Looking back on my first year of teaching, I am kind of embarrassed. When I think of the mistakes I made and how disorderly my classroom was (or at least seemed to me), I just cringe. There’s just only so much you can learn in school before you experience the true learning curve of being a rookie teacher. I remember breaking down one morning while I was supposed to be monitoring morning devotions, crying in a back hallway and trying to pull myself together before I had to teach my first period class. One class in particular felt out of control, and I was really struggling to know how to be an effective teacher to those students.
I am happy to report that the story did not end there. Through the help of fellow teachers, administrators, and The First Days of School, I learned how to effectively manage my classroom, and my frustration turned to enjoyment. Well, at least most of the time. We teachers know we’d be lying to say there’s not still frustrating days, but overall I can hardly even compare my first year to the following years.
While I learned so many lessons, three concepts in particular stand out in my mind as making the biggest difference.
1. You must deal with the first infractions the first weeks of school. I knew this one in my head, but I wasn’t ready to carry it out, and I sure paid for it. I remember letting little things go because I didn’t want to be mean the first week of school, but that was a huge mistake. The next year, I addressed everything – yes, even little things like whispering, running into class, or not following directions – and what a difference it made!
2. Addressing a problem doesn’t mean you have to be mean or hand out a punishment. One reason I didn’t address the initial problems in my classroom was that I didn’t think that a punishment was warranted. But I was missing the point. I didn’t have to give out a detention to the first person who talked (and that would’ve been a bad idea). All I had to do was kindly say, “Adam, please remember that talking is not permitted. Thank you.” Now, of course, if Adam doesn’t respond to this, I would have to go further, but during the first few weeks of school, these simple reminders are normally enough to develop an orderly classroom.
3. Confidence is key. The other reason I avoided addressing issues was that I lacked confidence. Somehow I had gotten through my student teaching without having to deal with many discipline issues, and I was simply scared to say anything or do anything. I literally had to get up the nerve to even tell a student to sit up in class. And I had no idea what I would say if a big issue came up. This lack of confidence came across loud and clear to my students as a free pass to try to get away with whatever they could. As I became more experienced, my confidence grew, and this intangible asset made all the difference in my classroom management. The tough thing about confidence is that it’s hard to gain if you don’t already have it, but my suggestion would be to write out responses to as many classroom discipline situations that you can think of. Then, practice saying them in front of a mirror and to a friend. This should help you develop confidence that you’ll know what to do when these situations arise.
What other concepts do you wish you would have understood as a first-year teacher?