What I Only Wish I Had Learned…

I have spent the past week blissfully on vacation before school starts next Tuesday – and the accompanying trainings, meetings, and organizing are in full swing this week. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by everything there is to do!

The start of the school year is hyped by everyone as The Most Important Part of the Year. It’s Crucial to Setting Expectations for the year, Key for Developing a Class Culture, Super Important if you want to be a Successful Teacher. Right?  I mean, ask anyone, and they will tell you.

Last year, I started the year as a first-semester 0.6 FTE (three classes) maternity cover teacher.  Two days before school started, I was asked to teach an 0.2 FTE (one class) at a different school. I was assigned to three different classrooms. I had no time to meet the staff at the 0.2 FTE school, and although I knew the math department at the 0.6 FTE school, I didn’t know the classrooms I would be using or their teachers (English and Science). At the semester break, I finished my maternity cover and picked up an 0.4 FTE (two classes) sick leave cover for the rest of the semester, so it was like having half of another First Day of School.

This year is totally different. I was hired at the end of last school year and have had all summer to plan (or think, read blogs and pin things, as the case may be). I have my own classroom, I am familiar with the curriculum and the department at my school, and I have one and a half First Days of School already under my belt. I have tried lots of things, I have changed lots of things in the course of a year.

When I look back at last summer, I spent way too long agonizing over every minute of the first day. What would I wear? What would I say when students entered the room? What would we do in minute seven? In minute thirty-two? What if a student came in late and missed the first ten minutes? I wish I had spent more time thinking about the bigger picture and less time stressing out about the teensy details.

I wish all new teachers learned about the importance of Not Freaking Out about the First Day of School.  Everything doesn’t need to be perfect on day one. It is okay to try something out, and change it up later if it isn’t working.  It is important to let students know about you and what you expect from the start, but it’s also okay for them to know that you will be learning about each other and learning about MATH at the same time, and that things might change if they need to.  Less emphasis on how important the first day is, and more emphasis on how to reflect a sense of the whole year in the first few days would be great.

That said, I am headed to the store Friday to pick out a new shirt to complete my back-to-school outfit, making some adjustments to my getting-to-know-you activity, setting up seating charts and making sure everything is just-so in the classroom. – because it’s still important that things run smoothly!

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5 Responses to What I Only Wish I Had Learned…

  1. bstockus says:

    I get what you’re saying. It’s easy to over plan, and the worst thing that can happen is that something interferes with your plan! Over time I stressed less about what I would be doing minute to minute on the first day of school (the first week even) and focused more on having a collection of activities I wanted to do. Then I was able to pick and choose throughout the day based on how it “felt” in class. That left me free to focus on setting the tone I wanted rather than scrambling to complete a to-do list. I found a lot of great activities from a program called Tribes. If you aren’t familiar with it, I suggest checking it out. As important as it is to teach the curriculum, I find that setting clear expectations and building community, especially at the beginning of the year, pay off in the long run.

    • Abigail says:

      I will definitely look into that program, it sounds great. I absolutely agree with you about expectations and community; one of my principals last year was insistent on starting curriculum from day one but this year it is a little bit more balanced. We have a few school-wide lessons to fit in during the first two weeks, too, which is kind of a nice way to bring in some of the sense of community.

  2. Kaleb says:

    Thanks for sharing, that was a crazy schedule your first year.

    • Abigail says:

      It really was – and yet I’m not sure I would go back and change it, I really loved working at both schools and I love that we are still collaborating this year 🙂

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