Lessons learned at the end of my 1st year teaching 1st grade full time

Discussion in 'First Grade' started by Tek, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. Tek

    Tek Comrade

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    Apr 14, 2013

    I'm about 7 weeks away from summer, and I've learned so much as a 1st year teacher in 1st grade. A couple notes for me to improve upon for August 2013...

    -Procedure procedure procedure. I didn't pound it in my kids' heads enough, despite my partner teacher telling me. I did it for 3-4 weeks and thought they were doing pretty well, so I then tried focusing moreso on curriculum. Now it's April and I'm finding myself having to retrain them. They've been better this week but man... the last couple weeks... I've had to stop instruction so much just to teach procedure... my partner was right. Take the first 6-8 weeks, and it will actually save you instructional time in the long run, because you won't have as many disruptions during your lesson if they are well trained and expectations/procedures are clear

    -Clutter. Organization is not my strong suit, but I'm going to have to make it a priority starting now. I often have papers in my hand that I'll pass out, or I'll collect a paper a child gives me, and as I go to put it where I want to, a student will stop me and I will set the paper down wherever I am. Then, I forget where I put it! And then, the clutter in my room makes it hard to find, on a dime, where I last put something. I read in Harry Wong's First Days of School book that we need a consistent outgoing pile, and an incoming one. The kids will stop you at every turn, and if you set something down as a placeholder, you can easily forget about it since the kids seem to interrupt you every 2.8 seconds...

    -Smoother transitions. Goes back to procedure. I find if you're looking for a paper or a supply material, even for 30-60 seconds, your kids are gone. It also goes back to organization. You need to be thinking 3-4 steps ahead with 1st grade, rather than 1-2 steps ahead. Sometimes I'll sit them down at the carpet, and as I sit down, oops, I left my "long arm pointer" at the kidney table, which is, of course, conveniently placed on the far opposite end of where I'm sitting. So just being more thoughtful of not wasting any motions in the classroom. Not walking a groove into the carpet. It's tough, but I need to work on becoming more conscious about limited movement to grab supplies

    -Don't let homework grading/checking pile up. Sometimes I fall behind a week or so, and instead of grading/checking 20 packets, I'm at 40. Got to keep up to par

    -Being more firm the first 3 months of school! This is a biggie, as I am a naturally soft-spoken super nice guy. I saw what being nice got me... a classroom full of crazies! August will be different. The students will respect me and obey. We will walk in a straight quiet line. As many retries as it takes. No cutting corners or thinking "Oh well, I mean, they ARE 6, right??" I think I can do it!

    Anyway, I'd love to read from other posters what were some things you learned after 1st year teaching 1st grade, or even, what you have learned this year, regardless of whether it's your 2nd year in 1st or your 20th!
     
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  3. pwhatley

    pwhatley Maven

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    Apr 19, 2013

    I agree with practice, practice, practice routines and procedures! Everything, from getting a new pencil to restroom usage (we have one in our room) to asking for a tissue, needs to be practiced many, many times at the beginning of the year. I also practice when we return from Thanksgiving break, Christmas vacation, Spring break, etc. It bores me to tears, but it's definitely worth it in the long run. I just got a new student a couple of weeks ago, and his nonstop talking has thrown my entire class off! Hopefully, he's beginning to realize that I call Mom when I say I will, lol!
     
  4. HOPE-fulTeacher

    HOPE-fulTeacher Comrade

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    Apr 21, 2013

    Your list sounds a lot like mine did at the end of my first year (last year)! The good news is I really worked to improve them this year, and it has been soooooo much smoother!

    I totally agree with practicing procedures and being firm. So many people talk about how important it is, and my colleagues stressed it as well, but I don't think I understood just how important it was or how much I needed to have them practice everything. It's hard as a new teacher because there is pressure to keep up with the curriculum and have your kids right where they should be, but unfortunately I found out the hard way that curriculum time is lost when procedures aren't strongly in place. I agree with phwhatley that it gets super boring and monotonous, but I'd much rather be bored with their good behavior than pulling my hair out over bad behavior! ;)

    As far as transitions & organization skills go, it is a good idea to plan for where you'll need things, but a different room layout might also help. I didn't really know much about how to set-up a room last year, and even though I re-arranged partway through the year, I still wasn't pleased with it. This summer, I took a lot of time to think about how I wanted things to look and what would be most efficient for me as I went through my day. It's really helped my daily organization and maximized my space.

    Enjoy these last few weeks- it is a great feeling at the end of the year knowing that you've survived your first year of teaching. Next year, you'll be able to start the year off with all of the knowledge that you've picked up along the way this year. It is such a good feeling to start the year knowing how you want to do things and having a plan to get them done! :)
     
  5. Tek

    Tek Comrade

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    Apr 21, 2013


    Thank you for sharing this! I hope to feel the same way as you did last summer. Yes, it's so much easier visualizing how you want the room after you've had one year under your belt. Because you can plan for that 1st year 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but until you teach the curriculum and use that space for an entire school year, you just won't know where best to place items x and items y.

