I want to be clear: 

I am writing this first blog post on my cell phone, in my bed, surrounded by my own sleeping children. I will often write under these conditions. I am a teacher, but I am also a single mother of three.

 When I write to you about my teaching experiences I want you to remember that you are seeing the world through the oft-tired lenses of a woman who is trying to do it all and do it right now. I meditate, I pray, I swim, and I work out at the gym. I am a teacher, and also a student. I am a mommy, and a friend. 

I am writing not because I am particularly unique, but because I share these traits with many modern teachers and hope to share ideas and experiences with others who are also working to hone their craft. 

Standing with my 3 children.
By way of introduction, I will tell you a little about myself. I am Panamanian-American, and attended a mix of Panamanian and American schools (both public and private). English is my second language, but I am more practiced in it at this point. I did not earn my degree in Education, but in Interdisciplinary Studies. 

I am learning on the job, and oh how much there is to learn! 

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Survival

At the start of the school year, we had a number of teachers quit in quick succession. I marveled at it. I could not wrap my head around the lack of professionalism that would motivate an adult to leave a classroom of children without warning. 

I knew they were tired, and overwhelmed. I knew they were angry or depressed. I knew that they felt incompetent, and incompetence is a hard feeling to live with. 

What really struck me about these teachers that left is that nobody seemed to know them. They weren’t in the teachers’ lounge at lunch. They didn’t meet us after school for a drink. They were not often seen conversing with fellow teachers before school. 

The teachers that quit most quickly were isolated. 

I am not saying that one has to be an extrovert to be a reliable teacher. I am noting that in moments of stress people need people, and those that are on their own feel the most alone. 

Having teacher friends to commiserate with on tough days and to offer encouragement on even harder ones has been critical to my survival as a first year teacher. Knowing that I am not unique in my struggles has been a tremendous source of support, and hearing from others how they have managed their classroom difficulties has helped me to keep perspective on mine. 

My advice to new teachers? Don’t isolate yourself. Look for connection, and be open to forming friendships with your colleagues. We need to support one another if we are to support the children. 

Challenges

In which I list the hard things I’ve worked through in my first year teaching, with brief descriptors of what I’ve done to manage the challenges, and what I recognize I could do better: 

1) Entering teaching with no prior training or experience. 

I thought that all I needed was subject area knowledge, patience, and passion. I now know that I need strategies and opportunities to practice. I learned a great deal on the job, and am continuing to learn in the teacher preparation program I am a part of, as well as in professional development opportunities that have given me a chance to talk to other teachers and learn from them. I’m finding that blogs and sites such as Pinterest are of value. My greatest challenge has been in remaining consistent. I changed things several times in an attempt to find something that “worked” with my students, not realizing until late in the year that anything will work so long as I am consistent with it. 

2) Starting out teaching at a Title One Turnaround school in the Transformation Zone. 

My school has been failing for a long time. It has been hard to establish a culture because teachers and administration have been turned over frequently and at very high rates. Students are largely from poor and disadvantaged families lacking structure and academic support at home. The students themselves have been brought up in a culture very different from my own, so I have had to work hard to earn their trust. I did read books such as A Framework for Understanding Poverty, but what would help most is continued experience working in this environment and the with the particular disciplinary constraints we have placed upon us to better support student achievement given our condition. 

3) Teaching Intensive Reading, out of area. 

Teaching reading is hard work. Teaching reading to young adults who hate it because it is hard for them is very hard indeed. I will be certified in Reading soon, and though I had a healthy respect for the subject I had no idea how difficult supporting student engagement would be in this highly specialized field. I have managed it and my students are performing comparably to their 7th and 8th grade peers, but I know that future years will be better because I will know more and will have had more practice in supporting student achievement. 

4) Having English Language Learners from various cultures. 

I have had Arabic (the student spoke Farsi but did not know her family’s country of origin), Cambodian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Colombian English Language Learner students this year. 

I have enjoyed working with them, but coursework I have taken has shown me in retrospect how I might have done things differently to better support them. For example, I might have incorporated their cultures into our lessons, and provided additional scaffolding and vocabulary support. Having been an English language learner and a Latin American immigrant myself, in some respects connecting with these students came naturally to me. That being said, I do not know as much about Arabic or Cambodian culture and language. 

5) Having many Special Education students and students on 504 plans for significant mental impairments. 

Most of my students this year are either ESE or 504 students. This is why they are in intensive reading. They have a hard time processing information, for one reason or another. I did decide to study for ESE certification and became certified as a result of working with these children– I wanted to learn how to support them. 

6) Teaching sixth grade. 

Sixth graders require a great deal of structure as they transition out of elementary school. 

They are clumsy and tend to fall out of their chairs for no apparent reason. They have a greater need for hygiene than they once did, and their friends are quick to tease them if they fail to take care of some aspect of it. They are impulsive, emotional, and totally convinced that the world is set against them. 

I have only ever really taken care of elementary aged children, and found that sixth graders needed more overt reassurance and structure than I initially thought might be necessary. 

I have learned a lot this year, and look forward to applying what I have learned to help my students next year. 

A motivational bulletin board made by a teacher at my school.