School begins in less than one month. This year I have a new school, a new classroom, and new coworkers. Five years ago, I was sitting at my parent’s home in Kansas, just a few weeks away from moving out for good. I had a copy of a 2008 McDougal Littell (no, that company does NOT exist anymore) Literature Teacher’s Edition, a grammar handbook, a copy of Lord of the Flies and Huckleberry Finn, and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with any of it. I remember frequently sitting down and thinking, “Yes, I will do some lesson planning right now.” And then my brain completely went blank. What am I doing?! Do I even KNOW how to be a teacher? What is a lesson plan?! How do I teach kids? These are standards but uh… how do I teach them?! (Note: these are normal thoughts that any fresh-out-of-college punk has at his or her first job… I was qualified to do my job.)
My first days of teaching were spent flying by the seat of my pants and also pulling things out of my butt (what an idiom, kids!). Actually, my entire first semester was spent in that fashion. I had zero dollars, zero Bloom’s levels, and absolutely zero experience. But alas, it has not always been that way. This year, as I start my SIXTH year (only about 40 more to go, thanks rule of 90!), here are 6 things that are WAY better (and easier and cuter and just generally more put-together) heading into year 6!
1. LESSON AND CURRICULUM PLANNING
In college, I took at least three classes that involved the writing of lesson plans. Each class suggested different ways of approaching them: always include Blooms! (but no one ever told me what that was), always have an objective!, keep it organized, always include the most specific skills, don’t ever include the skills, and my absolute favorite: “just do whatever makes you comfortable.”
As a new teacher, nothing makes you comfortable. During my first few days of professional development, a coworker gave me what appeared to be a printed excel spreadsheet with no words on it and said, “maybe we can use this for the department?” USE IT?! This isn’t some twisted Sudoku!
A template isn’t even half of it. There needs to be a plan. But when you’ve never met these kids, you’ve never had to make a yearly plan and pace it all correctly (because even though you taught for two straight weeks in student teaching, you still don’t know how long an expository essay will take to write and edit [you also probably don’t know what the difference is between informative and expository essays yet, but that’s not relative… yet]). So I had a fill-in-the-blank lesson plan, but no idea what lessons to put on it. Thankfully, I had the TE of the textbook and EVERY TEXTBOOK RESOURCE THAT MONEY CAN BUY (except the grammar, vocabulary, and test keys…). I lucked out.
I eventually ditched most of the textbook, but kept the bare-bones organization. All that to say, I only knew what kind of lessons to write until I had taught them. This year, as I head into not one but TWO new grades, 7th and 8th, I just sat down with the textbook and the other resources I have available and did a semi-specific overview plan for BOTH SEMESTERS. I’m ready to sit down and type lesson plans with dates on them, and even add BLOOMS if I feel really spunky!
Like wounds, time heals lesson plans. When you’re a new teacher, they don’t tell you that. They expect you to have it all together. I’m here to tell you: that is impossible. But it won’t always be that way. (Note: there is too much and too little autonomy in the classroom. It would be of greater service to new-teachers from college and new-teachers to districts if there was some uniformity of some kind. It’s just helpful…)
You have a teaching job, you have an apartment/house, you have a car to get you there, you have money that you’ve budgeted to live off of, but… you also need a second income to start up your classroom. There are folders, post-its, notebooks, binders, pencils, pens, highlighters, index cards, turn-in baskets, decorations… You really should just have brought a sleeping bag to your classroom and spent your rent money on supplies, you’ll be living there for the first year anyway. It’s FREAKING EXPENSIVE.
I am not complaining about how much I spend on my classroom. I love spending money on my classroom! I love making it look cute and cozy and innovative! I love having cool markers and enough post-its to use on EVERY peer-editing project! But, when you’re fresh-off-the-student-teaching-boat, you don’t have any money for that stuff (one cube of post-its is like $7!!!!!!!!!!). So you make due with your stapler and hole-punch from home and that one set of markers you bought during junior year because you just really needed to color something. It works. But every extra dollar you have, you spend it on classroom supplies for your kids.
