Erica, is now half way through teaching her second year in kindergarten.
I reached out to her to get some advice about how she survived and thrived during her first year teaching kindergarten. Here is some of her great advice:
Where and what grade do you teach?
I teach kindergarten in The Grants Pass School District.
What was your favorite thing about your first year teaching?
My favorite thing about my first year teaching was building such strong relationships with my coworkers. When you are student teaching you build relationships at your school but the most important relationships are still related to your college. During your first year it’s really important to create strong relationships with the people around you because they will help you with understanding the curriculum, helping specific students, and making sure you get the supports you need to be successful and thrive.
What was the most challenging thing about teaching your first year?
The most challenging thing about teaching my first year was accepting that I can’t help every single student but instead I can only give them the tools to be successful. It was painful to let some of my kiddos who didn’t reach all the grade level standards or who didn’t get the proper supports in kindergarten go to first grade. Accepting that I can’t fix but instead can only support has made my second year emotionally easier.
What surprised you the most about your first year teaching?
What surprised me the most about my first year teaching was how much poverty/ trauma there is in Southern Oregon. For some of these kids, we are ALL they have. Some of my students have gone through life events that I could not even imagine going through as an adult and all we can do is give them a hug and make sure school is full of love and support.
What is your advice for handling challenges communicating with parents?
I think the best thing you can do is rely on your teaching team and principal when it comes to challenges with parents. If you have a parent who is being unkind, I would advise telling your principal and asking for advice. Always ask for advice when you don’t know how to handle a situation.
How have you navigated work/life balance?
This is one of the biggest challenges that every teacher faces. You always have a long list of things to finish and it never seems to end. Remember you are allowed to say no! I made a promise to myself that unless there are special circumstances I will not stay past 4 PM and I do not go to work on the weekends. I work through my lunches and prep during every prep period so I can leave on time. Its worth it for me! I am a planner so Sunday nights I pre-plan dinners with friends during the week to make sure I still socialize. It’s easy to make school your life but balance is so important. I always plan a special event for the weekends as well so I have something fun to look forward to(this can be as simple as a Saturday morning hike)!
What are some ways you have taken care of yourself this first year?
Self care is so important! Some things I do include going to the gym after work, taking my dog to the dog park, meal prepping on Sunday’s so I have healthy food for the week, leaving work by 4pm, going to bed at a decent hour so I have energy for the next work day, and talking about how I feel with friends, family, and/ or coworkers. Remember that you can’t be your best self for your students if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
As a student teacher, what are the best ways you can prepare while in your teacher preparation program?
While in your teacher prep. program take advantage of the opportunity to learn about different teaching styles and classroom management systems. You will develop your own teaching style/ management system but it’s wonderful when you have ideas to build off of.
What advice do you have for job seeking when the time comes?
My advice for job seeking is to apply to as many districts as you can via the online portals. There are so many amazing job opportunities in the Rogue Valley, and outside of the Valley, and you will find the best fit for you. Don’t give up! Job interviews are very stressful but when you find the right school you will know! When it comes to interviews you need to be yourself. You will be asked questions about concepts that you learned in your prep program but that’s only about 30% of the interview. The other 70% is if you would fit into their school culture. Be honest about who you are and what you believe!
THANK YOU Erica for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us!
We are so proud of you and know you are making a huge difference every day when you show up for your students!
Getting the chance to watch Dr. Temple Grandin talk has been a career long dream of mine!
When I started working with children with autism back in 1997, her book “Thinking in Pictures” was one of my first introductions to autism.
Dr. Grandin was one of the first individuals with autism who could articulate what life is like for people on the autism spectrum. Parents and professionals both clamored for her knowledge, expertise and valuable insight.
I just had the amazing opportunity to hear her speak at the US Autism Association!
Here are the major takeaways I had from her keynote speech:
Limit screen time for children with autism to less than 1 hour per day. She noted that many of the children who could succeed in computer science are sucked in to video games and no longer can access their full potential due to their addiction
Parents need to “start letting go”-foster independence from a young age. She likened this to the adult cow who still wants to nurse from the mama cow. She said we need to “wean our children” so they are not dependent on us
“don’t over-protect”the child with autism
Allow children a multitude of hands on experiences because true learning takes place with hands on experiences not through screens
Teach young children how to “wait” and how to “take turns” and use board games as a way to teach these skills
Having real jobs are important for young adults with autism starting at age 13 (or so).
Don’t get hung up on the label of autism
Focus on the strengths of the child not the deficits-build upon a child’s special interest which could end up leading to a valuable career one day. As an example, a child who is interested in pipes can become a plumber.
Don’t make kids with autism do “baby math” if they excel in math. Allow the child to excel in the area they are gifted in
Encourage friendships through shared experiences such as cub scouts, school clubs etc. A shared interest will help build the friendship
There is NO need to disclose autism diagnosis for milder cases due to some prejudice surrounding autism. Instead, tell what you need “those lights give me a headache”
Stretch students to grow and don’t overprotect them!
Allow for choices
If you were at the conference or have learned from Dr. Grandin yourself, please share what your biggest takeaways are in the comments!
when we teach we learn about what works and what doesn’t work by using self-reflection. Teach a lesson, a day, a week and look back and take the time to examine what worked well, and what didn’t work.
Here are some questions to ask:
How did the students respond? Was the lesson too hard, too easy? How would you present the materials or lesson differently next time?
How are you feeling physically and emotionally? Are issues in your personal life creeping into the classroom? Are you able to leave stress from home at home?
Every facet of teaching and education including the teacher’s cognitive, psychological, social/emotional and professional characteristics can be reflected upon. How you show up in your classroom and your school matters! Every facet of you as a person and teacher impacts your students and the whole school is impacted on some level.
When we prepare to review dispositions of our pre-service teachers with self-reflection in mind, we have the following rubric and scale:
Take a look at this scale and see how you would rate yourself right now…
We always want to see ourselves with a growth mindset and as a person who can grow and develop new skills.
Are you a person who is willing to put in the work to self-reflect so you can grow personally or professionally? If so how are you self-reflecting?
One student teacher I had two years ago said he had a long drive home from his student teaching placement. He took this long commute to run through his school day. He would think about the areas of the day that went well and the areas of the day that he would do differently next time. One suggestion I had for him is to have some type of journal or log to eventually (after he is done driving:) record those thoughts. Even though you think you would never forget them, the year is so full and there is no way to remember everything.
I designed this self-reflection worksheet as a way to encapsulate that self-reflection every week.
Take a moment to fill this out each week. Create a file to keep the reflections and by the end of the year you will be so amazed at how much you have grown.
Last night in our weekly guide meeting my wonderful pre-service teachers got into partners and used this self-reflection worksheet to reflect upon their week in the classroom. They enjoyed the chance to share with a partner and we will try this again next week.
The student on the left side of the picture, Hailey also shared her journal which she uses daily to write in. Her collaborating teacher encouraged her to use a daily journal to write notes about the day and questions that come up. I was so impressed to see this level of self-reflection from a student teacher!