroom lessons; it will make it easier for you and the students to learn and time will fly! I use YouTube videos in my class daily. They are a great resource for both educational videos and mental breaks.
-Ms. Montoya

Establish, build, and nurture relationships with students, teachers, staff, parents, everyone you can think of. Don't hesitate to give or ask for help—but remember, there is no one "magic" way of doing things. Figure out what kind of teacher you will be and work toward becoming that teacher.
-Mr. Gibson

Know that the perfect plans usually end up not so perfect...and that is ok! Capture the hearts of your kids and they will do amazing things for you.
-Mr. Topliff

Keep your focus and curriculum consistent; students will follow the rules if they are established and followed through to the end. Change is good, but setting the tone from the beginning goes a long way!
-Mr. Solorzano

Mark one day every week to leave at the end of your contracted hours and take NOTHING home. It takes some pre-planning, but a weekday break sure makes things easier!
-Mrs. Fizer

I have two. First of all, it is ok to say "I don't know" to a student's question and turn a search for the answer into a class activity. Second, be fair and consistent in your classroom policies.
-Ms. Pilkington

Don't see your inexperience as a weakness, see it as a strength. You are coming in with new perspectives, new insight, fresh enthusiasm, and you’re full of energy—have confidence in yourself and never apologize for being a new teacher!
-Mrs. Hals

Be flexible and go backwards or forwards depending on where the students are at that moment. 
-Ms. Craft

Remember if it is not fun for you, it is not fun for the students.
-Mrs. Foreman

Ask your students what's working for them and why. Adjust what's not working for them. Continue to shape and polish curriculum perennially and don't force what's not working.
-Mr. McLearan

Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Pedagogy with a Personality

Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, student engagement, first year teacher, veteran teacher

Burn. Don’t Burn Out: 5 Things I Wish I knew as a First-Year Teacher

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 8, 2014 9:51:00 AM

first year teacher

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll give the abbreviated version for those of you who haven’t heard it: The first time I formally stood in front of a classroom was also the day I stepped off an eighteen-hour flight from Detroit to Taoyuan, Taiwan. Jet-lagged and armed with exactly two words of Mandarin in my back pocket, I rolled out of my airport cab and into “orientation” where I signed some paperwork and underwent a “training session” that concluded just in time for me to unlock my classroom for the twenty-four students I was responsible for teaching. I doubt this is the norm for most first-year teachers, but it was indeed my first experience as a teacher.

I learned a million things that year, but let me tell you, few of them came out of the textbooks I read as a student. Here are five things I wish I would have known before stepping foot into a classroom.

Burn. Don’t Burn Out: 5 Things I Wish I knew as a First-Year Teacher

Don’t fake it until you make it
Like many first-year teachers, I was proud. I didn’t want my colleagues to know that underneath my cool façade, I was green and trembling. Rather than asking for ideas and swapping lesson plans with the veterans, I spent hours inventing my own. This was not only exhausting, it was impractical.

Veteran teachers have been in the trenches for years. They have excellent lesson plans and activities; most of these teachers were more than happy to give them away. Ask and you shall receive. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Stop trying to fake it until you make it.

Get out of your own head and into a colleague’s classroom
I learned more in five minutes of observing my colleagues in action than I did in five years of school. OK, I might be exaggerating a little, but not much. Again, pride is the first-year teacher’s enemy. Get out of your head and into your colleagues’ classrooms as often as you can. You may only be able to spare five or ten minutes a day, but I promise you, a lot can be learned in that time.

Stay away from “the group”
The teacher’s lounge can be a haven, but it can also be a sponge for negativity and discontentment. As a new teacher, I wanted to assimilate; I wanted to be accepted by my colleagues, so I took lunch in the lounge. The only problem was that I chose to assimilate with “the group”—that is, a gang of teachers who did nothing but complain about their colleagues, students and administrators. They were a black hole and boy, did I get sucked into it.

Whatever you do, stay away from these groups at all cost.  

Never use negative language to describe challenging behavior

This point pairs nicely with the preceding one. “The group” that befriended me in the lounge exerted a lot of energy talking about “badly behaved” students. I have a problem with this for a few reasons, but at the top of the list is the fact that language shapes the way we see the world. So when we use negative language to describe challenging behavior, we start to see students in a negative way.

The paperwork will burn you out—if you let it
My mentors and professors always cautioned me against trying to do “too much” when responding to student work. “Focus on two main things in the first draft,” one mentor told me. I didn’t listen—and I certainly paid for it.

You’re not going to believe how much of your job is tied up in paperwork and grading, especially if you are a composition teacher. One of the best things you can do for yourself is create a realistic grading schedule, stick to it, and for goodness’ sake, stop working harder than your students! If you know you can only grade 10-15 papers in a night, don’t bring home a stack of 50; this will stress you out and lead to exhaustion. 

Photo credit: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


36 Brain Breaks for Students

Tags: first year teacher

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