First-Year Teacher Anxiety

As my college career continues to fly by and student teaching lurks around the corner, I find myself growing more and more anxious for my first couple years of teaching. In every single education class, we hear “Oh yeah you won’t sleep for the first two years of your career” and “I didn’t feel truly comfortable in the classroom until my third year of teaching.” There are known phases that a first year teacher supposedly goes through:

phases

I’m sure that teaching is not the only job that experiences seasons of varying feelings during one’s first year. I can handle the ups and downs throughout the year. I can handle the sleepless nights and hours of hard work and lesson planning. I can even handle the lack of appreciation and constantly being evaluated for the first couple years.

What I can’t handle is the thought of going into all of this alone. We get one semester of student teaching, so depending on the grade in which we are placed versus the grade we are actually hired to teach, those lesson plans and resources will be available to us. Other than that, as new teachers, it is up to us to seek help from administrators and colleagues. I suppose my greatest fear is not being able to find help and being left alone in a strange new world with such high stakes.

In my panicky state, I often turn to the advice and solace that the internet can offer. There are many articles and blogs about how to survive that first year of teaching. Here are some that I found helpful:

Advice for First-Year Teachers From the ‘Sophomores’ Who Survived Last Year

My favorite part about this article is that she brings up little details about daily classroom life that I would have never thought of. For example, the tip about making sure your students are organized is very useful. We tend to forget that kids don’t always know how to keep their work and themselves organized.

10 First-Year Teacher Myths and How to Avoid Them

The author writes “I am not against modeling, scaffolding or showing. But I have found that often students like a challenge. Instead of showing them the whole process, try telling them the goal, give them a beginning, and let them discover.” I completely agree that we should not constantly be spoon feeding our students, but letting them explore and make their own meaning.

If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day of Teaching

This is just a feel-good video to offer some inspiration for my fellow future teachers. Hang in there, everyone! As long as we try our best and stay true to our ideals of what being a teacher should entail, we will greatly impact the lives of many.

 

 

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Hate Math? You’re Not Alone…

Over the weekend I was talking with a family member who is an educator. She was telling me that she never had a single “good” math teacher. It reminded me of my classroom observations in seventh grade algebra. Last week, at the end of class, two girls walked up to the teacher and actually said, and I quote, “You’re really bad at explaining things.” It was heartbreaking to see his reaction but the truth is that these students were not wrong. This particular math teacher struggles to find different ways to teach concepts and the students are the ones suffering because of it. I believe that many math teachers (and professors…) have a hard time teaching more than one strategy or method because their method is the one they understand best, so it’s my way or the highway. This forces students to have to try and climb inside that teacher’s mind to see how he/she is thinking. It is the teacher’s responsibility to reach the students with a variety of methods for solving a problem. If math teachers can’t figure out how to do this, then the cycle of kids who hate math growing into adults who hate math will never be broken.

Perhaps teachers teach the methods they learned when they were younger because it’s what they understand best, and you can’t teach what you don’t know. Perhaps they’re simply unaware of the other strategies out there. Or perhaps they realize that learning new strategies will take a lot of time and effort. It’s not easy to completely change the way your brain thinks. In third grade, I learned the alternative algorithm for multiplication called “lattice.” (It’s the goofy looking one that requires drawing boxes.) As I got older, I realized that everyone else has a very different way to do multiplication. I decided to teach myself this traditional algorithm with the help of Khan Academy and YouTube and let me tell you, it was not an easy task! After using the lattice method for years, I had to really focus to grasp another strategy.

So will it be hard work? Yes. But what part of teaching isn’t hard work? The reason we’re putting ourselves through this is for the good of the kids and I guarantee your class will appreciate it if you teach them more than just one way to solve a problem. Kids will be way more successful if they can choose a method that makes the most sense to them rather than you teaching them one method. I truly believe that if more educators can focus on teaching different strategies in different ways, then soon there will be less and less kids (and adults) saying “I hate math,” which breaks my heart to hear.

How Can a Struggle be Productive?

The productive struggle is something that so many teachers fail to accomplish, but is so necessary for grasping and obtaining a deep understanding of tricky math concepts. When students work so hard on a math problem, even if it takes an hour, finally finding that answer creates so much pride and triumph. As a math major, this is a topic that resonates with me. While tutoring in the math department, I have seen college students light up when they discover their hard work paid off and they did a problem correctly. What I’m wanting to see is that same excitement in K-12 classrooms.

I think there are a few reasons why teachers are failing to let their students struggle to find their own meaning. First of all, it’s hard for us to see kids struggle! We want to help kids learn, which is why we desire to be in this profession in the first place. It is not easy to step back and let students try different things. Working at a daycare, I have watched a three year old spin a puzzle piece every possible way and try to fit it into a spot for 5 full minutes. Do you think I took that piece from him and showed him how it went? Of course not! Because as teachers we need to have patience and know when to let go and let kids learn. But this is tricky when teachers want to control every aspect of what’s happening in the classroom. Now, I’m not saying teachers should sit there and let the students teach themselves math. Of course they need guidance and scaffolding to be able to work on problems by themselves. It’s just that sometimes teachers can’t find the balance between not providing them with enough guidance, and flat out giving the answer/how to do it.

The second reason why teachers may not be succeeding at the productive struggle is that they have not created a culture in their classroom that makes kids feel comfortable failing. Math is one of those subjects where when kids make a mistake, they can become so embarrassed and traumatized that they don’t want to try again. This is so sad to me because there is so much to be learned through making mistakes. I could include so many cheesy quotes here about how we learn from failures more than successes, but I’ll spare you. Just believe me when I say that we need to do a better job of creating classroom environments that encourage kids to try and try different things and to not be ashamed of their mistakes.

I encourage my fellow future teachers to think about how they can help students develop the problem solving skills that are so necessary for not only mathematics, but life, through this weird concept known as the productive struggle.