This week I turn 40. Forty. How is that even possible?! It doesn’t seem that old, and at the same time, it does. Recently, we received an email with a copy of the Board’s seniority list. This was a good reminder for me that on my 40th birthday, I will have been teaching 17 years with the Board. Where will my first group of students be now?
I still remember my first year of teaching. I was initially hired part-time (every afternoon) to teach Grade 1 math, science, social studies, art, music, and health. Then when schools re-organized at the end of September, I received another part-time job at a different school teaching Kindergarten. I spent my lunch hours driving from one school to the next one. I never felt as though I was organized. I had a really challenging morning and afternoon class, and the multiple teachers for the morning class, didn’t help.
That year, I seriously considered leaving teaching … and teaching was all I ever wanted to do. But I felt totally overwhelmed.
- There was always paper everywhere! Maybe it was that year of teaching that caused me to fear paper. 🙂 I could never seem to get to the bottom of the piles. My desk — the first and only year that I had one — was always buried in worksheets. Maybe it’s images of that desk that make me despise worksheets now. 🙂
- I was never well-planned. I tried to be … but I was planning for so much. Student needs at both schools exceeded the supports in place, and I didn’t know how to meet curriculum expectations and address individual needs. Could I modify expectations? How much without an IEP in place? I just wasn’t sure.
- I rarely connected with staff. Since I spent most lunch hours in my car, and time before and after school in my classrooms, there was never really time to socialize with others. I taught at schools with other teachers in the same grade team, but I chose to be an island. Maybe I didn’t want to admit I needed help. Maybe I didn’t know how to ask for it. But I didn’t … and I know that my students would have benefitted more if I did.
- I didn’t really get to know the kids. I knew their names. I knew the problems I was having with them. But I didn’t know THEM. Self-regulation wasn’t discussed at that time, and behaviour was just seen as misbehaviour. It was either their fault, or my fault, or a combination of both, but there was never a thought that there might be something else at play. I still remember many names from that first year, but I wish I remembered — AND KNEW — the children.
My Grade 1’s would be 23 this year. I started teaching at 23. One day, I could be on the same staff as one of them. My first Kindergarteners are very close to that. I wonder if I gave any of these kids what they needed to succeed. I apologize profusely if I didn’t, and wish I could go back and change things now. I learned a lot from that first year of teaching though.
- I learned about the importance of organization.
- I learned that paper isn’t the only way for children to show what they know.
- I learned that love has to come first. Connect with the kids. Show them that you truly care about them … even on the hard days and even with the most challenging of kids.
- I learned that we don’t need to work alone. It’s okay to ask for help, and when we work together, we end up learning a lot more from each other.
- I learned that change is good. At times it can seem overwhelming, even when we’re the ones that make the decision to change. But in the end, I’ve learned something from each one of my changes, and every grade that I’ve taught. I don’t regret any of them.
- And I learned about the importance of persevering. That first year was hard. I was ready to give up, but I didn’t … and I’m so glad about that! I couldn’t love teaching more than I do, and I’m happy to spend my 40th birthday in the classroom with a wonderful group of children and an amazing teaching partner (even if it is my no prep, duty day 🙂 ). So for my many students those 17 years ago, thank you for teaching me all that you did. I’m spending my 40th birthday thinking fondly about all of you, and wishing that I knew back then what I know now.
What do you wish you knew in your first year? How might it have changed things for you and your kids? The past may be out of our hands, but we can look forward with our new knowledge and a modified outlook. This is what I choose to think about as my 40th birthday quickly approaches.