During my first few years as a teacher, a couple of times a year, a string of bad days would haunt me at school. During these days, it was difficult to fight the feelings of isolation, the sense that I was having no positive impact on my students; there were even curt interactions with students where I was left feeling that my work was not being appreciated by students, their parents, or the school community. The worst feeling was the sense that my students and I were just going through the motions of playing school rather than actually creating meaningful work together. The sheer exhaustion from long days of teaching, grading, and planning would leave me depleted, and I would have to push myself to find the strength to continue giving my best effort to my students. However, sometimes my best effort would not even be enough, and I would have this dreadful feeling that I wasn’t fully prepared to teach on that particular day. Giving anything less than best learning experiences to my students would leave me ridden with guilt. These feelings would often last more than a day; they would take over my mind and spirit for a while. I would question my decision to enter the classroom and generally feel like I had gotten lost at some point in my life and maybe had taken a wrong turn to arrive here in a classroom. I didn’t know then that these feelings were common among first year teachers and the reason why so many leave the profession early in their careers.
I began to teach without the threat of assessments and with colleagues who did support me, especially the principal. Yet, I remember the bewildering array of personalities in my thirty-nine students, the range of different parents, and the volume of curriculum to be grasped. I had trouble eating and sleeping and was short-tempered when I cam home from school in the afternoon.
First-year teachers will need to consider access points for making contact with other teachers, especially beginners. The most obvious are before and after school. During school there may be special breaks, lunch, or even teachers’ meetings, where you’ll have a chance to sit next to someone you wish to get to know. I am not speaking about extensive time commitments. Initially, the greatest need for new teachers is to know they are not alone, and that someone recognizes their place in the building. Simply saying, “How’s it going?” goes a long way.
Building a strong workshop practice is similar to building a house. Doing it successfully takes expertise, patience, foresight, flexibility, and, of course, the right tools. Having an arsenal of resources to draw upon, in minilessons and in conferences and small groups, is key when you need to teach on your feet, reflexively and quickly meeting the needs of a range of students.
Just as no two teachers are the same, and no two groups of students are the same, so must teachers’ toolkits be varied, personalized by the teacher and set up to best support the teachers' current group. A toolkit might be a binder filled with text samples and checklists, or it might be a digital toolkit filled with resources available at the touch of a button. A toolkit’s mode of delivery is far less important than its usability and connection to students’ needs. However you decide to store your teaching toolkit, digitally or in a good, old-fashioned binder, here are some tips for its organization and development.
In A Mindset for Learning, authors Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz show teachers how, through explicit instruction, they can their turn classroom thinking from that of a fixed mindset to one of a growth mindset, and how together students and teachers can create classrooms of risk and resilience. In the following excerpt, the authors talk about the power that our brain's established neural pathways have over our interpretation of information, and how we have the power to change.
Science stories can be compelling vehicles for connecting people to information. When we create overarching story lines for instruction (within a unit, throughout a year of study, or over several years), students are more likely to remember what we teach. Information is more likely to stick because (as cognitive science shows) stories are the basic organizing principle for memory. Compelling stories also engage more of the brain (Berns et al. 2013). Also, students can begin to see the big ideas of science and how they connect across disciplines. Finally, the story lines give students a coherent framework to hang their learning on.
Teachers of middle school reading have their own, unique set of challenges. On the one hand, there is the pressure to get middle schoolers ready for high school. In high school, the demands will be high, to say the least. Students will be expected to wrestle with complex texts with minimal help. They’ll be expected to read and digest information quickly, and to write well about what they read. The inclination for many middle school reading teachers is to prepare students for a high school curriculum by angling their own curriculum toward what will come in high school. On the other hand, most middle schoolers still need plenty of instruction in reading skill work, and many are not quite ready for the high levels of text complexity of whole class novels. So what is a middle school teacher to do?