We’re already almost halfway through the term at this point, which is a frightening thought. It does feel like most of my students are finding some rhythmn in my classes: the students I’ve had some trouble with are starting to submit some attempt at the work set and I’ve got some of my more enthusiastic students ready to work hard enough to stretch themselves. But I think probably the most frustrating thing about being a first-year teacher is just never quite knowing how much you can expect your students to already know, and the level to which you can expect them to engage in some “higher-order” thinking.
The most obvious example at the moment is that I’ve set my year 10 class a Web Development exercise that another teacher has commented she would probably set for year 12s. Part of the problem is that I’m desperate for students not just to develop sites for the sake of it, but to do so with a purpose and an audience in mind. And it is starting to feel as though that jump to thinking about who is going to visit a site and why they would be there is almost a jump too far for some of the troops. But I’m very hesitant to just have students creating sites without thinking through these things: as far as I’m concerned I don’t actually see there as being much value for a student’s life if they are learning application-specific skills in an application they are never likely to see again.
I guess part of the deal is about allowing space for really high goals, but not being too disappointed if nobody gets there.
With the reduced load that Teach for Australia graduates have been afforded, I have managed to get a timetable with some interesting features. The first is a big win: Thursdays are classtime free – a great opportunity to get catch up with where I thought I should have been with preparation, and to catch some breath. The downside of this quirky timetable is that my Friday’s are 5-on or 6-on depending on which week it is. Exciting times.
Already I’ve been looking for a Ctrl-Z on a few of my classrooms – or perhaps just a Ctrl-N so I could start again. But the fact of the matter is that this job is well suited for me: it stretches me in areas I’ve sometimes been able to sneak through in the past (I’m dreading the day that I have to wing a class on no preparation), but it also suits some of my strengths. I shared an encouraging story of one of my kids with learning difficulties being desperate to show me the (theory based) homework he’d done, and my friend replied that “if there’s anyone who can take every last ounce of encouragement out of a story like that, it’s you”. While I’m sure that was meant to be insulting in some way – the truth is that I think it does speak to part of why really do think I’m made to teach. I’m never going to be satisfied with only seeing that spark in a few students: but there’s no way in hell it’s not going to encourage me.
At times the Teach for Australia program has been described as a sink or swim approach. And there’s been enough of a roller-coaster ride this week for it to feel as though the analogy is a reasonable one. With one week down, it certainly feels that I can quite reasonably suggest that I am swimming.
After two genuinely great days, I had one shocking lesson this morning and it felt like a plank to the back of the head. A few behaviour issues that were probably not dealt with sternly enough and resulted in a really disappointing lesson was a tough pill to swallow. But welcome to teaching huh?
The temptation is to wallow in that place: just sit there and feel bad about myself. But fortunately I had a good chat with a couple of people, recomposed myself and recognised the points at which I needed to start looking at a different strategy and even just the way I can better plan out the lesson to keep the students interested.
I’m really glad that by classus horribilis was on the third day; and not the first. And there will undoubtedly be others. But I’m definitely still OK: it’s when there’s nothing left to change, no stones to overturn that I’ll really start worrying. And I’m nowhere near that.
The first day with students has come and gone, and I’m still here. Truth be told, it wasn’t anything like that bad at all: the biggest thought in my mind after a (still very flawed) first lesson was “I can do this”. Despite the feeling that I should be way out of my depth (and to a certain extent I still am) – I feel comfortable in the classroom. There’s still plenty of apprehension and I already have a massive list of things I need to work on, but having run thousands of classroom situations through my head it was a really exciting thing to see what reality looked like.
This is an optimistic post, and it’s an optimistic time. But make no mistake – this is a long road, and I have am under no illusions. The first day of school is hardly likely to be the toughest and it’s not like I’ve even met all of my students yet. But you can’t help but be happy to be feeling good after day one.