First Year Teachers Vs. Second Year Teachers

I know I’ve been MIA for the better part of a year and half. QUICK explanation: I was hired to teach fifth grade 3 days before the start of the 2014-2015 school year. I barely had time to eat breakfast that whole year. It was AWESOME, but Elementary Thoughts was put on the backburner. In July, I moved across the country and started teaching fifth grade in another state.

I went from teaching in a fairly big urban district on the East Coast to a HUGE rural, urban, and suburban district in the desert. I moved for ~LoVe~ and it’s been absolutely wonderful. Make no mistake though, I’m an East Coast lady and an East Coast teacher. The West Coast is a lot more laidback than back east. I’m using my time here to develop professionally and experiment with teaching in ways that I was afraid to in my first year. I’ve also gone from a Title I, ELL-majority school to an upper-class neighborhood school. Both schools and states use the Common Core, so my content teaching hasn’t changed too much, but my students definitely have! It has been quite an adventure.

Anyways, I wrote a post back in April about what I had learned as a first year teacher. Then, teaching got in the way and I COMPLETELY forgot I to actually post the piece. So, I updated the post with comparisons between my first and second year. I’ve learned a ton, but the most important thing I’ve learned: laugh!

A Case Study: Me As A First Year Teacher vs. Me As A Second Year Teacher

First Year Teacher Second Year Teacher
Horror Factor I know nothing, but I’m expected to know everything.

Day 1 of year 1 is absolutely terrifying.  I was hired ~3 days before the start of the year and I’ve never been so excited or horrified.  I embraced the fear and set up that classroom with love and whatever scraps I could scavenge from other teachers.  Fear motivates.  Fear inspires.  Fear helps you fall asleep around 9pm (it’s exhausting actually!).  I was expected from day 1 to be just as good as any other teacher.

I know some things, and I’m still expected to know everything.

Day 1 of year 2 is also terrifying. I kept thinking about all my students from last year and how much I missed them and why aren’t these kids acting the same way?   Well, they’re not acting the same YET because they didn’t know that I loved them yet. Now they do. Teaching is still scary sometimes because you can’t always predict what will happen.   That’s life though. Also, I’m still exhausted but not in the sick-I-will-drop-dead-any-second way I was last year.

Lunch “Lunch” is a mythical meal that’s supposed to happen between 11am and 1pm.  I’ve come to think of it as extra photocopying time.

Yea, say goodbye to lunch.  My contract is very generous and guarantees teachers a 40-minute lunch every day.  It’s a nice thought, but there’s just so much to do!

I eat lunch! Every day!

This one is sort of a school culture thing. I moved schools (and districts and states), and here all of my colleagues treasure their lunchtime. I have not lost one lunch this year to the photocopying machine. Lunch is when I recharge, and I need that more than I need a handout photocopied (because I now have a photocopying schedule that I strictly abide by.)

Observations Many claim death and taxes are the only things for certain in life.  Wrong.  2 words: unannounced observations.
I’m lucky that I have a supportive evaluator (and principal).  It’s still terrifying when I look up from my guided reading group and see him in the back of the room taking notes.  At the beginning of the year, he was in my room every week or so.  Now, it’s less often – I’m hoping that’s a sign that he trusts me more. Unannounced (and announced) observations still happen.

They’re still ~kind of~ scary. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy being observed and evaluated, but it’s important. I’ve been blessed with two principals/evaluators that are encouraging and supportive. It doesn’t hurt when you get positive feedback, but negative feedback is good too – it gives you a direction for improvement. I try to think of observations as a time to show off my teaching, and that helps. My principal even asked to film me after my last one (which wasn’t as terrifying as it sounds!)

Copy Paper There is something more valuable than gold: copy paper. I’M SERIOUS SEND DONATIONS.

  I’ve never thought of myself as a lunatic, but seeing only one ream of paper left in the box has done some damage.  I’m not above posting on Facebook pleading with my friends to steal paper from their offices.  BEG BORROW STEAL PEOPLE.

Copy paper IS still higher in my book than gold, but I have more of it.

My fifth grade team this year had a genius idea: put 1 ream of paper on the student supply list. BRILLIANT! DO IT!   I couldn’t do this last year, since our poverty rate was around 70%. This year, it’s about 3% (again, I moved schools). If you can, ask families to help you out. If you can’t ask them, I would try Donors Choose or beg family/friends/local businesses.

Investments Best investment of all time: a laminator.

At the beginning of this year, I was quite literally running around like a chicken with its head chopped off.  I’m a center advocate, and my centers were awesome (I think) – but nothing was laminated.  I finally bought a laminator and life has changed.  I’m hoping Santa brings laminating sheets.  Next up will be a paper cutter AND THEN maybe my own good printer.

I still love my laminator. However, now my best investments are in my professional development.

