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First Year, First Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

Alright my friends, I know this is the post you've ALL been waiting for. I have, in fact, been waiting for it too--waiting and wondering when I'd possibly have a spare 30 minutes to sit down and journal out my thoughts and stories from my first week of teaching. Time is something that seems to fly by these days. I look at the clock in the morning, "Is it really time to leave for school already!?" I look at the clock in the afternoon, "Do I really only have 5 more minutes to finish my lunch?! I haven't even started eating yet!" I look at the clock after school, "4:45! I'm not even close to finishing here!" I look at the clock in the evening, "Already 9?! I still have an hour's worth of work to do! I wish I could jump in bed right now..." Where the time goes is still a mystery to me. Every day I have at least one panicked moment when I look at the clock. I have discovered that I love teaching. No surprise. I have also discovered that I hate all the background prep and planning that goes into teaching. I'm a very detailed planner. So having to plan so much stuff into every single day is very wearing. Often I think I'm ahead. Like today, I finally made good use of my 45 minutes of student rest time, my 45 minutes of lunchtime, and my 30 minutes of computer class time to prep things for next week. I was plugging along, checking things off my to do list thinking, "Wow, I might get out of here before 5pm tonight!" Then at the end of school I conversed about a few things with the other kinder teacher, and realized that I need to prep some additional things, figure out when in my lesson plans I was going to work them in, wait around to use the copy machine, prep a new art project, and unstaple some papers I had thought I was supposed to send home all at once instead of one each day. I left a half hour later than usual.

Another thing I've noticed is how I start one project, have to get up to get something else to finish that project, and while I'm up I see another project I need to do, so I stop to work on that project but realize I can't finish that project until I have something else, so I move it to a different location. Then I stand there for a minute wondering what I was doing in the first place. This happened today when I pulling out alphabet cards and shuffling them for a center next week where the students put them in order. I finished shuffling the first set (I needed 5 sets,) and realized to finish I needed ziploc bags. I went to the closet to get the new box of bags a parent brought in this morning, but they weren't with the other bags. I stood and surveyed my room, wondering what I did with them. I retraced my steps. Were they in my wheeling cart where I put them this morning? No. In the same brown bag had been a xylophone to add to my musical instruments. I remembered putting that away. I went to my instruments. Not there either. While I was over there, I noticed I left some papers out on the counter. "Oh yeah, I need to staple these." I stapled a stack. "What day was this seatwork for?" I walked to my desk to look at my planbook. "Wednesday." I walked to the shelves where I keep each day's work and put them away. I stood there a moment, looking around, "What was I doing?" I spotted a brown bag sitting on the yellow student table, (where I had walked right past it to go to my cart) "Oh yeah, plastic bags for the alphabet cards." I retrieved the bag and finished the cards. I think I was interrupted one other time just in this one activity. This is now a daily occurrence. Even just writing this blog, I have gotten up to get rid of the pooch sitting in my lap, which led to showing my mom what prep work I had for her to do, which led to me seeing the unfinished Hungry Catepillar sample art, which led to watching "The Very Hungry Catepillar" on YouTube so I could see what he ate each day so I could draw it on my sample paper, which led to a completed project and a return to my blog.

But, my mind wanders. Let's start from the beginning. There's not time to tell everything, but I'll at least give you some highlights.

First day. I woke up, feeling nauseous. Not from nerves. From the fact that I haven't woken up that early in a while. My stomach is always a little off-balance when that happens. I put on my dress that always makes me think of a kindergarten teacher. My mom had the special red plate on my table with some blueberry muffins--my favorite. I made my morning tea and bustled around my morning routine, regretting that I was now going to a real job every morning and couldn't just stick on a hat if I ran out of time to blow dry and straighten my hair or throw on my glasses when I didn't have time to put on my make-up. I needed to look presentable and professional. I joked with my mom the night before, asking if she was going to take my picture leaving for school like she always did when we were kids starting our first day of the new year. She did:

Just to prove that we've done this through the years:

I could get in trouble for posting that last one...maybe my siblings don't read my blog... Side note, I got distracted trying to find those pictures. Flipping through photo albums--I'm sure you know how that goes..."Wow! I forgot about that!" "Haha, look at how funny Mom and Dad looked back then!" "Did I really wear THAT!?!?!" End side note.

We had devotions in the morning before school started. I didn't know how long devotions lasted and knew I needed to stop at my mailbox before school started, so I made the mistake of going to my mailbox first, which made me a little late for devotions. Whoops! All the other new teachers were on time. I determined not to let that happen again. This morning I was the first one there after my principal, so we talked about biggest surprises I've faced this week. It was the first time she's really asked me about my week at all, which is kind of strange. But I don't care so much; first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon I'm so tired I don't feel much like talking--just listening. We finished devotions and had a good ten minutes or so before school started, which was good because I didn't have my class list, which was pointed out specifically to me that I needed to have with me to call roll in chapel.

We all shuffled into the main sanctuary, and one by one the teachers went up to the microphone to call our roster and let our kids come forward. There was a lot of people in that room, and I was the second one to go, so I couldn't always tell if my students were hearing their names and coming up. I had one child who had to be carried up by her mom because she was crying and holding on tightly. Mom was able to get her to stand in line, so after I finished calling roll and had my line, I went over and asked her if she'd like to come walk with me, and I held out my hand. Thankfully she nodded yes and took my hand. I have no idea what I was going to do if she wouldn't come!

