March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

A Year in the Life of Two First Year Teachers: Part Six

Posted: Saturday, February 26th, 2011

by Rick Pomeroy, with Sara and Ellen

I decided to change up the format of the Sara and Ellen articles for this edition.  Instead of me asking them questions, I thought it would be interesting to see what questions they might ask of me at this point in their first years of teaching. As you recall, Sara and Ellen were my students last year. Both have stayed in touch with me through these articles as well as through their work on their Masters of Arts projects this year. After reviewing their lists of questions, I have chosen four that I feel are representative of the kinds of questions many first year teachers may have.  If any experienced teachers have additional comments or other ideas, I would encourage you to post them as comments in the new eCCS format or reply to me personally at jrpomeroy@ucdavis.edu or to Sara and Ellen directly at SaraandEllen@gmail.com

1) Being employed by a school/district that uses (and overuses) common assessments, I have formed a very strong opinion against these assessments. What is your experience with common assessments and how do you feel about them?

Common assessments are yet another way to standardize the educational process under the assumption that if every student is given exactly the same curriculum, under exactly the same condition, they will learn exactly the same content, and therefore should perform equally well on a common assessment. Unfortunately, this is not the case in any classroom I have observed. What I would suggest is that teachers in a science department or teachers within science subject areas meet to identify the key, foundational concepts that are necessary for students to learn and decide what evidence would be required to demonstrate that learning. Based on this list, they would then agree on an array of acceptable ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of that content. These could definitely be aligned with the State Standards, and typical testing formats could be included as one method for demonstrating this understanding but they should not be the only way.

2) Everyone seems to have a first year teaching horror story. What is yours?

As a first year teacher I taught three different subjects in five different rooms. At one point in the year, I was assigned to teach sex education in one of the geography classrooms. At that time, one of the first lessons in the district adopted curriculum, was to write all of the slang terms associated with sex, anatomy, life style, etc. on the board so that the students could learn that slang terminology would not be appropriate for the remainder of the unit. After the class, I erased the board completely, loaded up my travelling teacher cart, and headed to my next room. Unfortunately, the teacher whose room I had just left felt that I should have washed her chalk boards before leaving to eliminate any possibility that her precious students, many of whom were in the class I had just taught and who may have contributed the terms for the board, might see these offensive terms. Soooooo, she called me in my classroom and demanded that I return to her room immediately and wash the boards in front of her class. Needless to say, I was extremely embarrassed by this treatment. The only thing that made it ok was that the next day, the students in my class told me how embarrassed they were for me to be treated that way. In the end, I survived to teach 19 more years in that district and she retired at the end of that year.

3) You have been a teacher and administrator. What were the pros and cons to both? Which did you enjoy more?

Over the years, I have come to realize that I am a classroom junkie. I get my energy and define what I do by thinking about and applying my work to classrooms.  With that said, I must admit that I enjoyed my time as an administrator because it gave me a larger number of classrooms to visit. As the principal, I got to see all of the classes at the small high school where I worked. Instead of just knowing what was happening in the science classes, I got to see math and English and art as well. I did not particularly enjoy dealing with all of the bureaucracy nor did I like having to deal with students who made bad choices. My time as a principal gave me a much richer understanding of not only the breadth of the high school curriculum but of the expectations for the students as well.

4) I have been fortunate to have supportive friends, family, and coworkers, that have prevented me from feeling like I’m drowning, but I know that some beginning teachers don’t have that same support. What do you suggest to beginning teachers that feel like they are drowning?

This is a tough question.  I must say that every year, I enjoy the experience of seeing my student teachers from the previous year at the California Science Education Conference. When I ask them how it is going, the universal response is “I am so tired!”  Teaching, particularly in your first few years, is exhausting. When you get tired, it is easy to feel overwhelmed which can lead to feeling depressed.  None of these feelings are any fun.  What I always suggest first is that you should keep forcing yourself to have some fun. Do the kinds of things you did for fun before you started your student teaching. Second, spend time planning. Make sure you are planned for the next day before you leave each night (and this includes Fridays). Third, get to know the people you teach with. Particularly, any other new teachers at your school even if they teach in a different subject area. Build a new support group. Go out together for dinner or a movie, find some things that you both enjoy and try doing some of them. In the end, you have to balance your emotional health and your professional health. It is very easy to let one get out of whack at the expense of the other. Work hard to keep this in balance. Finally, give up the tyranny of the dream. Come to grips with the idea that every day cannot be a write home to mom, day. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Learn from those days when things don’t go the way you expect and vow to never do the same thing again.

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis, and is CSTA’s president-elect.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis.

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