LEARN NC

K–12 teaching and learning · from the UNC School of Education

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The First Year

This collection of essays recalls the author’s first year of teaching: the mistakes she made, what she learned from them, and how she used them to become a better teacher — and how other first-year teachers can, too. By Kristi Johnson Smith.

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Ok, so it’s not all fun and games. Now what?

When you decided to become a teacher, what did you think about? If you’re like most people, you thought about making a difference in children’s lives, about helping them learn, making them think, “touching the future.” You didn’t think about IEPs, disinterested parents, students with behavior problems, or the isolation of being alone in a classroom with thirty students.

You weren’t wrong before you started teaching. Hang onto that idealism. But you may be finding out now that making it a reality is harder than you thought.

Unfortunately, many of us in the education profession are guilty of exacerbating the difficulties faced by new teachers. We entice young people and older professionals to become teachers with marketing strategies that show happy students and well-ordered classrooms, but we don’t give them adequate support once they actually begin teaching. Handbooks and websites for beginning teachers often try to reassure you that teaching is simple or straightforward, offering quick solutions for simple problems — if you have this kind of “troublemaker,” deal with him this way; try this handy checklist to “get organized.”

So now what?

LEARN NC is here to help. We’ll help you find the resources, support, ideas, and advice you need to make your classroom the rewarding, positive learning environment you want it to be. We won’t pretend that it will be easy — but we will promise that it will be worth the effort.

Keep this in mind

Here are four things we think you should know before we start.

Teaching is hard.

Like anything worth doing, good teaching takes work and experience. You can’t expect to walk into a classroom for the first time and immediately connect with every student, make everything clear to everyone and teach every child everything he or she needs to know.

What you can do, though, is learn from the experience of successful teachers. We’ve designed our resources for new teachers to share the ideas and experience of excellent teachers across North Carolina and to help you find ways of learning from colleagues in your own school and school system.

You can’t go it alone. (And you don’t have to.)
Are you feeling isolated? Lonely? Many teachers believe that they can — or should — go it alone in the classroom. But you can’t, and you don’t have to. Our resources will help you take advantage of mentoring, learn to communicate more effectively with parents, colleagues, and administrators, and build the support network you need to grow as a teacher (and survive as a human being).
Every classroom is different.
Just as every student is unique, every teacher is unique, too — and every class and classroom is unique. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in teaching, and we don’t try to provide them. Instead, these articles give you the perspectives of real teachers who have faced problems like yours and overcome them. You’ll see how different teachers have used their own talents and teaching styles to be successful in a variety of environments.
Classroom management means solving problems before they occur.
Running your classroom is about more than just discipline. Experienced teachers know that effective classroom management begins before you ever meet your students and carries through every aspect of teaching. It’s about preventing problems, not just cleaning them up after they occur. Instead of looking at student behavior in isolation, our resources for new teachers consider it in the context of classroom design, curriculum, and instructional strategies.

Key resources

The First Year
Essays on the author’s experiences in her first year of teaching: the mistakes she made, what she learned from them, and how she used them to become a better teacher — and how other first-year teachers can, too.
By Kristi Johnson Smith.

Key questions

Are you feeling lonely and isolated?
Teaching can be a lonely profession — one where the adults close their doors and rarely talk with one another. This leaves teachers to solve their problems on their own. But new teachers can’t solve all their own problems. You need help from mentors, colleagues, administrators, and friends. You can use these resources to help you build a support network and work with mentors.
Are you confused about curriculum?
The core of LEARN NC’s website is resources that help you understand the curriculum, find content to meet it, and teach it more effectively. You can use these resources as a starting point.
Are you struggling with classroom management?
Running your classroom is about more than just discipline. Experienced teachers know that effective classroom management begins before you ever meet your students and carries through every aspect of teaching. It’s about preventing problems, not just cleaning them up after they occur. Instead of looking at student behavior in isolation, our resources for new teachers consider it in the context of classroom design, curriculum, and instructional strategies.
Are you having trouble communicating with parents, colleagues, and administrators?
Effective communication is often about avoiding problems rather than solving them. These articles about communicating with parents, participating in a mentoring relationship, and working with colleagues and administrators will help you communicate effectively in a number of circumstances.