So you’ve landed that new teaching job. Maybe you’ve changed schools or grade levels for the next year. You’re excited! You have big plans! And then you discover your new teaching job might not be everything you dreamed it would. Here are some tips to teaching in an environment when you feel alone.
Find someone like you. It sounds like such a simple statement. Almost easy. Unless you’re the person trying to find someone like you in a sea of people not like you! Think outside the box. You’re a teacher after all, you do this all the time! This person may not be in the same school, or the same district, but there is another teacher out there, searching for their “school soul-mate”. If your school doesn’t have another teacher who teaches with the same ideas and principals as you, maybe you will find this person at a grade-level collaboration or a district-wide meeting. If you still can’t find your teaching soul-mate, try writing a blog to find others who share the same teaching mentality. Another option is online forums, organizations, or even your alma mater!
Be persistent! In college, I learned that teaching in a school that used Saxon math or Saxon reading was probably going to make an uncomfortable teaching environment. I listened to my professors tell stories of new teachers forced to teach using scripts but secretly thought “well, I won’t ever teach in a school like that…c’mon!” Fast forward a few years and I found myself interviewing for jobs in a small town where my husband had found work-and yes, every elementary school used Saxon math. If I wanted a job, I was going to have to find a way to work using Saxon math without giving up my own teaching ideas.
Actually, I think being forced to teach a scripted math lesson, such as Saxon, actually made me more creative! I was told I had to use the script and the daily worksheets in my math lesson. Every teacher in the school sent home the daily homework and all the other parents expected me, the new teacher, to do the same. After all, the parents had heard I was a first year teacher (gasp-although I was really a second year teacher) and surely had no idea what I was doing in the classroom. Granted, the first time I heard I was going to teach Saxon math, I went home and had a mild break down. I may or may not have yelled and cried and threw a fit. Then my husband looked at me and said “so what are you going to do about it?” That’s when I remembered what one of my professors had suggested…if you find yourself in a school using Saxon and you don’t want to, try to find a way to show them teaching can be done without using a script. And that’s exactly what I set out to do.
I had taken a lot of college classes, was accepted into the professional school, participated in more observations that I like to think about, had several semesters of student teaching, passed all my teaching exams, and completed my residency teaching year with flying colors. I had invested a lot of time and money in learning how to make lesson plans and teach children! I did not want to read a script to my 17 seven year olds and expect them to understand the abstract concept of mathematics! So I did it my way-kind of. I created a hands-on math lesson that coincided with each Saxon lesson I was supposed to teach. I would engage the students with my lesson and use the scripted Saxon lesson as a review. I made sure to include all the same points from the Saxon lesson in my newly created hands-on lesson and the worksheet was a nice little review in case the students had questions or little Johnny was still struggling with a concept. The parents still saw the same homework page as all the other students and at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like I was “less than” when I left the classroom.
Slow and steady. You cannot change everything the first year. Find what really bothers you and find a way to make it your own. The Saxon math lessons were definitely not the only problem I had with the school district but it was something I felt I could tackle and make it my own while still abiding by the districts rules. With each passing year I felt more confident and was willing to try something new for the school or my classroom. By my fifth year at this school, I removed all the desks from the classroom! You can’t imagine the shock on the parents’ faces when I said we would use tables/chairs and pillows on the floor. I was upfront and honest with the principal and parents. I gave them my reasons for wanting to try this new method in the classroom and assured them if it didn’t work, I would bring the desks back to the classroom. Surprise-the kids loved it!
My first year was a bumpy ride. My confidence in my teaching skill was questioned. My kids weren’t thrilled with the move and really wanted to move back “home”. My husband’s job was very time consuming and stressful. We also decided to get a dog and remodel our house. I look back now and wonder what we were thinking-maybe we’d gone temporarily insane-but maybe this is just what grown ups did. I remember telling myself I just needed to survive but that was little comfort because that’s what everyone tells the first year teacher-this was my second year! It did feel like my first teaching year all over again because it was a new state, a new district, a new grade, and my support system from my first year wasn’t here.
Veteran teachers are a gold mine. Although you might think that these teachers and you have nothing in common you are wrong. These teachers have taught for years and they know a lot of stuff! They have probably experienced every frustration you have during their own careers. Although I was intimidated by my co-teachers at first, I eventually began to open up and be myself around them. I mean, they had been teaching a lot longer than I had, they lived in this town longer than I had, and all the parents wanted their kids in the other teachers’ classrooms. That leaves a memorable impression on the new teacher and I was pretty intimidated by their reputations. But as my time at this school continued I found that my co-teachers were actually my biggest cheerleaders and truest friends (I still talk to them today). Without their support and knowledge I don’t know if I would have made it past my first year.
It seems scary and overwhelming but persevere. Change takes time. And persistence. And a lot of sweat and tears. Just as you wouldn’t expect a struggling student in your classroom to blossom into your star student overnight, don’t expect your teaching environment to change overnight either. Chances are you became a teacher to make a difference so go out there are make a difference in the school, the district, or with other teachers. Be the voice for what you feel the students need.