Olive to Run

Things I Learned BUT Wasn’t Taught As A First Year Teacher

I love my students. If you and I have ever had a conversation you know that I say that phrase regularly… not because I have to or because I feel obligated to, but because I genuinely mean it. I am a teacher. It is in my blood and I know this because of the relationships that I develop with my students- past, present and I am confident future. Some people believe that everyone can teach… and I say that those people are not only wrong, they’re naive.

I read an article recently in the Washington Post called You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong. The author, Sarah Blaine a mom, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey shares, ” We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.  We are wrong.”

She goes on to explain her experience switching careers from teaching English Language Arts to going to law school to be a lawyer after two years in the classroom.  One piece of the article that struck home to me was when she wrote, “New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.” She couldn’t be anymore right.

Let me share with you a little bit about my first year as an educator.

I just graduated college and turned twenty-three two weeks before the morning of my first day as a Middle School Science teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I barely slept the night before in anticipation of what the day ahead had in store. I climbed out of bed extra early and tried on numerous outfits before I decided which outfit would be the best for my debut. Clearly this was before I realized my clothing meant nothing… which I would actually learn a few hours later.

I was at school an hour ahead of time so I would have time to double check every single thing I laid out just right a few days before. I wanted to make sure everything was perfect. This is a common quality of teachers.  I wanted to make a good impression.

That morning we were asked to walk outside and help monitor the students as they lined up in front of the school. Truth: as soon as I looked out of those double doors I wanted to run away. Students were everywhere, some loud, some quiet, some small, some taller than me… and I stand at 5’9″. The aide called out to the students to start organizing them by homeroom. He yelled my name and students started to follow him… some more willing than others. Little did they know, they would be greeting me, their right out of college twenty three year old teacher.

I learned a lot that year, none of which were lessons learned in my college courses.

things i learned but was never taught as a first year teacher

#1. I was never taught how to walk into a room with thirty five middle school students and have them listen to me immediately on day one.

#2. I was never taught how to walk into a school as the minority and have to prove myself to so many people- particularly students. This sounds naive, but it is honest. I  wasn’t sheltered as a child. I grew up in a city, I went to public school and I had friends from a variety of backgrounds. The difference was, I always got along with everyone. No one ever looked at me and made me feel like I didn’t belong because of the color of my skin. Until my first day as a teacher.

#3. I was never taught how to plan engaging curriculum without having enough textbooks or even textbooks that are less than ten years old for that matter.

#4. I was never taught how to manage the amount of paperwork involved in teaching. When you’re learning “HOW TO” be a teacher, you aren’t dealing with progress reports, IEPs, report cards, documenting student behavior, correcting homework, grading assessments, writing parent emails, on top of researching, learning new content, planning lessons, units, and school years.

#5. I was never taught how to continue to teach as if nothing was happening when cops interrupted my lesson to “check my classroom” for weapons and drugs.

#6. I was never taught how to take it when I would find a butcher knife wrapped in a towel at the back of my classroom before the students arrived that day.

#7. I was never taught how to wait patiently as my students walked through metal detectors as they entered the building.

#8. I was never taught how to help students who have been told they are failures time and time again understand that they are NOT failures and have an opportunity to succeed.

#9. I was never taught how to sit across from the school basketball stars and tell them they wouldn’t be playing in their next games because they were failing Science.

#10. I was never taught how to make the call to report a sixth grade student telling me they had intimate relations with an eight grade boy that wasn’t voluntary.

#11. I was never taught how to comfort her either.

#12. I was never taught how important it was to have a support system at work. I am still to this day, in debt to the fellow teachers, Angels that helped me get through my first year.

#13. I was never taught how much I would love each one of those students as much as I did at the end of the school year.

#14. I was never taught how much of an impact those moments would have on my life- including how much that first year would have an affect on how I would teach every year there after.

#15. I was never taught that no matter what was thrown at me, my heart was made for teaching.

I tell you all of this not to talk negatively about the students I taught, the decisions they made, the teachers I worked with, or the school that I was at. The students I taught continue to be some of the sweetest kids I have ever worked with. The teachers I worked with continue to be professionals I look up to still to this day. That school continues to be a place of memory and reflection that has made me into the educator and person that I am today. I am forever grateful for that experience.

