To Be a First-Year Teacher, One Must Actually Teach
By Chris Margolin, Educator and Guest Blogger
I was hired two days before the school year began. It was my first year teaching, and I was given four preps, and absolutely no curriculum from which to teach. I wore jeans and a hoodie almost everyday, and I looked like a student. And frankly, my students were only a few years younger than me, so I had to remember that they weren’t my friends, and shouldn’t be treated as such.
For the first month of school I showed episodes of Family Guy, and The Simpsons, and told them that if anyone asked, they were learning about irony. I interspersed writing assignments, and character reflections. We read really basic materials. My sophomores, freshman, credit recovery, and creative writing students were all learning the exact same thing — or, rather, watching the same episodes. I didn’t have a gauge on what exactly I should be teaching them, and so the television seemed like the easiest route, as I attempted to piece together whatever it was I thought teaching should look like, because my training in teacher school didn’t really prepare me for the realities of the classroom.
And then I got caught. My neighboring teacher walked in just as Peter Griffin was telling an inappropriate joke. It wasn’t my best moment. Students were fully engaged in the show, but there was no work to go with it. They were just watching, and laughing. I was as well. She was not. Later that afternoon I received a call from my principal, who was requesting my presence in her office.
I want to make all the excuses in the world for my first foray into the teaching world, but I can’t. I knew exactly what I was doing, versus what I should have been doing. I was diligently learning the curriculum, but I wasn’t really bringing it to the classroom. I was a fairly young 22-year-old, and my mind was still stuck firmly in the post-college haze of a lack of interest in really doing anything work related. But that phone call brought me, firmly, into reality.
I can be a fairly emotional person, so I was scared, and felt sick, and was probably starting to tear up before I even started my walk to her office. Once inside, I crumbled as she told me that if I didn’t change what I was doing, I might not even make it through the year, let alone return for the next one. I was given a list of must-do-items in order to change my trajectory: submit weekly lesson plans one week in advance, dress appropriately for work, enter grades, and stop showing television shows that have absolutely nothing to do with school. I had twice-weekly observations, and constant conferences with both my mentor teacher, as well as my administrator.
But I changed. I grew up. I didn’t really have an interest in any type of boxed curriculum, so I taught that which interested both my students, and myself. I learned to ask them questions. I learned to listen. I learned to be at least a first-year teacher. Lesson plans were approved, students were engaged in actual work, and I was proving to everyone that I had it in me to buckle down and do what was needed to not only keep my job, but set my students on the track toward becoming not only college and career ready, but more importantly, ready for life.
To actually work was refreshing. It reminded me why I wanted to teach in the first place. I could impart knowledge about my interests on my students, and in turn, they could do the same for me. Afterall, teaching is a mutually beneficial occupation.
It is not easy to be a first year teacher. It’s not easy at 10 years, or 20, or 30. Rather, it’s a learning experience. It’s growing up. It’s finding your own set of personal Common Core Standards, and figuring out not only the teacher you want to be, but the person you want to be. I wanted to be a good teacher when I started, but I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to do that because I was lazy, and lacked a serious amount of give-a-shit when it came to planning, and taking care of what was needed. At the end of the day, you either do the work, or find different work. As teachers, we are accountable for a hefty number of students a day, and if we don’t step in front of them as leaders, facilitators, and instructors of life and learning, then we are doing a disservice to everyone involved.