A picture’s worth of a teacher’s worth.

This one’s for Average Mom.

Reflections: Second-year teaching

My second year of teaching is well under way, and what a relief it’s been that the learning curve isn’t as steep as last year. I still feel scattered and overwhelmed, but having a year under my belt makes for a much reduced stress level.

For one, I already knew most of my students before the first school bell rang. A huge advantage I have over a regular classroom teacher is that I get to teach my students year after year, so I see them grow in their knowledge and blossom in their language skills. The drawback is that I only get to see them a short period each day, so building rapport is tougher; I don’t get to know them as well as their homeroom teacher.

I’m also familiar with the school’s routines, staff, and layout, which makes navigating the system much smoother. I’m still getting hit by information overload but of a different kind, and I can actually assimilate more of what I’m receiving.

The curriculum is not all new, and I’m starting to get a better feel for what students at different grade levels should be able to do. I know I missed plenty last year and probably will again this year. Things will eventually fall into place…thank God.

Teaching is such a complicated job, and those not in the business really have no clue what it’s all about. They only see the visible part of teaching: students working in class; lessons being taught; workbooks being filled. They don’t see the hours (outside of 8-4) of preparation and marking. There is more that goes on behind the scenes than what is visible. Kind of like the old analogy of a duck looking calm on the surface but paddling like hell underwater.

I’m feeling good about this new venture, which is more than I could say this time last year. Things are getting better.

Phases in the First Year of Teaching

The first year of teaching really translates into the first year of managing: schedules, lessons, pupils, time, information, and the list goes on. This is why, as of late, I often could be heard saying things like, “There aren’t enough hours in a day or days in a week.” If you’re wondering why I’ve been quiet in the blogosphere, now you know.
Yes, you walk out of school, degree in hand, thinking you can conquer the world (or at least teaching). Within a week of teaching, you question whether you made the right career choice. Within a month, you question whether you can continue the pace and still be alive in June. Then when the first report cards hit, you wonder where your time went and what on earth you did during the first couple of months.
If you want to have a quick, down-and-dirty lesson on self-reflection, just teach kids. For a month. I thought I had learned so much about myself during my four years of studies in that small, tight-knit group of ours. However, nothing prepared me for this.
I came across a graph which explains the phases in the first year of teaching.
Phases of First Year Teaching

Phases of First Year Teaching

For the first couple of months, though, the line should look more like an ECG graph going down a steep hill in a barrel. Judging by this representation, I should be at the bottom right about now. Well, I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

The sad part is, this phase looks like it won’t let up until the spring.

It’s going to be a very long winter.

Lucky for me, our teachers’ association offers a mentorship program to help beginning teachers. Within the program, I hooked up with a veteran teacher who also happened to be a host teacher for one of my practicums (or, practica, in case Dave’s dad is reading). Another thing is that the school administrator is exceptional. He is very understanding and supportive. He has a very positive way of communicating. It’s hard to explain it in a few short words. Considering that anywhere from 20-30% of new teachers leave the profession within two or three years, I’d say that I’m fortunate to have this support around me.

It’s still going to be a long winter, but I’m still determined to “experience” this first year of teaching.

The Viva in Survival: First Week of Teaching

A high-fiver from a colleague on Friday afternoon felt good. “To surviving your first week of teaching,” he exclaimed with a smile on his face.

“Yes, I survived,” I sighed.

“No, I didn’t survive my first week, I lived it. I prefer to to say I lived it,” smiled another newish teacher.

When you understand the colour of the French language, it gets even more interesting. In French, the past tense survived is rendered SURVÉCU, and lived (or experienced) is VÉCU. Therefore, she said: “Pour moi, le l’ai vécu plutôt que survécu.” I liked that. Add three little letters at the beginning of the word, and the whole perspective changes.

I walked away reflecting on the short encounter. I honestly felt like I survived my first week. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING prepares you for teaching. I had four years of educational psychology, child psychology, pedagogy, practicums practica in the classroom, and the list goes on. By the third day, I felt so overwhelmed with information coming at me a mile a minute, I just couldn’t get my brain to stop rolling.

I have about three long lists of things to do, ideas, and resources, and a couple of pads worth of sticky notes glued to every available surface. I have paper, books, and stuff scattered on my desk I don’t know what to do with. I have kids whose names I need to learn, let alone wanting to build a rapport with. I keep running downtown with lists of things I need to buy in order to help the classroom run more smoothly. I have curriculum I need to cover, and 45-minute periods fly by so fast, I barely get down to business*. As a result, stress got the better of me, which meant my emotions were hard to hide. In 24 hours, I think I must’ve shed tears as many times.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just sit there and cry all day; I was fine in the classroom. But the slightest questions from colleagues as to how things were going brought on anything from watery eyes to downright sobbing. So, it was time to reach out.

I approached superman a super-organized teacher for ideas/suggestions.
I met with a high school teacher for help with planning.
I met with a primary teacher for suggestions with my fourth graders.
I talked with the school “counsellor” and simply unloaded…super-nice, understanding guy, by the way.
I even talked with my principal who is so there for everyone. I like his style, but that’s for another post.

And my husband, oh, my husband. He has been the most caring, understanding, and loving person in the whole world. He has taken care of breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week. The house was kept tidy with my whirlwind comings and goings. He held me when I sobbed at 3am. He gave me practical advice about dealing with the bursts of information hitting me like pop-up windows on a cheesy site.

Now, I feel ready to start my second week. Yes, while other people are going on their last camping trip of the summer, hiking the Chilkoot before winter sets in, or closing down their summer cabins, I’ll be organizing. Prioritizing. Planning. Working.

Most importantly, I’ll be living from now on. Yes, living my first year of teaching. Experiencing it. Learning from it. Tasting it. And hopefully, loving it.


*Kids in grades 3-6 come to my room for their English class in the mornings. Afternoons, I go to the secondary wing for grades 7-10.

Reading Power: Teaching Students to Think While They Read

Do you like to read? If you’re a teacher and/or a parent, do you want your kids to understand what they read? Of course you do, but what some people fail to recognize is that there’s a huge difference between reading fluency and reading comprehension. They’re both important, but sometimes we tend to emphasize the former over the latter.

Here’s a wonderful resource that was recommended to me by a local teacher:

Reading Power: Teaching Students to Think While They Read – (you can see the book online by clicking on the link)

Written by Adrienne Gear (from Vancouver)

The book is only 144 pages (means you can get through it in no time) and breaks down five strategies (or “powers”) to help with teaching reading comprehension:

  1. Connecting
  2. Questioning
  3. Visualizing
  4. Inferring
  5. Transforming (Synthesizing)

There are sample lesson plans to help teach each strategy with the use of picture books, and this with primary and intermediate levels. By using picture books, the stories are short, and students focus on the strategy more than the story. Once students learn and practice using each strategy, they apply them to other readings (i.e. novel studies, literature circles, etc…).

The bonus here, is that if you plan on buying picture books for your classroom or your personal library, you can buy with a goal in mind. Included are lists of books that are ideal for each reading power (strategy) for primary and intermediate. Many of the books recommended are already in our elementary school libraries – I checked!

Reading Power is based on and adapted from another longer work called Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goodvis.

Check it out! This book is a real gem.