Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First Year Stories: Meeting Expectations to Meeting in the Middle

As a teacher, you are always meeting someone else's expectations.  The expectations of your school, the administration, your coworkers, the students, the parents - the pressure is enough to bring on an anxiety attack.  And you have your own expectations as well - expectations for how your class will be run, how your students will behave, and how well your students will do in your class.  And you have expectations for yourself - you expect to be completely prepared for all of your lessons, you expect you can handle difficult situations with parents, students, and staff with dignity and grace.  And yet there are times (and there will be many of them) in which these expectations will not be met.

I realized that I run a very tight ship in my classroom.  My students come in, and I already have them with their planners out recording homework and their notebooks out recording today's objective and Do Now.  My morning classes greet these expectations by being very quiet.  There will be some chatting going on, but it's subdued and will usually stop when I come to see how much writing they've done in their notebooks.  To me, a quiet classroom is one I can control, and I feel my morning classes run very smoothly.

My afternoon classes are another story.  My first afternoon class comes in like a whirlwind - they need to chat with each other before they sit down.  They need to chat while they are working.  And recently, they felt the need to chat when I've been teaching.  That certainly did not meet my expectations, and I convinced myself that there was a big issue with this class.  I tried every trick up my sleeve - discipline ladders, rewarding the whole class should they not chat while I am teaching with a series of strikes.  Yet, nothing really seemed to work, and I found myself going to my coworkers with fear of losing control of my class.

My coworker had a prep during one of my afternoon classes, so she said she would peek in to see how it was going.  And after she did, she told me something I didn't expect to hear: "Your afternoon class is supposed to be like that!"  "But," I kept telling myself, "My morning classes aren't...why should this afternoon class behave so differently?"

I talked to my other 7th grade team members, and found they were having similar issues as well in terms of chatting and literal hyper activity in their afternoon classes.  My coworkers helped me see the bigger picture: they're coming off from lunch and their fine arts classes, where structure is minimal.  Then, they come to my class, where I expect them to be quiet and they just can't - they have too much pent up energy from the past two periods.  I realized at that point that it was my turn to change my expectations, instead of expecting others to rise to mine.  I set more concrete rules for when students would be disciplined, not something vague like "being loud" which I had before, but more like, "you will not chat while you are supposed to be taking notes."  I also practiced being calmer, and instead of constantly calling them back to attention with my countdown (which I only have to do once or twice with my other classes), I would stand there and wait and say, "we'll start this lab when you're ready" in a low voice.  I realized they're excited for my class and for science because they get to "do labs" - even in they're not 100% what that entails just yet, so they would quiet down pretty quickly.

Basically, the moral of this "first year story" is that sometimes you need to adapt and change your expectations.  Once I met my afternoon classes in the middle, I found myself enjoying them more.  And now that we are in the 4th week of school, I find they have also settled into my routine.  I opened my ears and my eyes to other classrooms as well, and watched as the 7th graders took forever to settle down, would run into the classroom and make a scene, or would have the absolute hardest time staying in their seats.  Moving forward, I realize that I need to not only adjust my expectations, but my teaching styles as well to fit the energy within this class.  My Do Nows need to be more concrete so they become settled quicker (a worksheet they will turn in for a grade instead of an open ended question in their notebooks) and I need to embrace the noise and the energy and realize a loud class is not a class I don't have control over.  That is not to say I need to throw away my expectations, and my students still need to know that they cannot chat while I am teaching and cannot be too loud or rambunctious during laboratory activities or experiments.

I feel that as a "first year teacher," there are so many things I was never told and a multitude of lessons I was never taught in school.  The hardest part about being a teacher is that although you are constantly surrounded by people, the profession can sometimes feel so lonely.  It is only you in that classroom, and you have no idea what is going on with other classrooms or other teachers when you are concerned only with what is going on within your four walls.  Sharing my story with other teachers helped me overcome my issues, and I hope it will help other teachers, be they first year teachers or veteran teachers, as well.

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