Highlands Blog: An Ode to First Year Teachers…If I Knew Then What I Know Now
by Mrs. Stephanie Fonseca
Secondary English Teacher
While I am sure many professions are stressful, I presume there is no tired like first-year-English-teacher tired. That first year, I remember staying in my classroom weekly until 9 pm, scouring the internet hourly for ideas, and scrambling to finish lesson plans that took me the entire weekend. My social life was replaced with required novel reading, my desk was constantly an avalanche of papers, and I’m afraid to admit I almost invested in a cot to stick under my desk and save on rent.
On top of all of this, I was a total beginner at classroom management, and as I look back upon my own mistakes, I can clearly see where I faltered. Now that I am in my fourth year of teaching at Highlands, I can think of three truths I wish I had known when I got started.
Lesson number one: Don’t smile until Thanksgiving. Only sometimes.
Alright, actually, this was advice a very experienced teacher shared with me in my first year. What she meant was that you should not be scared to be firm with your students. It’s always harder to tighten the reins once you have let them loose. Well, I took this advice and RAN with it. While I hate to admit it, I was definitely a hard-handed tyrant in my first year of teaching. I definitely did not struggle keeping my kids in line, and by in line, I mean terrified. I gave out writing assignments like candy and detentions at the slightest provocation. I was great at scaring them into doing what I wanted, but was I really reaching them on a personal level?
Scripture clearly explains how it is Christ’s love and the kindness and goodness of God that “leads us unto repentance” (Romans 2:4). More than just being strict and stern, it is our job as teachers to demonstrate that we love and care for our students, even if it is through much-needed discipline. This was a balance I had to learn in my first year of teaching, and it is something that I am still learning every day.
Lesson number two: Kids are humans too.
If I am being perfectly honest, there are days in the classroom when I feel like hiding under my desk rather than discussing Transcendentalism with teenagers. Some days students don’t listen, they can’t remember what you said, and at this very moment they absolutely must use their desk as their own personal drum set. On those days, I fear my frustration often gets the best of me. However, I have come to realize that, just like me, these students can have their bad days also.
I can remember one instance with a student in my second year of teaching that was definitely a turning point. On this particular day, this student deserved an Oscar for bad behavior. However, instead of punishing him immediately, I simply asked him how he was doing. A little taken aback, he began to tell me about a pretty serious situation at home that was clearly affecting his concentration at school. My anger disintegrated immediately. How many times have I been there myself? I can now say, in my fourth year of teaching, that I have learned to try and always use this approach. As educators, we must take into consideration that students are people too. They deserve to be heard, and when we show them we love and care for them, they are much more willing to comply.
Lesson number three: They don’t actually know what’s on the lesson plan.
I have always been a planner. I love knowing exactly what’s happening, when it’s happening, and how long it’s going to take. My first year of teaching was no exception. I had planned down to the minute what would be happening in my classroom, and let me tell you, every moment absolutely had to be productive. Go straight for the goal, do not pass GO, do not collect two hundred dollars. I realized very quickly, however, that students cannot be programmed like robots.
Sometimes a student has an urgent and serious prayer request that takes an extra fifteen minutes. There are days when sharing a funny or embarrassing story is just what students need to brighten up their day. While I still have to work on my “easygoing” side, I have definitely lightened up since my first year at Highlands. After all, students never know what was actually the plan for the day, and personal relationships are far more important in the long run than how many literature stories we cover.
These are only a few of many lessons I have learned and continue to learn every day. In a profession that is constantly changing and in a job that is never truly finished, it is encouraging to look back and see how I have learned along with my students. Although I hope I have taught them something of value, I can honestly say they have exponentially helped to teach and shape me for the better. In my humble opinion, there is no greater privilege than serving and loving the next generation through education.
So whether it’s the first year or the twentieth in Christian education, let us never forget the promise that as we labor for the work of Christ and reaching students for Him, our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)!
Read more Highlands blogs HERE.