Monday, July 10, 2017

Things That I Wish I Had Known My First Year - Part 1

This is the beginning of a series of posts for first year teachers about first year teaching. There is no substitute for experience, nor is there any pill you can take or book you can read that will give you experience. Beginning to teach with no experience is one of the most difficult things you will go through in life, especially if you do not have an experienced mentor to rely upon. However, by reading about the first year experience, you will have a better perception of what first year teaching will really be like.

What is the first thing I should do after I accept my new teaching position?

When I had accepted my first job offer, it was in March of 2011. I had about six months to get ready for teaching, so here is what I did: I spent about two weeks formulating ideas about how to teach K-12 Music, and then I spent the rest of the summer playing mind-numbing amounts of video games. Big mistake. I thought that I could spend about two weeks before the school year started getting my classroom together, and that was also a big mistake. As a new teacher, I really didn't understand how much stuff there was to go through: file cabinets, desk drawers, bookshelves full of mostly old music teaching books, bookshelves full of mostly old band music and choir music, containers of stuff that had been used in previous plays and music programs, shelves full of instruments in both good and bad conditions, closets full of really old uniforms... you get the idea. A lot more than I could handle in two weeks. So here's my suggestion: the first thing you should do when you accept a new job is to head there as soon as possible and start going through the stuff. Figure out what materials you need to organize right now (desk drawers, filing cabinets for important documents) and what materials you will most likely be using at the beginning of the school year (instruments, band and choir music, lesson plan or curriculum books, computers, etc.) and figure out where you can put all of these things so that they are readily available when you need them. Decide how you want the room to look and function, and then start working towards putting things where you think they should go. Also, decide which things are okay to just leave there for now - like that shelf full of Silver-Burdett books from the 1960's - and which things need to go in the trash can. BE VERY CAREFUL not to throw away things that shouldn't be thrown away. Most schools have a detailed process for throwing out old equipment or books. But a lot of times, there are cheap instruments that are simply beyond repair, file cabinets full of photocopied music, packets of home-made teaching materials that you probably won't ever use, and a variety of other junk that is just sitting around taking up space. Check with the principal, and then chuck it in the bin or send it away to the magical land of school storage. Depending on how long it's been since someone has done this, it might take a very long time to go through your room or it might be an afternoon project. Assume that it wasn't very high on the priority list of the teacher who left at the end of last year. Figuring out what you have and what you don't have sets you up for the next step: how are you going to manage day-to-day paperwork and what are your classroom rules going to be?

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