Having a personal laminator is still the   However, now that I have enough classroom “stuff,” I value my professional development more than the physical things. If all of my beautifully laminated task cards were thrown off a cliff, I’d still have the professional learning and development I’ve invested time and money into. If your district offers crappy PD, I highly recommend starting a Twitter account and developing your own “learning path.”   I follow lots of awesome educators (@shaunamccarthy).

Classroom Expenses I’m avoiding my taxes because I’m actually afraid of adding up all my deductions.
Teachers get to claim classroom expenses as deductions!  Yes!  Except I’m frightened to know how much I’ve actually spent.  My expenditures on classroom supplies may exceed my YEARLY rent (not to bash my school or district, but there really is just never enough when you’re a brand-new ambitious teacher).  Save all your receipts! My credit card bill used to be all clothes. Now it’s all TeachersPayTeachers.

I spend a lot of money on teacher-created resources on my favorite website ever (I’m even starting to create my own products!).   I trust teachers way more than I trust textbook developers. With Common Core and the NGSS, I need up-to-date, fresh resources and TpT is where I find them. Some teachers refuse to spend their own money on classroom resources, but it’s just worth it to me to have appropriate and engaging resources for my students. TpT is just as much for me as it is for my students.

When the lesson goes off in another direction I can’t really “wing” it yet.
Sometimes I’ll start a lesson and the kids are like ?!?!?!? and then I’m like !!!!!!!!!!!   It happens, and I just don’t have the experience/confidence yet to veer off my lesson plan and still provide a meaningful learning experience. I’m getting better, but I know veteran teachers do this all the time and no one would know the difference. I can wing it, but I usually don’t have to.

I have an alternative approach to almost every topic in fifth grade. It might be something another teacher does, something I did last year, or a “plan B” that I’ve already planned. I use preassessments and exit tickets all the time to better see my students’ misconceptions and mistakes. This makes it possible to predict most directions a lesson might take. Sometimes I still get sidetracked – and I let the students know.   They know when you’re struggling and they know when you’re not being transparent.

Lesson Planning Say Goodbye to Sundays

I’ve rotated through 4 or 5 different lesson plan formats, from basic to complex. Lesson plans just feel like such a huge burden and doing them always takes hours and hours out of my weekend. I absolutely DREAD them. My school doesn’t require them, so sometimes I’m tempted to blow them off entirely (although I know I can’t). This year has been a constant internal struggle over what lesson template is the best.

I plan my lessons in two different ways and I actually enjoy it.

Ok, so I have 2 phases of lesson planning per week.   My plans for the next week are usually done by Thursday, sometimes Friday on a busy week. On Tuesday, I map out the following week in my BEAUTIFUL Erin Condren Teacher Lesson Planners. I’ll write down the topics for each day and any assessments I know I’ll be giving.   On Wednesday, I log in to my Common Curriculum account (it’s free!) and type up my formal lesson plans, with actual lessons, practice activities, and assessments. This website is truly amazing – you can customize lesson plan templates for each subject and they can be as detailed or as simple as you’d like. You can also create shared lesson planbooks with colleagues.  It tracks your standards (CCSS, NGSS, state standards – EVERYTHING). SIGN UP NOW. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT! I revisit my plans for the following week on Friday and make adjustments as needed. I print the PDF and it’s waiting on my desk for me on Monday morning.

Grading Mount Everest has accumulated on my desk.

I remember looking at a stack of papers that was literally taller than one of my students. Okay, that may be a HyPeRbOlE, but it was close. Tackling that stack of papers was my personal Everest. I once collected all my students’ center work and then threw it out at the end of the day. I felt guilty FOREVER about it, but I just couldn’t handle correcting 100s of papers that weren’t actually being graded.

Not everything has to be graded, or handed back

I only grade assessments (exit tickets, quizzes, tests, and essays). I don’t grade guided practice, independent practice, or station work. I might check off these things for effort, but I definitely don’t grade them.   The students know it’s their responsibility to seek the correct answers if they want them. I used to think that in-class practice was the only way to see how kids were progressing, but it’s not. This is what exit slips are for! One to three problems focusing on the skill of the day. Such a quick and easy way to see how they’re doing (seriously, it takes me five minutes to correct 32 of them).

Overall Attitude Teaching is my best friend and my worst enemy.

I went through a predictable cycle of loving, hating, loving, hating teaching all year. Some days it’s all I could do to show up and not sob at my desk. Some days it’s all you can do to show up and not jump up and down and scream I LOVE YOU at the children (just me???).

I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.

Even on the hard days, teaching is so worth it.   I absolutely love being a person who gets to teach and love fifth graders. I’ve gotten a few emails this year from former students that show me that I did make an impact on their lives. One of my friends said to me, “It must be really awesome that you know, no matter what, that your job matters.” It is really awesome!

Thanks for reading!  How different were your first and second years?

Peace love teach xo Shauna

photocred: frankieleon


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