1. My patience has grown tremendously, as have my classroom management skills. I have realized that behavior is not usually a personal attack. “Hurt people hurt people,” and acting out in class is frequently a reflection of problems going on in students’ personal lives. In handling behavior problems, I have learned that deep breaths and long sips of water go a long way towards helping me maintain calm, talks outside the classroom are far more effective than confronting a student in front of his or her peers, and finally…I can’t lose “Unconditional Positive Regard” – each day is new, and we can start over fresh, no matter what happened yesterday.
2. I have gotten better at communicating with parents. Calling home is still far from my favorite way to spend planning time, but I’ve realized that parents are a huge ally in this ongoing education mission. In five years I have had far more positive contacts with parents than negative, I have heard “Thank you so much for calling” many, many times, and I have almost always seen an immediate change in behavior or academic effort after making a parent contact.
3. I have learned to say no. I am a push-over, conflict-avoider, and people-pleaser, but these personality traits do not serve me well in the classroom! I have learned to say no to students, particularly when the question starts, “Can I go….?”, ignore the anxiety pursuant to not giving someone what they want, and realized that it is okay. In fact, “no” is often the only right answer.
4. I have learned to take care of myself. I remember my first year teaching I would often start the morning with stomach cramps and end the day with a migraine. I got up at 5:30 and drank coffee for breakfast, taught seven classes with only a 25 minute lunch break (never again), and often drank a slim fast shake for lunch. After school I struggled to find the mental energy to put together my next day’s plan, so often just had to resort to coming in earlier the next morning. I have learned that enough sleep and proper nutrition – eating food for breakfast, bringing something for lunch with protein, and a healthy snack for after school – go a long way in helping me do my job well.
5. I have learned that learning to teach is a never-ending journey. Oh my, have I learned a lot about how to teach in the last five years! I have learned about CI and proficiency, standards-based grading, strategies for maintaining the target language, and about a million activities to practice speaking, listening, reading and writing. The learning to teach never stops – there are always teachers who are better than me sharing their expertise on twitter, writing blogs, or presenting at conferences – there will always be new research to incorporate, new #authres to discover. Learning to teach well is a mastery goal that I will never quite reach – but the ever-changing, ever-improving aspect of teaching is one that I love.
Flashback to my first year classroom: