September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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

Posted: Friday, October 1st, 2010

by Rick Pomeroy, with Sara and Ellen

In our last issue, you were introduced to Sara and Ellen, two first-year teachers, one in northern California and the other in southern California, both of whom are teaching chemistry.  In the first edition, we learned a little bit about their anticipation for their first days of school.  This month, we get a short glimpse into how their years began.  Sara started school in early August and Ellen two weeks later.  Please feel free to send comments or questions to Sara and Ellen at SaraandEllen@gmail.com.

Rick: How did your first official day of teaching go?  Were there any surprises?

Sara: Because we are on alternating block schedule, I actually had two first days of school.  The first day was with my natural science classes, where I did a lot of “getting to know you” exercises.  Many of the students in these classes are not-quite-college-bound students and often have behavior issues, so I thought it would be best to just spend the first day forming a solid relationship with them and give them a chance to get to know me.  It seemed to go really well, but I could tell right away that one of my classes in particular would give me a bit of trouble.  My chemistry classes were absolutely wonderful.  They were very concerned about the difficulty of the class, but seemed relieved when I told them that I wanted them to succeed in my class and that, while chemistry is a very difficult subject, I was there to help them.  I did a demonstration for them, and, instead of just saying “Wow, that’s cool,” they were asking me questions about what was going on and trying to analyze it.  I thought that was great, and it got me even more excited to be teaching them.

Ellen: I found the first day of school to be pretty chaotic and fun overall.  We are on a block schedule, so there are four 90-minute periods each day.  I teach two chemistry courses and one Project Lead The Way Principles of Biomedicine course.  For the chemistry classes, I introduced myself by using a PowerPoint, had the students introduce themselves, and I also performed a few demonstrations for the students.  We then had a class discussion about what science and chemistry are, etc.  Both classes were a lot of fun and full of students who participated.  For the biomed course, I did the same introduction as chemistry, and then we watched a video I made for the beginning of the curriculum.  It was a great way to start because students used collaborative groups to assess the situation they were shown.

The chaotic or surprising part of the day had to do with all of the schedule changes.  My rosters showed between 32-36 students for each class; however, about 40 students showed up for each of my classes, so right from the beginning I needed extra desks andchairs and a brand new seating chart for each class.  That being said, the students were amazing about it and helped me find seats for everyone.

Rick: Now that the first weeks of school have passed, what do you wish you had known before the first week of school?

Sara: Due to budget cuts, there was only one day of before-school meetings, and that only lasted about three hours.  I was given so much information that I forgot half of it and couldn’t even think of other questions to ask because I was so overloaded.  Now that a couple weeks have passed, I am just now getting a lot of the information that I should have known before school started.  Much of it, though, were things that I would never have thought to ask until it actually came up.  I wish I had known all the punishment policies of the school, such as tardies and giving detentions, so that I could integrate them with my own policies.  I also wish I would have known exactly what equipment my classroom should have.  I was missing remotes to the TV and the projector, and I didn’t have a filing cabinet or chair.  I wasn’t sure what I was responsible for getting or what my classroom should have.  Thankfully, I found an extremely helpful custodian that supplied me with a chair and filing cabinet, and, eventually, I was given replacement remotes for the electronics.

Ellen: Well, my situation was a little different because I was a student teacher and a long-term sub all year last year at this school.  So, fortunately, I knew a lot of the policies from the previous year.  The only policy change I wish I had been aware of was how to deal with an IT issue.  By the time I found the form to fill out to get some of the computers fixed, every other teacher had already turned theirs in; needless to say, I am still waiting.  Otherwise, my school did a great job at the meetings of notifying teachers of school policies.

Rick: What would you like to ask other first-year teachers?  (First-year teachers, please send your replies to SaraandEllen@gmail.com.)

Sara: I have had somewhat of an interesting transition into this department.  The chemistry department in particular (there are four other chem teachers) is extremely established.  During my student teaching year, I felt very much at home with much of the department, which operated like a family, and everyone would eat lunch together.  Here, teachers eat lunch in their own classrooms, so there isn’t much interaction, and the other teachers operate similarly with just a few differences.  I am used to more collaboration, but it is hard when the other teachers are so established already.  I don’t feel like I am being left out or anything; everyone is very nice and helpful, and they always check up on me to make sure I don’t need anything.  But I guess I was just expecting something more like my student-teaching experience.  Is any other new teacher going through an awkward transition like this, either good or bad?

Ellen: The teachers I work with are absolutely fabulous people.  They are always willing to help me with everything, but our teaching styles are very, very different.  Some teachers say not to smile for the first week, and others do labs or demonstrations to engage students from day one.  I want to know how other teachers schedule their first days of school.  It seems that there are many ways to go about introducing students to the new topics, and I am interested in trying some new strategies.

Rick: Thank you, Sara and Ellen, for giving us a short glimpse of some of the feelings that many of us have forgotten.  It is great to hear your stories and your enthusiasm for teaching.  Next month, we will provide some of the answers to Sara’s and Ellen’s questions and hear about  some of their early successes.

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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 and is a past-president of CSTA.

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