An Honest Reflection from a First-Year Teacher: Quarter 1

Before I begin, I’ll share some background on my unique experience.  I never thought I would find myself in Hawaii.  So I never planned on working in private schools.  Back home, our public schools are well-funded, have great teachers, and are supported through the local communities.  However, since that isn’t entirely the case in Hawaii’s public school system, I deliberately searched for jobs in private schools.  Luckily, before I arrived I was able to secure a position at a small school as the 4th grade homeroom teacher.  My position also includes teaching 5th graders math and science as well.  So I work with 30 4th and 5th graders daily.

I have officially made it a quarter of the way through the school year.  That alone is something to celebrate.

As a new teacher here’s what I’ve learned so far…

Following a set curriculum is hard

As the math and science teacher, I have been given a lot of freedom in the science section, but little in the math portion.  We use Singapore Math in particular, and I took some professional development courses on it before beginning the school year.  However, daily my math lessons from the curriculum are boring.  Even when I do the fun “hands-on” activities that the guide encourages, my students are bored.  Unfortunately, this is the only curriculum that the school is adamant about being followed.  So I have to continue with it, even though the students and myself hate it.  Whereas, for science since I have to freedom to teach how I want, my students have been so engaged! We’ve gone on field trips, we’ve made Oobleck to study molecules, we maintained a class garden… Science has been fun, and that’s because I’ve been able to teach to the best of my ability, instead of being forced to follow a script.  I will never understand why administrators all over the country try to limit their teacher’s actual abilities.

What I do myself is better than any curriculum

In addition, I could give lots of examples here about how when I stray from our set curricula, I am engaging my students but I just want to mention one.  I have a student from Japan, who barely speaks any English.  She was practically mute for many weeks, and has just now begun to speak to me to ask to use the restroom.  One day on my recess duty, I noticed that this child was spending her recess completely isolated from others, sitting under a slide.  Just seeing that broke my heart, so I figured I had to do something.  I personally have no formal background in ESL, so I asked around, but other teachers were just sending me to ask other people.  So I thought to myself over the next few days, and came up with a solution.  In an effort to make this child feel more welcome and a part of our class, I began having the other students learn a little Japanese on Duolingo.  I prefaced the lesson by having my students imagine if they went to a new school where the teacher wasn’t speaking English.  Then they understood how hard our Japanese friend has it.  Once everyone was logged onto the Duolingo exercise and working hard at learning the very basics, I caught a glimpse of my Japanese student’s face.  She was smiling! Even another student came up to me and said, “She looks really happy!”.  So now, every Thursday afternoon for 45 minutes we have Duolingo time, where my students are learning Japanese and my one ESL student gets to feel like her culture is valued in our classroom.  This is something that I decided was important enough for our classroom climate, not something that administration deemed necessary or anything from a curriculum.  It was all my own, using the tools that I know, and my heart.

Small schools don’t allow for much collaboration

Since I am the only 4th grade teacher at this school, I’ve found that I have little opportunity for collaboration.  Mainly because there isn’t anyone else in my grade level to bounce ideas off of.  I have asked different teachers my questions, but it is not the same as asking someone who is in the same position as me.  I’ve found this to be especially isolating, as a first-year teacher, I’m supposed to have a mentor teacher.  But instead, since I’m in the private system where mentors aren’t required, I literally have no one to mentor me or to share ideas with.  I have turned to teaching blogs, and Facebook support groups, but it’s certainly not the same.

I prefer lower elementary grades

I’ve always known this.  I interned as a 1st and 2nd grade multi-age educator in Wisconsin, and applied to this school because they had a 2nd grade opening.  However, I was offered this 4th/5th position, and decided to take it since I didn’t have any better offers at the time.  I love my 4th graders.  They are right on the edge of lower and upper elementary so they are like little kids in taller bodies.  However, I really dislike the 5th grade age.  Not so much my students in particular, but the 5th grade attitude, hormones, and the jump in academic content as well.  I now know for a fact that I prefer to be teaching in lower elementary, and hope to move down next school year.

Parents are terrifying

Being in a private school is very different from public for many reasons.  One in particular, is that these parents are not expecting a “free education”, instead they pay quite a bit to send their daughters to this school.  With their financial support, it is expected that parents have more of a say in what happens in my classroom.  And since the school aims to please, I’ve had to change my instruction to match these parent’s wishes instead of my student’s actual needs.  For example, I honestly have a parent who emails me everyday before I even get home from work.  It has been very difficult to adjust my thinking, because I was more prepared for absent parents than overbearing ones.  To help with this, I have found that the more information you give parents, the more they will leave you alone.  So every week I give them a rundown of the specific lessons I’ll be teaching and how they can continue to support their child at home.

I have come to hate emails

As I mentioned above, I have parents bombarding me with emails daily.  It has come to the point where I have stopped responding to emails in the evenings and weekends.  Sometimes at home I even turn the wifi off on my phone, so I’m not stressing over work in my personal life.  It’s a bit ridiculous that I have to do this, but I gotta stay sane somehow.  I still respond professionally the next morning (if it’s a weekday), but there needs to be a time to relax and for many as well as myself, that’s at home.

I bring so much work home

Speaking of home, daily I am bringing home homework to grade, report cards to write, or other work things to do.  Over the quarter, I have become more efficient, so that this is less of a problem, but there are still days when I’m working off the clock.  It’s exhausting to be completely honest.  I am still working on how to better manage my time, or determine what is necessary and what can be skipped.  It’s a work in progress at the moment.  If you have ideas, feel free to let me know!

Despite it all, I love teaching

There are days when I’m exhausted and grumpy from a lesson gone bad, or some other issue at work.  However, I’ve learned that I do love the teaching part.  I love seeing my students daily, and seeing them come out of their shell finally as we near November.  I love being a positive role model to students who are living in an age, where that’s becoming harder to find.  I have loved building our classroom community together.  Yes, there are many aspects that I wish weren’t a part of this job, but seeing my girls daily has made it worth it so far.

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