We made it to the classroom and I had my kids get their backpacks and showed them where to stand in line outside the classroom. We went inside and got out our snacks. The most surprising thing I learned the first day was how much more time it took us to do everything that first day. I felt like we didn't get to half the stuff I had planned. I learned very quickly how to be flexible. That's probably the biggest thing that has happened this entire week. Every day the schedule does not go as planned. Some things take longer, some things take a shorter amount of time. I've taken things out, switched things around, shortened activities and sent them home, added in songs, exercising, and centers.

My biggest frustration was how many kids had to use the bathroom and how long it took us to all go take a trip together. There are main bathrooms for the kids to use at recess, but you can't very well send unsupervised children there during class time. (At least not kindergartners) There is a bathroom in the church nursery for kindergarten use during class, but it's not right next to my classroom, it's next to the other kinder teacher's classroom. So I have to send a child through her class to use the restroom. It wasn't realistic to take my whole class on a tour through the other teacher's room to show them where the bathroom is. Besides, if they all knew where it was, then they would all use every excuse to use it. "We're not in preschool anymore, we're big kindergartners now," like I've been telling my class for anything from not using the bathroom during class to saying, "I don't want to do that," to crying about things not going their way.

After day 1, I determined that behavior was going to stop. No more class trips to the bathroom, no matter how many children chimed in with the first, "I have to go to the bathroom too!" So day 2, ten minutes after coming into class, one students gave the old pronouncement, "I have to go to the bathroom really bad." My response of "You should have gone when you were just outside," didn't fly. I released the child through the other kinder class, and had a nice talk with the rest of my students about the four times a day we could use the bathroom: when we first got to school before coming inside, when we were outside for snack, when we were outside for lunch, and when we were outside for second recess. I reminded them that they were not in preschool, but in kindergarten so they were big enough to remember to go at those times. I've been reminding them every time they leave, and one day I even went out to the playground at lunch to pull students aside to tell them to go use the bathroom.

The only class trip we've made since then was on Thursday before chapel. I was so nervous that I wouldn't get attendance, snacks, and bathroom taken care of in 15 minutes, but thankfully we made it in good time. And while the students were sitting in the hall waiting for their classmates to finish, I got to talk to them about what chapel is like, and how we get to go sing to God, which is like giving Him a big hug and showing Him how much we love Him. I had one student ask, "Is God really real?" The sweet innocence on his face was endearing. I love the way my students ask me questions like that in full faith that I will be honest with them and tell them the right answer. There's no doubt in their minds. It's so precious. Excitedly I said, "He IS real! Isn't that wonderful!? He's here with us right now. We never have to go anywhere without Him." His response: "That's cool!"

Most ironic thing that happened on the first day: a kid in my class threw up at lunch. Three times, including once right before coming back into class. I had a panicked look on my face when the head of extended care told me that. I asked her if I had to bring him back into my classroom. Couldn't he just go sit in the office for a little while? She said no, they already called his parents and they said it's just nerves, he'll be fine. Yeah, easy for them to say, they don't have to deal with the mess in the classroom. I sat him in a chair away from the group and put a trash can next to him, "until you're feeling better." He didn't look too happy about the prospect. I kept him there until we moved to our tables and were working on something. I stuck the trashcan next to his spot at the table. Better in the trash than on the carpet. Halfway through table work, he says, "I'm feeling much better!" "Good, I'm so glad to hear that!" "I don't need a trash can anymore." "Well, we'll just keep it here just in case." He was fine the rest of the day. Apparently he had thrown up before he left for school this morning too. Why a parent would still send their child to school after that happens, I don't know. Ugh. Facing my worst fear as a teacher on my first day of school. Not a fan.

Most frustrating thing this week: coughing fits. I'm almost all better from my bout with bronchitis and a side strain. But there's been a few occasions, maybe due to the AC always being on my classroom so that it will reach four rooms down to the library, maybe due to the amount of talking I've had to do, who knows? It's the most helpless feeling in the world, knowing that I can't stop coughing to tell the students, "please wait quietly for a minute," and also knowing that I can't just start talking full volume again once I have the cough under control, but the class is loud and chatty when I'm finally under control so I have to talk over them to get their attention and quiet them down.

Although the time has gone so fast, it's been long enough for me to see which students hold their pencils incorrectly, which students are becoming fast, chatty friends, which students have a hard time waiting to listen for the next instruction, which students are my quiet, reserved ones, which students are off in a world of their own, which students know their right from their left, which students don't like to sing, and which students worked on their memory verse at home. It's amazing how much I'm observing even just this first week of school! I feel like I need to keep better notes of these observations, but I haven't had time to do anything more than scribble on a sticky note, write on a white board, and check off names from a list who have correctly completed a task.

I would love to share more, but I'm constantly exhausted, and even though it's only 9:35, my 15 minute power nap from earlier this evening isn't holding out any longer. I'm soooo looking forward to sleeping in! The weekend is full of prep: centers, seating chart, music lesson plans, organizing grading, and researching ideas. The life of a teacher!