This last year has been both crazy and a blast. My principal saw something in me worthwhile when he hired me last summer (hint: it wasn’t teaching experience), and I’m so glad he did. I feel like I am a completely different person than I was last August.
For the last ten months, I’ve been using this blog to track my emotions and actions of my first year of teaching. I’ve gotten much feedback from other teachers, both at my school and as far away as Indonesia, that it is enjoyable to read and a worthwhile endeavor. However, I won’t be teaching this summer, and therefore will have less personal experience to share. I don’t think many people care to read about my neurotic budgeting system or the details of planning my best friend’s bridal shower.
I’ve asked several friends who are also teachers, or have served some time in education, to write as guest bloggers. I’ve also been catching up on some other education blogs and sites that I’ve found beneficial. Periodically, I will be publishing their words and their perspective on the teaching profession. I’ve learned this year, and tried to communicate to my students, that the best way to get good at something is talk to people are better at it. If my student wants to play college football, he needs to start communicating – a LOT – with people who coach and play college football. If I want to be a better teacher, I need to do a lot of listening to people who are better teachers.
I’ll start with a post from one of my relatives – he is a veteran of the military as well as of teaching. He wrote it a few years ago, but I absolutely love his thoughts on his first year of teaching:
I was thirty-two years old the first time I stepped into a kindergarten classroom as an English instructor. Because I previously had fairly extensive leadership experience as a military officer, the general manager of a multi-million dollar software company, and as an operations manager within a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, I just didn’t think teaching children was going to present all that much of a challenge. How hard could it really be?
As you are probably guessing, those were indeed famous last words.
What do you mean children don’t instantly do what you tell them to do? What do you mean they don’t sit still? What do you mean they don’t want to do the “fun” activity I meticulously planned? What do you mean they have “accidents?” What do you mean they cry… all of them at the exact same time?
My first month as a functionally untrained and unprepared “teacher” was as disorienting as the first few days of military basic training had been, which was the only other time in my life I’d felt so lost. However, something I’ve always understood is even when you don’t know what to do, you still have to do something. So I did what made the most sense to me: I researched. I sought out advice. I observed other teachers. I experimented with different combinations of methods and materials, and I tried to pay attention to what did and didn’t seem to be working. After a teaching session, I reflected on what had happened and worked to understand why. I continued to voraciously research, prepare, apply, assess and try to improve.
Once I got out of absolute survival mode I started to realize that I was, in fact, applying skills and techniques I had picked up in my previous professional lives. My approach to lesson planning was essentially the Army’s “operations order” and “after action review” combined together. It might be surprising to hear, but once I adjusted to the frame of reference of their concerns and needs, I found the dynamics of classroom management of children in a number of respects to not be all that different from what it takes to lead a platoon in the military or supervise teams of technical support agents and customer service representatives in a call center. It’s still leadership, which has many different styles but a fairly universal set of key characteristics. How I was defining and measuring what I was observing in my classroom, and then the effort to create a coherent narrative from the data to understand performance was for all intents and purposes what my job description had been as a manager of workforce planning, forecasting and analysis.
More wonderful thoughts to come! Thank you for sticking with me through a tough year!