It’s one day until my first day of teaching, and I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed by the amount of things teacher’s college didn’t prepare me for.
First of all, let me preface this by saying that I had a great time in teacher’s college. I made some great friends and learned a lot about how to teach different subjects. However, as I am now getting ready to embark on my first full time contract, I have been feeling extremely unprepared. Teacher’s college is a strange place. You are technically earning a bachelor’s degree, but it’s only one year long and about half of that time (at least for the program that I took) is spent in a public school classroom. As a student teacher, there are a few things that you just don’t learn which need to be taught in order to train up better teachers in our classrooms. I think some of the things that I will list will resonate with others and if they were addressed better, perhaps more teachers would remain as teachers instead of switching careers.
One of the things not taught to us in teacher’s college: setting up your classroom. It may seem like a trivial thing so some people, like you put the desks how you want them and off you go. But it’s not always that simple. In my class, I was gifted a lot of resources and materials and thankfully I didn’t have to spend a lot of money setting my room up. It’s not as pretty as some of the other rooms at the school, there is no overall theme, there’s not a lot of things on the walls, but it will work and the students will help me fill it with work.
Yet, I was never taught how to set up a room. What is the best way to set out the desks? Where should your teaching things go for smooth flow? Buckets? Bins? Books? These are all things that most teachers have to purchase with their own funds to make their classroom work. I was lucky enough that most of these were provided for me. I have a supply closet in my room with lots of things in it that I was allowed to take anything I wanted from. Even with the minimal work I put in to set up my room, I wasn’t prepared for just how much work it was.
Another thing that I was completely unprepared for was how to take the curriculum documents and make long-range plans with them. In Ontario, you can download the documents from the ministry website for free. I’m also pretty sure they will send you paper copies if you ask them to. But I was never taught how to take those pages and stretch them out into an entire year of lessons. How to make sure that I cover every single expectation. Sure when I was teaching I used the documents and covered what I needed to cover, but I was given the expectations that the teacher needed me to cover in that short amount of time that I was in their classroom. I had no instruction on how to plan a year’s worth of teaching.
Collecting grades was another aspect of my teaching career that I am completely unprepared for. While in teacher’s college, I was never taught how to keep a grade book, how to prioritize certain grades of others, how to come up with a final grade at the end of the year. All of this I will be learning and teaching myself this year in trial and error. There was no instructional time on such an important aspect of every day teaching.
The university where I completed my bachelor of education had a very unique program. We were in our placement schools every single week, and we stayed at that school all year. We were there every Tuesday and Wednesday for observation days, and then we had our three practicums which would be our teaching time. It was a great immersion into the life of a school and a teacher. We were to be there on the very first day of school like the students were. This was to see how that first day works, and how the teachers welcome students into their new environment and teach routines. This was standard practice for my program and yet I still feel completely unprepared for this. My first day was spent in the office helping the secretary file papers with the other student teacher who was there from my university. We missed the entire morning as we were helping the secretary.
Teacher’s college for me was a time of great learning and adjustment. However, while I spent three weeks learning how to teach music, a subject I will never have to teach in my entire life, I could have used that time more wisely. Electives for my program included classroom management, ESL and a few others. I could only take one. A course such as classroom management should be mandatory for all teachers to take while at university. It’s the backbone of having your class run smoothly.
While I am over the moon excited for my first day of classes tomorrow, I am also filled with feelings of anxiety and worry as I approach this new career. In many ways, I feel very much unprepared for what is about to become my new life. For the most part, many of these negative feelings could have been avoided if teacher’s college had prepared me better for the day to day basics of teaching. Yes, I am thankful for learning how to set up my literacy program. I learned a lot from the mandatory weekend long seminars on suicide prevention and bringing Aboriginal culture into the classroom. I appreciate the knowledge of what goes into teaching music to students. However, I needed to learn how to break up the curriculum. I needed to learn how to organize and calculate grades.
Maybe if these basic tenants of teaching were taught better to student teachers, they wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed and stay in the profession longer than they are?