You are very poor.
Very, very poor.
When you’re starting at a new classroom 5 years later, you already bought all that crap! I still have so many boxes in my garage that need to be taken to my new classroom… I have markers. Glue sticks. Red pens. I was so lucky to remember to put post-its on a materials list one year, and I’m still working through those! I was also so lucky to have a WONDERFUL cooperating teacher who was in the same district as me when she retired. Thanks to her I have all the hole-stickers, notebook paper reams, notebooks, and highlighters my little heart could ever want.
None of #2 stops me from buying so many more cute decorations for my new classroom because I’m graduating from the bachelorette-Goodwill-classroom to the “I’m an adult and I can match colors!” classroom.
When I first started, I had just enough money to not buy a cool frame for my paper degree, so it just sat open on a cardboard box behind my desk. I found some poster-board in a cabinet, and I used the college-magic-markers to make a chart about helping verbs. My room was butter-yellow — on three and an eighth walls (you read that correctly). I had one bookshelf (that was okay because I had like three sets of Melody Carlson books from high school and an outdated Sound and Sense).
But it became cool. Even when I could afford to get a few new shelves and some cool decorations and some meaningful charts, most of my decorations consisted of student art and funny drawings they gave me. After getting over being the new teacher, I demanded my room be painted and they actually did it (don’t ask the first year, just don’t).
Now I can afford to buy all the neon pink, and I can actually have green plants because I’m not in the basement anymore!!! But the student work… that’s what will be missing from my walls for awhile. Those are always the best decorations.
During my first year of teaching, I woke up at 6 and went to bed around midnight. To say I was grading from sun-up until midnight is not an exaggeration. I was grading all the time. (My roommate, also a teacher and also grading from sun-up until midnight, can attest.)
This is absurd. Do not do this. You will kill yourself. The kids do not read all of your comments. They do not need every single paper back. They do not need a grade for every single thing that they do. We give assignments so that we can gauge understanding. Some gauges need to be elements of accountability, others, for our own instructional use. Use wisdom. Use Papermate Flair pens (yes, you want the 24 pack). Do NOT use your entire life to grade papers.
This last year I had two very new and a very time consuming but still oh-so-very-wonderful Pre AP classes. We worked so, so very hard. Subsequently, we had SO MUCH WORK TO LOOK AT. I felt very capable of grading the items that a. needed feedback to further work later and b. the items that we had been building toward with lesser assignments. It’s a sticky situation. But you can do it (or not do it? You know what I mean.).
Plans of Action for Parents. Everyone thinks they are prepared for this. We just became adults, it’ll be okay. Wrong. Plans of Action for Parents is a continual education. When you’re new and green, you’re simultaneously full of pride and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Talking to, working with, and let’s be honest, DEALING WITH parents is very tricky.
I have no sage advice, I just know that going into a new school and a new grade(s) is going to be such an easier transition than the first time I started teaching. I will still get the, “Where’s the teacher? Oh my gawd you’re the teacher!? You look 16! You’re just so young!” But with my ageless beauty, I have brains, brawn, and BOATLOADS of experience. Come at me, mom and dad. I’m completely qualified, my mom even says so.
As we wade through the semesters, so very busy with paperwork, IEPs, tough conversations, tough kids, and all the wonderful and crazy things that come with being a teacher… we gain experience. Experience is not a cure-all, but by-golly it sure helps.
I’m nervous to transition to a new school with new kids and new coworkers. I constantly ask my husband, “do you think those middle schoolers will even LIKE me?!” But let’s be real: if you’re in this thing for the long haul, because you love the kids and what you do, you’ll gain experience, and experience will shine on your face like a saintly crown (at least, I’m really, really hoping that it does. I mean, WILL they like me?!!?!?!)
24 days and counting…
(A modified version of this post was originally published over at Mrs. Mac’s Classroom)
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