Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Reflections on being a first year teacher.. again!

While this was my 6th full year (7th including all teaching time) teaching, this was my first year in a new school. Not only was the location different, but the school population, size of my department, and school atmosphere was different.

  • This was my first year working with another Latin teacher in the building (okay, well 3 other Latin teachers)
  • This was my first year having less than four preps (5 classes of Latin I and 1 class of Latin II)
  • This was the first time I proctored an AP exam. 
  • This was my first year without a window in my room. 
  • This was my first year sharing a door with another teacher. 
  • This was the first time I did not know every single Latin student in my school.
  • This was my first time, in a number of years, being in the same building with fellow foreign language teachers. 
There are a lot of lessons and firsts that I experienced this year and I thought I'd write this post to reflect on those and maybe, if it is useful, pass on some things to those who have yet to experience their "second first year". 

  1. Collaboration is key. This was true last year for me as well - since we untextbooked. But, it continues to be true. Even though we are all in the same building and we teach a variety of things, collaboration is key. I don't say this to say something like, "you have to follow every lesson plan to the letter and be on the same day every day." I say it to say things like:
    * A fresh pair of eyes can be helpful.
    * Sometimes you are tired and need an alternate plan.
    * Hearing someone else's perspective might give you new ideas.
    * Stealing your colleagues ideas is okay! 
    I can't tell you how many times this year my colleague Bob Patrick (and my father) would take my lesson plan and tweak it and then we'd collaborate briefly at the end of the day and I liked so much of what he did that I did it myself the next day. Similarly, he'd tweak a plan and then see what I'd done with it and do it himself that way the next day. This made light work for both of us and gave us many new ideas. Similarly, we collaborate across levels. I would watch things Rachel did and steal them for Latin I or hear about what Caroline did in Latin III and adapt it for my kids to read. 
  2. Communication is bread and butter. I came from a school where I was an individual Latin teacher. I worked well with my colleagues, but there was much in the Latin world that I was on my own to do. It is important, whether you are going or coming from a place with more than one teacher, to communicate. There was so much I had to learn (and am still learning) about how things are done here. It can be frustrating because I am used to trying to figure it out on my own and I don't always remember I have a group with me now who knows what it is I am dong. I am so thankful for how kind and understanding they've been with me! 
  3. The stuffed animals may remain the same, but their personas will not! I took my stuffed animals with me and I've added to my collection since then. The animals that were my previous students' favourites are no longer sitting on a golden throne. The kangaroo has been traded for the llama; the koala for the grizzly bear; the sheep for the hippo. Similarly, the stories we tell aren't the same. This has been an adjustment for me, but it has been fun. I have had to forget 6 years of names and back stories only to discover new ones. 
    On a side note: I am more convinced than ever of the healing and therapeutic effect stuffed animals have. Students who are allowed to hold one are often calmer than without and they can be a quick and easy way to tell which students are feeling down or need a break. 
  4. Learning a new campus is STILL hard. I have gotten lost so many times (and this is with a guided tour)... I've been late to meetings, ended up on the wrong side of campus, and even exited a building only to re-enter from another door and not realise what I'd done. This is one of my biggest learning curves, but it has given me something to bond with my youngest students over and we laugh about it. 
  5. Duties, Drive-ins, and Dues. Chances are, no matter the school, district, etc. that the way duties, parking, and various "dues" are done is different everywhere you go. There will be things you like and things you don't. What I've found is that, even with the things I wasn't fond of, they work for this school. They wouldn't work for my old school, and so I am glad they are done this way here. Even as I adjusted to this way of doing thing, and grew tired of it, I still remember being glad of the change: having an assigned parking space, having my new duty station, proctoring the AP exam (yes, I enjoyed it!). Ya, I still groan sometimes, but what would school be without them?
  6. It's okay to occasionally enjoy the cave that is your classroom. I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of change. Even change I initiate (and I am always looking to be better), has to sit with me for a bit before I'll take the chance. I am also a fairly strong introvert and I recede into my brain as often as possible; not because I hate people, but it is how I think best and recharge. Yes, making friends is important. Yes, being a presence in the school is key. But, also taking time to become comfortable and to make your space feel like your own is important. My first few days here were spent in and out of meetings, but we were also given a good bit of classroom time. I put my headphones in and took my time setting up my space. I didn't have it completely ready by day 1, but I enjoyed getting to know my space and make good use of it. I still put in my headphones during lunch and after school while I grade, or plan, or whatever. The school is new, my colleagues are new, but my cave is mine. There are some things, if you are like me, and find change and new people daunting that you can do to ease into it:
    * Meet one new person a day/a week.
    * Have a mentor of your choosing: someone you already know or are already comfortable with.
    * Make a 10-20 minute time of day, especially in the new year, where you don't check email. Get up and clean or decorate something. Read an article or catch up on teaching posts.
    * Leave early/on time (depending on your school's rules) one day a week. You can stay late, get caught up in work, plan far ahead all the other days. 
New schools, rules, people, and students can all be overwhelming, and they certainly were for me. There were days when I arrived, went into my room, and locked the door to prepare. I still get lost going to a new room or lab and I feel my students' frustration when I don't have the answer of where the lab is or how to get to a testing room. But, in all of this, I've learned a few things and come to enjoy a few things:
  • I have great colleagues! 
  • I have supportive administrators! 
  • I have hilarious students! 
  • I have a space that is my own and that I've made my own. 
  • I actually liked proctoring an AP FL exam. (yes, I'm weird)
And all of these things don't mean that I didn't have them at my old school, or have them all the time. We all have bad days, weeks, and even months. I loved teaching my former students and I enjoyed working with my colleagues. I also love working with my current students and enjoy my current colleagues. Both are okay. 

I think I've learned that as much comparison as we all do when we move schools (it's natural). I've also learned not to compare them. My two schools have different demographics, different layouts, different rules, and different people. I like them both. and that's okay.

I want to close with this quote I saw. I don't know who said it, but I saw it on instagram and it spoke to me:

You'll be fine. Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don't avoid it. Breathe. You'll be okay, even if you don't feel it all the time.