I was nervous about going back into classrooms this year. Though I taught for a year fresh out college and substituted for two seasons after that, I had flashbacks to that anxious first year of teaching, which was more stressful that almost anything I’ve done since. Even though I knew that most of the problems I had were because of my inexperience and youth, both of which I have left behind. Inexperience with young people, or at least managing so many in one room, inexperience with aboriginal culture, teen culture, interpersonal communication. Inexperience with using curriculum, creating and organizing systems of lessons, sorting out educational priorities, with professional collaboration, community relations, and handling conflicts both outer and inner. My B.Ed. program prepared me as well as could be expected, but actual teaching was still boot camp. I would get there an hour early, get through the day somehow, take a short lunch, stay after school for hours, load my bike with work to take home, stay up late, work on weekends, and rarely feel on top of things. I worked sick sometimes because I didn’t have the wherewithal to create good lessons for subs. I came up with most of my curriculum myself, patching together pieces of the old books in the cabinets and the new materials that came in the mail for French, and whatever I could pull together for science. There were no department meetings, no list of mandated materials or skills to master. Grades, report cards, all new territory. It really didn’t need to be as difficult as it was, I see now–I tried to be original and go it on my own too much, didn’t delegate some of the classroom flow operations to students. But I had a supportive principal, who encouraged and mentored me, colleagues who treated me as an equal, sympathized with me in my struggles, and applauded my successes, and a supportive church home group. I also got away to visit with my fiance and his family many weekends, who let me talk out my trauma and gave good advice.
I go in with confidence now each morning, no longer with a knot in my gut hoping my breakfast would stay in my body the right amount of time, no longer feeling the need to mentally prepare for the worst by talking it out aloud in the car on the way there, rehearsing opening lines, girding up my loins for the battle. I’m surprised with how natural it feels to be teaching now, talking with, listening to seventh and eighth graders, how relaxed I feel, more and more in touch with the creativity that could enable me to be a great teacher beyond just getting the work done. Doesn’t phase me anymore when kids switch seats and get into fits of giggling, bumping desks and dropping pencils, or when teen girls in groups of three give me “the look”. I used to get distressed and offended by so many things and tried at times to crack down, become an enforcer, count up the warnings and dock the points and refer offenders to the office, and at others to appeal to students’ better nature, reason with them, get them to sympathize and get on my side.
At dinner, a rare restaurant date, I shared with my husband how nice it felt to find out I could be good at this teaching thing, and how this confidence was energizing, and transferred to dealing with my kids at home. To no longer be intimidated and stressed at things that go on in a middle school classroom, like “the look”–that now, I could just deal with it, and with all those natural teen behaviors that before would put me in a tizzy, even offend me, despite resolving not to take any of it personally. Now instead of trying to keep kids from talking, connecting, moving around, being cool and putting on a show, I try to fit in into the program, and just keep things moving along. Or stop and change things up, whatever it takes, including letting myself make mistakes. And really, truly, not take things personally. Also shared that when I’d start to feel confident, cool, on top of things with the students, I would start acting out of some place other than my center–ego or something, and start being stupid, and have to re-center, which felt like a kind of detachment.
One of the great advantages I have as an aspiring classroom teacher is that every day I listen to feedback from my four children about their teachers; what they do well, what not, what works, what they appreciate or can’t stand. What they wished the teachers knew. Priceless inside information. They also listen to my school stories, what happened and how I responded, funny stories, observations. My daughters have also deemed it appropriate to express their confidence in me as teacher, with the caveat that I mustn’t sign up to sub in their classroom.
I admit that as a substitute teacher I don’t have much pressure. I do what’s on the plan, don’t take work home, and if there are no openings or I don’t want to work, I don’t. But I have a plan. First, I’m meeting people, learning all I can, making connections and observations. How’s the classroom set up? Do things flow? What’s the culture? Would I want to work here, and in what capacity? How friendly and professional are the staff? What do they think of the school, the curriculum, the rules, their job? Not so much info available on those latter items, but as I become more familiar to the regular staff, I expect that will come. Second, I’m figuring out how to balance my home responsibilities with work, and training the kids to take over a reasonable amount of the chores and errands, preferably on their own initiative. Third, I’m planning on increasing my hours to get used to a more regular work week–it’s an adjustment to be on my feet all day, talk more, stay organized, keep my energy up, fit in exercise, writing, other projects, study. I’m taking a weekly Spanish class and reviewing my content areas, figuring out what other classes would bring me up to date. And I’m listening to teachers, trying to get a realistic perspective of the field, the changes and issues, and an angle of approach that will work for me.