One of my first-grade art projects involved sprinkling dry tempera paint on wet paper. The children enjoyed the project, but the result was a horrible mess, a frustrated teacher, and likely an annoyed janitor! I declared I would never do that art project again. I was a first-year teacher who had enthusiasm and big ideas, but not much experience or the wisdom that comes with experience.
In 33 years teaching, I have not repeated that art project! I have enjoyed many other art projects and have learned to plan ahead more and think through possible scenarios before proceeding with ideas. The enthusiasm of the beginning teacher is needed in our schools, as well as the wisdom of the experienced teacher. Many articles are written for first-year teachers as they begin school, and that is great. But here I address the experienced teacher beginning a new school year.
- You get a fresh start each fall. At the end of the school year or semester, I sometimes think, “I wish I would have done this better” or “I ran out of time to do that” or maybe “I don’t feel like I accomplished all I wanted to.” We get a new start in the fall! I can work harder at teaching this concept, try this idea for reading, gather more data and apply it, or spend more time preparing lessons.
- Keep out of the ruts. If I’ve always done it that way, it might be time to change procedures. I don’t want to just plod along, but I want to make my teaching interesting for my students and for myself. (There are some ruts that are okay – if I’ve tried different ideas and found one is actually the best, I may continue with it.)
- Add something new. It might be a new lesson, a new story, another motivational activity, or a different game. As in the song, “Make new friends, but keep the old . . .” Keep those favorites and those time-tested activities but add new ideas to keep up your interest and motivation. I might try to add one new idea in each subject in a week.
- Evaluate lessons, teaching ideas, and methods. We don’t need to change just to change but do change if there is something better to do. If it works well, and you like the idea, keep doing it.
- Be open to other ideas. Talk with other teachers. Read teacher blogs, books, and articles.
- Keep learning and growing. I have learned a lot through the years – from colleagues, other first-grade teachers, reading, taking classes, doing webinars, attending seminars, and school professional development.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. It is good to change things and not always do something “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” but there are times when we don’t need to change something. For a while I thought I should write new lessons each year, until I was advised that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. If I have already written a lesson plan for teaching fact families, I don’t need to redo it. I may need to adjust it for a different class and different student needs, but the base of it does not need to be redone.
- Be open to advice. Yes, I’ve taught a number of years, and dealt with many kinds of situations, and have several years of training, but I can still learn from others. I may apply the filters of my experience and my knowledge of first-grade but I can still listen to and accept advice.
- Be careful on giving advice! (Although I guess that is what I’m doing now!) This is something I struggle with, as I feel like I have a lot I’d like to share – not to be bossy but to be helpful. I don’t want to be intimidating to others or seem like I know it all. I do feel like I have a lot of experience and ideas and enjoy sharing. I sometimes feel that is not needed, though, so I’m learning to keep quiet unless asked!
- Enjoy the years of experience. Be thankful that you’ve learned how to handle many kinds of situations. Look at challenges as a way to grow and apply those years of experience.
I enjoy teaching “grand-students” now (children of my former students) and having former students as colleagues. These are more benefits for the long-term teacher.
A mother contacted me and said she had concerns about her child coming to school. We met and she shared her concerns. I said I have a few years of experience and I don’t feel scared about her child’s behavior difficulties. I look forward to having him in class and will be glad to work with him. This will give me an opportunity to apply some of my years of experience!
CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt