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After spending 4 years in college, you would think that you would know everything there is to know about teaching. Unfortunately when you break it down, 2 years of undergrad and 2 years of career focused training doesn't fully prepare you. Now that I have been out of college and am well into my 8th year of teaching, it is clear to me that there are gaps in teacher education programs.
1- Teaching Writing:
There is not a class on how to teach students to write... at all. You have 'Teaching Reading', 'Phonics', 'Early Childhood Literacy'. But there is not any class that deals with how to teach writing to your students. My advice, before you graduate, create your own independent study of sorts. Begin to investigate and read people like Jeff Anderson and Ralph Fletcher. They help you understand how to think like a writer.
2-What your class demographics/behavior will really be like:
If you think your class will be all high achieving students ready and eager to please, bless you. Within the average class, you will have 2-3 students who strive to achieve, 3-4 who could be excellent students who need to try harder, 7-8 who do anything you ask and put forth a ton of effort but might escape that 'light blub' moment some times. In the end you are typically left with 1-2 who will never do what you ask, sleep through class, and don't care if they go to the office everyday or not. It is a struggle to reach them and their interests.
3- Classroom Management:
All the pocket charts, sliding scales, pull a ticket, move a clip, or dance on your head systems will not help you if you are not consist with them. Part of your first year teaching is always a trial and error with behavior management systems and seating arrangements. You eventually will get it perfect for you and for your students. Sometimes you have a need for 3 different systems all at the same time:
- one for the entire class on an individualized level (clip chart, pocket chart, etc.)
- one for the entire class as a reward (10 hallway compliments to earn a treat)
- one for individual students who ignore the first one (personalized folders to take everywhere with specific rewards geared for that child)
Oh how we love this word! Differentiation is fabulous in theory... until you have 28 students who ALL have different spelling lists. Did I mention you have to give each of them their own special test in a 20 minute spelling block?
How do you manage it? You divide and conquer. You create peer helpers. You pull in paras from lower grades. You create groups and pull during specials/activity times.
This issue can extend into any subject, time period, or day of the week no matter what grade you teach. When I taught kindergarten, guided reading was the worst. Meeting with every group every day was hard to schedule! You do what you need to do. That's why my admin could walk in during math and see me with a group reading at the back table. Or out at recess around the sandbox.
5- School Communities:
This is not a class that you can take. In all honesty this is a life lesson to be learned. The closest I got 'taught' to this was when a professor warned us,"Avoid lounge lizards." They are those who never have a positive thought or comment about anyone. Hang with them and you will either become one or others will think you are. I have to continue this point by saying to trust yourself over even veterans. I once had a veteran teacher tell me not to write lesson plans.
There are always politics that play a huge part in school communities. As a new teacher, the best idea is to look, listen, and observe. I did not do this in my first job. Now that I moved to a new school, I did more listening and observing. I feel like it has a made a huge difference in knowing how my new school works faster.
College helps us begin our journey as teachers, but it doesn't give the whole picture. Only experience can do that.
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