I remember so vividly being literally scared to death in a room full of first graders on the first day of school back in 1988. I was so terrified that they'd be able to tell that I had no idea what I was doing. Much of the time I was figuring things out second by second as we went along. The benefit of teaching very young children like 1st graders was that they were every bit as scared as me. Somehow we all made it through that year, and I still credit much of my success as an educator to 5 veteran teachers, all long retired now, who walked me through that first go-round. I still use many techniques that I learned from those great teachers that year.
Now that I'm teaching middle school kids, I feel a bit sorry for young, first-year teachers who have middle schoolers as their first experience with teaching. These kids can smell inexperience and they feed on it. Like tiger sharks, circling their prey, they work the young teacher into a sort of frenzy until she completely loses her composure. The sheer enjoyment of
We have a couple of brand new, fresh out of the oven, teachers in 6th grade. They are both well-prepared and incredibly intelligent, but no amount of education or depth of knowledge in a subject can make up for having a bank of experiences from which to draw.
Today, one of the new teachers came over to me at passing period and said, "Just wait until you get the group I just had. They were horrible! You should probably go ahead and make a seating chart for them before they get to you because I had to move several boys around and they do NOT need to be sitting together." I thanked her for the heads-up but told her it wouldn't be right not to give them the chance to screw up with me, proving that they actually needed a seating chart. She agreed but went ahead and told me their names. Turns out, I'd all ready had that group. And they were perfect in my room. I didn't tell her this because I don't want to discourage her in any way.
Inside I was giving myself a great big high five. I've waited years to be the sort of teacher whose very presence inspired a certain level of discipline. There's a confidence and a sort of air that surrounds a more experienced teacher. I remember admiring this trait in the teachers I looked up to when I was young and inexperienced. And now, I finally have it!
I'm not a heavy-handed teacher by any means. In fact, it is typically for me to be lifelong friends with my students, and I keep in touch with more of them than I can count. But, I do say what I mean and mean what I say, and the kids can sense this. At least they can now. Now that I've got the confidence of experience to back it up.
So, here's to a great 20th year of teaching!
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