    I'm very excited. This will be my first summer vacation following a full time teaching year, and I know they are bringing me back. This means I can do two things this summer:

    A. Plan the curriculum. Organize my room. Readjust my teaching strategies/systems

    B. Rest and relax

    C. Drop some extra pounds to be able to keep up better with these little 6 and 7 year olds!

    OK that was 3 things, but you get my drift ;)
    So exciting. And I'll have a new batch of kids to work with. I love all my current kids, but I got several that are a real handful, and while every year will have its tough kids, the ones I have now are the toughest in the school. Next year's tough kids will seem like child's play by comparison. It was baptism by fire for me this year. Next year I will be more seasoned and have "better students" (on paper, anyway...)

    It's one of those things you hate to say or admit, but it's true. I've had some tough kids this year that just made teaching semi-miserable at times. No surprise that these kids are ADHD kids, ODD kids or kids going through a mommy and daddy divorce and the home life is a mess. So sad. I love these kids, but they've made it very frustrating at times. Next year's kids don't figure to be as challenging, so I cannot wait.

    Am I bad for saying that?
     
  6. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    Apr 22, 2013

    It sounds like some really good plans. I don't have any new suggestions (and I don't even remember my first year!)
     
  7. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    Apr 22, 2013

    I am a first year, first grade teacher as well. I completely agree with everything on your list!! I had heard about the procedure thing over and over, but I just didn't realize how much MORE true it is for little first graders!

    In addition to what you said, I have learned...

    - They are six. They need brain breaks, "craftivities," and silly things. Sometimes I get so caught up in what we need to accomplish that I become impatient and frustrated with them, trying to hurry them along. I forget how little they really are, and that they sometimes NEED to just stop and read a silly book together or do a silly dance to get working again.

    I was going to make a list like this but then I realized that what I want to do next year reflects what I learned this year. So next year I want to:

    1) Use more music!
    2) Include more cooperative learning (I recently attended a Kagan workshop and was totally inspired)
    3) Get very purposeful in my differentiated instruction - my use of modified Daily 5 (I plan to tweak this) and Math Daily 5
    4) Keep work all year! I don't even have writing samples from the beginning of the year and I am kicking myself! I wish I had proof of the progress for the kids and their parents!! Next year, I will be using portfolios.
    5) Become better with parent communication. I am considering doing a newsletter, possibly student created.
    6) Enhance the curriculum with things that are not touched upon enough. This is especially true with Saxon math. I've now learned what kids need more time on and I will build that in.
    7) Focus on my instruction and the way my lessons are set up. Make sure there is a lot of checking for understanding and student interaction built in, and not a lot of lengthy sitting and listening time, since that does NOT work for first. I've got to keep it moving!
    8) Pacing. I am the WORST at pacing. I run out of time practically every day.

    I will probably think of more, because I know there are more...

    As much as I love my class this year, I am VERY excited for next year. I feel as though this class was my "guinea pig" class, which makes me sad. I was learning who I am as a teacher, what my curriculum contains (Saxon math was especially challenging to get used to), and what a first grader should be able to do! I am absolutely bursting with ideas for next year and I cannot wait to get started! I have so much I want to do this summer in preparation!
     
  8. Tek

    Tek Comrade

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    Apr 23, 2013

    Whoa... I totally agree with you! Great reflection points, I actually agree with them because I can use more music! I can check in more, and take more brain breaks, and save writing samples from September! Yes, a student portfolio and Daily 5 are all things I hope to incorporate next year.

    I totally hear you on the guinea pig thing. I have felt this way all year long. And just when I get an idea, I don't implement it because I feel I need a summer to digest and soak it in. I think I've played it too safe and too whole class this year. I want next year to look more like a "modern" 1st grade classroom! With centers, small groups, expectations in place, rules pinned up over the walls (i.e. work the whole time). Next year will be so much better for us and for our incoming students!

    I come from working with older kids mostly, and you're right. In 1st you can't just talk 90% of the time and then have them fill out a worksheet. They just don't learn effectively that way.

    Well, it looks like we've learned a lot this year and have a lot to do/prep this summer. Cheers!
     
  9. HOPE-fulTeacher

    HOPE-fulTeacher Comrade

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    May 4, 2013

    Tek, I don't think you are bad for feeling that way. There are kids who know how to push buttons, who have ADD/ODD/etc. and are not receiving treatment, kids whose home lives are messed up, etc. It's frustrating, especially for a 1st year teacher. I also had some of the toughest kids in the school, and this year's "tough kids" have been a lot easier to handle. :) Although I feel for the grade level teachers above me, it has been really reassuring to watch as they go through the same struggles this year with that group. I had a lot to learn about classroom management and definitely made mistakes, but the fact that these kids are still having so much trouble a year later (and with veteran teachers) reassures me that it wasn't just me and that sometimes factors out of my control unfortunately affect the classroom environment.
     

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