Dear Second-Year Teacher

by Carolyn Martin


Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Dear Second-Year Teacher,

Welcome back for another year in the classroom! It’s good to see that you stuck around, that you were brave enough to try it again. It would be a shame to let all the learning you did last year be wasted.

The second year is supposed to be easier. What makes it that way?

Whether you consider your first year a grand success or an utter failure—in reality it was probably neither—you likely hit rough patches along the way. You probably found that the actual teaching experience didn’t exactly fit the idea of that teaching experience in your mind. You found that you were working with frail, willful human beings, not robots waiting your programmed command. You found that the clock went faster than you thought it did. You found that your superior knowledge was still not enough to help every child understand every time. You found that your supply of patience was less than you thought it was. You found…lots of things that didn’t go like you thought they should.

As you go into this new year you can make proactive plans. You now know a little better what you will be working with. You know that many students need help curbing their selfish desires (we don’t sit in a hard seat and work on difficult material just because we want to). You know that students are happier when they’ve learned self-control (we aren’t happy when we procrastinate, argue, or sulk in a corner). You know the rough places in the curriculum. You see the whole picture better. You now have an idea of where you want to end up before you start. You are better prepared to meet the challenges.

As you plan your new year, think about the areas that went well. Was your schedule effective? Did your method for passing in books work? Was your system for dealing with class disruptions successful? Don’t throw away the things that worked for you.

In your plans for the next year, give a lot of thought to the trouble areas of the past year. Was the book/craft corner a place for disruption, whispering, and distraction? How can you change that? Could you limit the number of people who can be there, or specify the time period students use it (say, only in last period if their work is completed), or be more specific in your expectations of the privilege, or eliminate it altogether? Did students have trouble getting their math completed on time? What might be a solution—more flashcard practice so they speed up, or do you need to move math to a longer class period so they have a larger chunk of time to work on it? Was the problem that hands waved constantly over the classroom? Are you spending enough time in class, or do you need to spend more time in review and drill, or do you need to teach your students to pay attention during class time? One advantage you have this year is that you better know the trouble spots and can prepare yourself and the students for them.

You learned much in your time last year, but teachers are just like students. Throw too much new material at us and we only catch part of it. We also need review and reminders. One way to prepare yourself for this year is to go back over all the beginning teacher material you were given last year. You will probably find a few nuggets you didn’t notice last year. Here are a few you may have overlooked.

  • Routines are very important. Students thrive when they understand and know what to do. Teachers who let routines work for them are less harried and have more time for the important things.
  • Routines must be communicated, modeled, and practiced for them to be successful.
  • Rules (different from routines) must be enforced—remember, to have a rule is to invite someone to break it. The solution is not to have no rules. The solution is to have a consistent, non-emotional method of reinforcing the rule. (Getting angry, frustrated, or complacent will not work.)
  • Rules must also be communicated, modeled, and practiced.
  • Students perform to the level of your expectations. Do you expect them to sit quietly? If you are pretty sure they can’t, you will be correct. Do you expect neat work? If you don’t, you will have sloppy papers. Do you expect students to memorize the multiplication tables? If you think that is too hard for them, they will not get the facts memorized. As teachers we must be realistic in our expectations but many times, we expect too little.
  • Students need to see, hear, and handle material to understand. Teaching is not a one-way tunnel where the teacher funnels in all the information and learned students come out the other end. Students need to interact and grapple with the material. The teacher facilitates the interaction.
  • Parties, prizes, and treats do not make a successful school year. Rewarding a job well done is not wrong; however, hinging student performance or classroom management on a tangible reward system will not bring about satisfaction or success.
  • Realize that teaching for the teacher and book work for the student is hard work and not play. Spice in the classroom should be spice and not flour or sugar. That does not mean that learning and hard work cannot be interesting. But spice should not be added just because it’s time to do something fun. Putting pepper in cookies doesn’t work, but adding some cinnamon is pleasing.

Yes, teaching the second year is easier. But there are areas where you as a second-year teacher may find it more difficult. For one thing, the enthusiasm of your first year is hard to surpass. As we teach longer, we start to realize how much work certain things take and we shy away from projects and activities that demand so much from us. We have also learned how hard a job teaching can be. We realize more realistically that teaching means being on-demand for six straight hours. It means we never quite get away from the classroom. It means working with various personalities and various parental expectations. Teaching a second year brings with it a greater sense of responsibility.

Another challenge you may face is when you teach the same students that you had the year before. Those students come back to school expecting the same experience of the year before. When you try to make changes, the students may provide some push-back. If your reasons for the change are well thought out, you can calmly and firmly stand on those reasons but you must be on your guard. It may take students a while to adapt to the changes.

So, Teacher of the Second Year, welcome back. I am glad to see you again! And, as it was last year, I’m still happy to help you with the questions you have. I’m still willing to listen to your struggles, success stories, or times you feel you’ve failed.

May God bless your year!

~A teacher who once stood in your shoes

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CONTRIBUTOR: Carolyn Martin

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