In June, I went to a job interview for a school that my friend's dad had seen advertised in the newspaper. It was a tiny school that I had never heard of before, but upon researching the school for my cover letter, I immediately felt drawn to the message and the philosophy of the school. It was one of those rare moments after my interview that I actually felt like my in-person interview went well. I didn't feel like I had said anything stupid and I felt I had been the most genuine in that interview over any other interview I had been on.
Perhaps the title gives this away, but I did get that job and this past week marks a full month where I have been teaching 9th grade English full-time, in a classroom that's all my own. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past month of my first year of teaching.
I came into my school needing to create most things, from my classroom environment to putting together curriculum and lesson plans. In my school, I am the only 9th grade English teacher, so I have a lot of freedom to choose what I will have my students read and what I want to teach them (provided of course that each thing I teach is backed up by Minnesota State Standards and Common Core, since Minnesota has adopted Common Core standards for English). This year, if you're curious, I am working on Romeo and Juliet, poetry, American Born Chinese, Of Mice and Men, and NaNoWriMo with my students this year. I'm pretty excited! I'm also really happy with how my classroom turned out. I'll leave some photos on this post. Now that I think about it, my classroom looks a bit different from these pictures now. I guess that's the nature of the school year. Things break, you need to repurpose some spaces... well any way, this was what my classroom looked like to start off the year.
Since the school year started a month ago, I basically haven't stopped or taken too long to slow down. The first couple weeks, I put in long work days. My contract says I must be at school from 7:30-3:00 every day, but I was putting in days that were more like 6:30-6:00 and sometimes even later. Once I started feeling exhausted and got sick for the first time (nothing to keep me home, but enough to make me feel like crap while working during the day), I have started making sure I am limiting my days a bit more. I still show up early (it helps me feel ready for the day) and lately I've been staying no later than 4:30.
Now that the school year is in full-swing, I have started up tutoring after school again and I still volunteer once a week. Those things are also helping me make sure I'm not spending a million hours a day locked in my classroom. I'm still working a lot, so I'm continuing to look for this balance. I don't think I mind going hard during the week and taking things slow during the weekend, even if grading is involved. Like I said though, I'm still working on this balance.
Now that I have had my students for a month, I am really enjoying them and I love seeing what they're capable of. They are really starting to get used to classroom routines and the students who really have it together are starting to support me when it comes to getting the students who just don't get it to stop treating my class like a social hour. I really appreciate that.
Classroom management has been such a learning experience for me. I learned a lot of strategies as a substitute teacher, but nothing except direct experience really prepares you to handle the same kids long-term. So I'm learning what works for each of my classes and I'm adjusting as I figure out what doesn't work. It's like a science experiment and my first ninth graders are my guinea pigs. I wonder how they feel about that.
One thing to note is that I haven't explicitly told my students that this is my first year of teaching ever. My fear was that they'd hear I was a newbie teacher and they'd take advantage of that and test me in more ways than they already test me. I'm not sure if I'll tell them or not. They know I'm a new teacher to my school, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I've never taught in a classroom of my own before. For now, they don't have to know that this is my first "Big Kid" job!
I think this past week has been the first week where I feel really good about what I've been doing with students. At least the end of this week. I've been getting them up and performing and because it's Romeo and Juliet, I gave them swords. That's the beauty about a high school English classroom. You can usually expect swords. They were just randomly in the closet when I moved into the classroom. The kids loved being able to use the swords.
This post is getting a bit long, so I'll end it here. I just wanted to be able to stop and think about how things have been going during my first year of teaching so far. It's a job where you have to give a lot of yourself, but I think I'm finally hitting my stride. I know the rest of the year won't be all sunshine and rainbows, but I should be able to appreciate the times they do creep up.