What are some things people do not realize about your career? Your profession?
What are some lessons you learned AFTER school to help you get to where you are today?

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55 thoughts on “Things I Learned BUT Wasn’t Taught As A First Year Teacher

  1. bemomstrong

    Man looking back on my first year teaching and how under prepared I was… crazy. Just goes to show you book learning versus experience is a HUGE difference. Learned a lot about myself that first year and how to be PATIENT… truly patient!
    emma

  2. Tara Newman

    This was fascinating to me as a mother, a student, and a someone who’s job is to provide professional development in the workplace. Great perspective. I guess the first thing I learned was that I knew nothing and my education was just about to start (even though I naively thought it was over).

    1. Olive Post author

      I love the last line of your comment… I think we all assume learning is done when we leave the classroom when instead, it is just starting!

  3. livliveslife

    This is such a great post – thanks for sharing from a teacher’s point of view. Today is my first day of a long-term sub position, so these little reminders are great tips. Thanks!

  4. vitatrain4life

    I have always held teachers in high regard – as a student and now as a mom. Some of my best friends and a lot of my personal training clients have been/are teachers and I’ve heard A LOT over the years. I’m hoping to be better at talking with my kids teachers, because of this, as they grow and matriculate into the system. Thanks for sharing this and THANK YOU for teaching! I couldn’t do it.

  5. Heidi (@idlehide)

    I give teachers such credit and I don’t think people really realize what you guys end up dealing with. You’re probably a huge role model to so many of your students! I used to look up to a lot of my “younger” teachers that took the time to talk to me and care about me vs. the teachers who were there to teach and not to care for their students. This was a wonderful post!

  6. Renee at bendifulblog

    I’m not a teacher but I could write you an equally frightening/humbling list of things I learned my first year in outside sales. It’s a crazy world. I’m happy after all that you stuck with teaching it sounds like you’re great at it :)

  7. Heather @fitncookies

    I’m lucky in the sense that schools around here don’t have metal detectors, random weapon checks, and such. THey do have textbooks for everyone that are up to date. I can’t imagine a first year teacher dealing with all of that! I would probably just go home and cry, haha. I’m glad you stuck it out because you’re a great teacher today!

  8. Kathryn @ Dancing to Running

    It really is amazing how “prepared” teacher education programs strive to be but how the “real world” experience in our first classroom is where we really learn how to be a teacher. One thing I was unprepared for my first year teaching was having students so close in age to me. I was 22 when I started teaching, and taught sophomores and seniors my first year. Having students only a couple of years younger than me made it difficult to earn their respect, but I had to learn how to do so on my feet or we wouldn’t have gotten anything done in the classroom. I also had a 21 year old English Language Learner. While placing him in my class may not have been the smartest move on his counselor’s part, having him as a student proved to be an invaluable lesson on how to emerge as a leader among somebody your own age.

  9. christiana

    I am a social worker, and people are consistently confused about my profession. Many people think that all social workers do is take children away from their parents, but in reality we also work in govermment, run organizations, do therapy, advocate, work in hospitals and hospice, work with people with addictions, mental health needs, disabilities, those without homes, veterans, people in poverty…I could go on and on!

  10. Kelly

    I also teach middle school science – in philadelphia. All of these things hit home – even today, after 5 years in the classroom. I went through an alternative teaching program (similar to Teach for America) and I though my ill-preparedness was related to that, and more traditional teaching programs at least addressed some of these issues. I guess not. Keep up the good work!

  11. Megan @ Meg Go Run

    I didn’t know how to teach until I actually taught. And I’m not talking student teaching, I’m talking my own classroom. I’ve been teaching for 9 years now and I still am learning so much. I look back on my first couple years and think… oh my word, I was blissfully clueless!

