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First Year Teacher Essay

By: Lia Salza (2006)

I thought my second grade teacher was an angel. She had long, sandy blonde hair and a smile for everyone. And she had the best name we had ever heard: Miss Kjoller (pronounced "Keeler"). We knew enough about letters to think, what is that 'j' doing there?

In Miss Kjoller's classroom, language was a mystery and a joy. It could help us discover our past (her name was German, we learned) and introduce new ideas that no one had heard before. She set up a reading corner with books and giant beanbags, and encouraged us to express our ideas in our own journal – a little book of handwriting paper with spaces for illustrations. She connected with us each individually, and made us feel that our thoughts and concerns were important.

Second grade was a stark contrast to first grade, where my teacher was unprepared, overwhelmed, and unhappy. I felt like a burden to her, and I started coming home with stomach aches. On the outside, the two classrooms looked a lot alike, and it may have been the first year for both teachers, but Miss Kjoller made me love school again.

The impact teachers have on our lives is undeniable. It is probably the reason many of us chose it as a career – either because we were inspired by a great teacher or motivated by the idea that if we were in charge, we could do a better job.

As a first and second grader, I was not (and should not have been) aware of the work that went into creating those learning environments, but I could distinctly sense the difference between them. Some early preparation can set the stage for a positive and successful year for you and your students. Here are four suggestions for starting the year off strong:

  • Get to know your students before the first day.

    Talk to previous teachers, look through yearbooks, and read students' files – especially those with IEPs. Know their struggles, but also give them the opportunity to start fresh. Knowing a little about them will help you feel less nervous, and may give you ideas about ways to engage them. Remember that they will be nervous on the first day too!

  • Start early in establishing a relationship with parents.

    If they have talked to you once, they will be more likely to share information later that will help you understand and address learning problems. It will also open the door for suggesting activities to promote reading and learning at home.

  • Create a system for regular assessment and progress monitoring.

    This will help identify weak areas early and give you regular feedback about your methods.

  • Establish a relationship with an experienced teacher.

    A mentor can answer questions, provide support, and reassure you when you need it!

Questions from First Year Teachers

Reading Rockets solicited questions from people about to embark on their first year of teaching. Below are some of the answers to some of their questions:

I am nervous about the accountability set by No Child Left Behind. What will happen to me if my students do not improve their reading scores enough during the year?

No Child Left Behind requires all public schools to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). If schools do not meet progress goals two years in a row, they are labeled "in need of improvement." NCLB outlines a sequence of reforms, ending with a complete restructuring of the school after the fifth year. A school can only begin replacing teachers in poorly-performing schools after the fourth year of low performance. Though you will probably not lose your job due to NCLB after your first year, make sure you take opportunities to expand and improve your teaching techniques. This will secure your position as a teacher and your students' success as learners.

The U.S. Department of Education outlines the law and answers frequently asked questions in an easy-to-read manual called No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers

What kind of homework can I give my students to help with their reading abilities? I don't want to just give them spelling worksheets.

The best way to use homework as a teaching tool is to assign a task that students can use during the next class period. Incorporate homework into a class activity so that students are practicing a skill independently at home and then putting it to use in the classroom. This way, they will feel their work was worthwhile, and you will be more likely to keep their assignments meaningful.

  • Example 1: Vocabulary

    Focus vocabulary words around a theme you are discussing in class. Assign each child 5 words and have them look up the definitions for homework. In class, put them into groups to label a diagram, present a report, or describe a process using the words. If each child had slightly different words in his list, they will all need to participate to complete the project.

  • Example 2: Spelling

    For spelling practice, give students a set of words with the same pattern (e.g. –eet). For homework, have them trace and illustrate each word. In class, play a game where students have to match the beginning sound (f-, b-, sw-, gr-), the common pattern (-eet), and their picture.

  • Example 3: Writing

    For homework, have students write two lines of a poem, using a recent vocabulary word. In class, have children put their segments together and create a song.

Don't give so much homework that they don't have time to be kids! And remember, work that seems quick and easy to you may take much longer for a child. In a nutshell, keep homework short and meaningful.

For more advice for first year teachers, check the transcript from Education Week's recent chat with teachers Hanne Denney and Jim Burke, Getting Ready for the New School Year: Advice for Teachers:

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