Each week in the series Diary of a First-Year Teacher, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.
Each week has its own unique blend of chaos and surprises, and this week was no exception.
My assistant’s three days off for family reasons became the entire week, my planning period was canceled for a few days, and the week ended with a rewards ceremony that the teachers knew nothing about. We didn't get the details until our students were leaving our rooms on Friday afternoon.
As with any week as a first-year teacher, it was five days full of surprises. The biggest surprise I had, though, was surprising myself.
At the beginning of the year, any time my assistant was out, it felt like a death sentence. My assistant in fantastic, and without her I knew I was looking forward to a day of utter chaos.
I would not do centers, fearful of what may happen if they worked independently without two sets of adult eyes on them. I dreaded taking my students into the hallway. The line never ceased to make noise, and pushing often led to students toppling over one another like dominos. (I am not kidding. This was a regular occurrence when I was watching them on my own.)
As an already insecure teacher, seeing my students respond brilliantly to another adult only made me feel more inadequate.
My management got better as the year went on, but it was still very dependent on my assistant being in the room.
In addition to my assistant simply being a second adult, she is from our students’ community. Our students know her and they respect her. It’s been a point of insecurity for me that I couldn't control my class without my assistant in the room. Of course, there are legitimate reasons early elementary classrooms require two adults. But as an already insecure teacher, seeing my students respond brilliantly to another adult only made me feel more inadequate.
But something was different this week while I was on my own. The days, although full of surprises, were manageable. My students listened to me. My students were quiet. And when they weren’t, I was effective in managing them. Also, the test scores on Friday were outstanding—the best they'd been in weeks!
At first I was surprised my students were finally listening to me without the support of my assistant. However, looking back I realized that since returning in January, I have been working my tail off to be consistent while demanding my students’ respect.
I have been addressing everything. I address it every time they do not raise their hands, when they talk in line, play instead of listen, or show disrespect. It's been exhausting, and I've come close to giving it up and going back to a more laissez-faire management style. And then last week happened.
Finally, after weeks of consistency, they were starting to respect what I said. They knew I'd act on the threats I gave, and that they'd be in trouble if they broke a class rule.
Improvement can feel so slow. You try and try to be better at something, and yet the results do not come.
Earning respect is an uphill battle, especially when you have cultural differences and race to overcome. However, through consistency, demanding respect, and time, I have finally broken through.
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