  12. aliceinwonder88

    my ex-boyfriend was a teacher at a milwaukee high school while we were dating, and it was incredible hard on him for many of the reasons you listed. i hated that sometimes we both actually worried for his safety when he was just trying to be a good teacher. he ended up leaving teaching because he got so little support, although he still works in education. keep up the good work! after seeing first hand how hard teachers work i’m more in awe of them than i was before :)

  13. thesavedrunner

    I love this post, and I can relate to so many things! Most of the students from my school come from poor backgrounds and families who don’t care about them. More than 90 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch. No one ever prepared me for the students who would tell me their older siblings cussed at them. No one prepared me for the first grade girl who doesn’t know her alphabet, and when I asked her what her mom did for work, she told me she couldn’t tell me or else she would get beat. No one prepared me for the fourth grade boy with anger issues who would throw a chair across the room, and all of a sudden the only thing I would care about is protecting all of the students in the room. Teaching is so much more than most people think, but it is such a great job, and I love these kids to death.

  14. EatGreatBEGreat

    There is only so much that you can learn from a book. I think a great deal of the learning comes from hands-on experience and actually doing the job. When I first started my job, I knew the basics and understood how the criminal justice system worked, but when it came to dealing with crime victims with real life emotions, it was a whole other story. You can’t learn that it a book. Dealing with people in such situations comes from common sense, compassion and experience.

  15. Chelsea @ A Fit LittleOne

    In high school I always had “student teachers” in my classes, but I never once thought about the other parts, like dealing with the students, and grades, and your lessons. Seriously, another reason that teachers deserve more respect and to be more appreciated.

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  17. apandabear91

    This is actually very touching. I have always LOVED children and always knew that whatever career I chose, it would involve working with children. I went from child life specialist, to physical therapist, and now I’m graduating this year and hope to be working as a pediatric nurse in the next year. Everyone always asked why I never went the education route. Which is funny because the majority of my college roommates have been education majors. I knew that I was NOT called to be an educator and I have the utmost respect for you and others. I think you guys are in one of the most vital positions of a child’s life to identify serious problems that could snowball into adulthood. This was very eye opening and I thank you for teaching!

  18. Meaghan @ Tale of Two Teachers

    Perfectly written! I still haven’t had my first full time job yet but so many of these ring true for me with my partial contracts I’ve had. So much we aren’t taught and I don’t think they could ever come close to teaching us that? Although the heads up about paperwork would have been appreciated…

    1. Olive Post author

      Ha! I agree… sure we wrote papers but on top of everything else, our paperwork is a whole heck of a lot more than multiple papers in college.

  19. Rachel

    As a student teacher, I feel more underprepared the more I learn. I am terrified of going out into a classroom that is my own and figure things out on my own with no one telling me what to do. But, the students are worth it. All kids need adults who show them unconditional love and support. Not everyone can be a teacher.

  20. molly @ heart, sole & cereal

    i just teared up reading this…and i’m a hardass usually! this couldn’t be said more eloquently, more accurately, and the list is nowhere near done (as i’m sure you had to stop yourself to cap off the post). the things i learned as a first year teacher are innumerable, and i’m sure it was the same for you. i always call it my baptism by fire. anyway, i always love reading your posts but today’s really got me!

  21. Mary

    #6…what did you do? And where had it come from?
    It’s so sad that students have to walk through metal detectors to enter the school building. School should automatically be a safe place. :(
    I’ve had several moments I’ve felt equally unprepared for. The day a parent of one of my students called to say that his daughter had been admitted to a hospital for eating disorders, the day a child in my form raped another child in my form’s younger sister, the day a child had a severe asthma attack and died…
    I had such a happy childhood and it makes me so sad to know that other children aren’t going to grow up the way that I did.

    1. Olive Post author

      I feel the same way… unfortunately, I think a lot of these same issues were happening when we were growing up but we weren’t made aware of them OR they weren’t as frequent. It is a challenge that’s for sure.

      Keep Rockin’ Mary!

  22. Brianna @ I run He tris

    I agree with you completely that not everyone can teach. It takes a true passion to be able to do what you do and those kids are lucky! Some of those things you had to go through brought a lump to my throat. :( I learned so much my first year out of college it was amazing. There were so many times I had little ‘ah-ha’ moments. I majored in accounting and there is only so much you can learn from a book. You learn the theory, how and why but you don’t get that real world application. I think this can relate so well to running, too. You can read all you want about running and training but unless you actually get out there, it is no good!

