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Enjoy First Year of Teaching: Check

June 21, 2012

For those of you who are not teachers, it is a commonly held belief that the first year of teaching is supposed to be hell. Think “Hell Week” of military boot camp spread over the course of ten months. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. For every teacher that had a bearable first year, I know of ten who nearly committed homicide. Going into a first year, I expected it to be a year of mere survival tactics, suffering, gnashing of teeth, and blatant horror.

But it wasn’t. Not even close.

I actually really enjoyed my first year. I don’t think I merely survived it; I think I actually thrived.

As I reflect back on my first year, there are a number of blessings I take away and treasure.

I think part of my success was due to the fact that I am older than a typical first year teacher coupled with the fact that I’m married and have two children. The skills and “thick skin” that comes with parenting is easily tranferred to classroom management. In a word, I’m used to young people not liking me. Likewise, I never felt threatened and insecure being around or in front of students. However, like being a daddy, teaching required certain timely moments of vulnerability. There is no doubt that being a father to my children helped me enjoy being a teacher to my students.

Having spent time volunteering in Young Life also provided some necessary skills required to thrive as a teacher, most notably, the notion of “Earning the right to be heard.” This axiom is both true of youth ministry and teaching. My method or technique (if it can be called that) was spending time outside of the classroom building relationships so I didn’t have to worry about it inside the classroom. Hallway conversations, games of ping pong, and hanging around the lockers or the exit when the afternoon bell rang paved the way for productive classroom time. Being involved and invested in the lives of my students paid huge dividends for them and me. It’s good for students to see and know their teachers are human and not merely points of authority and it’s good for teachers to see their students as human, not merely grade percentages or attendance marks.

Another hidden gem of my first year was my 45 minute one-way drive to and from school. I was repeatedly asked, “How’s the drive?” To be honest, the drive was awesome. I frequently used the time to think about and pray for my students, their families, and my colleagues. Listening to theological podcasts and audiobooks was also part of this cherished time. Worshipping through singing was also an enjoyable part of my driving experience. I developed an great playlist of classic hymns and sang them often. Out loud. Repeatedly.

As part of teaching and driving, I desired to use social media to help guide my drives. Periodically, I would chat with students on Facebook or send them a message asking how they were doing and if there was anything I could be praying for during this time. I also had face-to-face conversations that helped fill this pool of prayer requests and made eyes-open-while-driving prayer deeply meaningful.

Having good students is also a key part of successful teaching. Thankfully, our school has this in large quantity. Of course, things got a bit squirrelly at the end, but if it hadn’t I would have been concerned.

Having a fellow like-minded teacher in Jenn was also a means of grace. Her patience and generosity qualify her for sainthood. As a teacher and a person, she is my foil and the moment I realized that made all the difference.

Finally, doing something I love and enjoy combined with a level of skill and giftedness has made the difference. I always appreciated my jobs and the opportunity to make money and provide for life. Enjoying the process of providing is worth all the pain and sacrifice that it took to reach this point.

Being able to go through my first year of teaching was not a tale of survival fraught with peril at every turn. It was like breathing a sigh of relief, like coming home.

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