  23. Kim

    I agree – nothing prepares you for those first days, weeks, months and year(s).
    And, #4 on your list is the one that they really could and should prepare you for at least a little more. I remember feeling like I was barely staying caught up and then having about 20+ IEPs thrown at me and pages of modifications that I had to keep up with – there might have been some tears. Thankfully I had a great team that I worked with and that got me through that year.

  24. Anna

    Great post, Cori. I used to work as a camp counselor for the city in my hometown and most of the kids who participated in the camp were low income and on scholarship. It was amazing the things that they went through and I found myself paralyzed not knowing how to react or respond to a lot of things. Like how to counsel a camper who was sad, angry and acting out because his close family member had been shot in a drive-by the night before. I definitely commend you for being in those type of positions day after day and learning how to handle them. The kids are very lucky to have you in their lives.

  25. Allison @ Life's a Bowl

    Without rambling on and on {which I could easily do on this topic} – this post is SO.SPOT.ON.TRUE. Hence, why I took a break from teaching after my first year… I was the lead teacher at 21-years-old. Holy heck, it was overwhelming.

  26. kyliemcgraw

    As the daughter of a teacher, I was lucky to see so many “behind the scenes” things while I was growing up. I am student teaching right now and the paperwork is INSANE — I am actually looking forward to the paperwork of my own classroom because I won’t have to worry about things for my university then! The biggest lesson I am learning right now is I will never be able to anticipate everything. My students have lives outside of my classroom and that affects how they learn and behave every day.

  27. Arman @ thebigmansworld

    It’s crazy how, regardless of our careers- no matter how much preparation we put forth- there are always surprises and as evidenced by this post- some quite confronting instances!

    It’s heartbreaking to read that in todays day and age, things like knives in schools and metal detectors have to occur.

  28. Jan @ Sprouts n Squats

    Holy cow you have had to deal with some sticky situations indeed. I briefly taught english in Hong Kong and I was definitely not taught how to deal with parents who were so pushy they made their kids go to school on weekends, or parents who got angry at their 1 year olds in a play group I taught for not learning quicker. When I was there where I was living I was the only white girl for miles and people used to openly stare at me so I get what you mean about walking in and needing to win ppl over.

    In my current job as a Consultant no matter what we can’t let on when we may not have knowledge on something as we are always the experts. So I was never taught how to deal with the ‘oh holy shit’ feeling you get when someone asks you something you have no idea on and have to come up with an answer.

  29. Heather @ girlgoesrunning

    You are so right. There have been many things so far out of my control where I had no tool in my kit to pull out and save the day, especially in my first day of teaching. Every lesson looks great on paper, but as we know, it’s just a ‘plan’ and many things can happen! Great job Cori. You’re an awesome teacher :)

  30. silverhonore

    Beautiful post! I am still in contact with my 4/6th grades teacher (after 30+ years I found & connected with her on Facebook). She taught me courage as well as phonics! Not everyone can or should teach. CLEARLY you not only can, but should! How fortunate for your students and their parents, and the rest of the community who will benefit from your passion.
    I’m a girl in construction – lots of things people might not know about what I do, but mostly I babysit adults and play mediator between subcontractors and superintendents when they can’t play well in a sandbox together. Luckily for me, I can use swear words if needed to get a point across!

  31. Stephanie@nowiun.com

    Nobody ever taught me what to tell a student who is sick but who doesn’t have insurance and can’t go to the doctor.
    Nobody ever taught me how to handle an 9th grade Algebra review when a security guard is taking one of your students to the office because she is overdosing on prescription medication.

    You had so much to deal with and my guess is that you did it as best as would be humanly possible. Thank GOD those students had you!!!

    Have you read this? http://momastery.com/blog/2014/01/30/share-schools/

  32. Carly @ Fine Fit Day

    Wow Cori. Thank you for writing and sharing this – I have friends who are teachers, so I know how hard it can be, but seeing all the struggles of a first year teacher laid out like this is really eye opening. I hope when my son is at school he has teachers with as much love and dedication as you.

  33. Caroline

    aww.. This makes me miss teaching! I was never taught what to do when you’re being observed by your principal and you hear “AH ROACH!” and your kids jump up in their chairs. I was also never taught what to do when a student brings a turtle to school in a shoe box. Hehe!

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