A reflection on my first year of teaching after being historically flipped upside down by COVID-19.
What do a stray dog and a national pandemic have in common?
Both were unexpected life events that signaled the end (almost) of my first year of teaching.
Growing up, we never had a dog, but so many of my extended family members grew up with them and absolutely loved them. I felt as though they added extra layers of love, responsibility, and positive routine in the lives of owners willing to dedicate their time to a fur baby.
My parents, both educators, never bought us a dog growing up. Whether it was due to having triplets, the hectic schedules of teaching, or a heavy dose of both, Mom and Dad never felt like a dog would quite fit our busy household.
Fast forward several years and I have now adopted my very first dog, Scout, a stray wandering the streets of Storm Lake, winding up in the wonderful hands of the staff at Lake Animal Hospital.
However, the context and timing behind my adoption of Scout is important. For the past several months now, the COVID-19 pandemic has single-handedly shut down classrooms for the rest of the year and eliminated any sense of regularity for educators, let alone the world.
I have been pushed out of my classroom and thrust into the virtual world of Google Hangouts and online lessons, all of which are confined to my apartment. I, like many educators, have found the transition challenging, leaving a hole that was once filled by daily in-class interactions with students.
Even though my first ever year of professional teaching has been cut short, I recognize my current privilege -- to remain employed and have the luxury of flexible time.
My sister, Kenzie, is a charge nurse for a hospital in Des Moines, and her dedication to her patients reminds me of the frontline workers who put themselves at risk each day to help those impacted by COVID-19 (so I, along with all teachers and other inconvenienced employees still being paid safely from our homes, have nothing to complain about).
Particularly, this privilege of time during this pandemic has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my first year: the growth, challenges, triumphs, and an array 0f experiences that prepared me to take on year two. I hope my reflection allows you to connect, take away meaningful advice, and find words that prompt self-reflection for you as well.
1. Clarity Over Everything
This area of growth is dedicated 100% to my instructional coach. She took an overwhelmed first year teacher and helped keep things simple by focusing on the role of clarity. Planning lessons, introducing standards, designing tasks and assessments, I was always prompted with the question "Is it clear what I am asking students to do?" Focusing intentionally on clarity made my teaching more effective and boosted my efficacy, and my student's sense of direction for that matter, as I took complete control of my classroom.
(I talk about this more on the April 21, 2020 coaching webinar I participated in with the Iowa Science Coaching Network)
2. Remain Consistent
As common sense as it appears, remaining consistent is wildly important as an educator. This was a challenge for me as I first struggled to set consistent consequences for poor in-class behavior. Students recognize inconsistency and they do not hesitate to test the limits of those who demonstrate varying standards.
Ultimately, I realized that setting expectations and reteaching them was not just a regular part of my room: it became essential. Students became comfortable with my routine and management style, allowing my class to flow better as I became more consistent.
3. Embrace Failure
Yes, I said it: failure. As tough as it may seem, it is in our moments of failure where the most growth takes place. I specifically remember a lesson where I had students trying to use Google Sheets to develop a graph and 99% of them had never even heard of Google Sheets.
Teaching is amazing because of the opportunity to fail, to make mistakes and implement improvements quickly, sometimes immediately. I did indeed fail during that lesson... but I embraced it, did not dwell on it, and made improvements moving forward for next time.
4. Try New Things
Especially as a first year teacher, taking over a classroom from a mainstay, longtime teacher, I wasn't fully sure how much I could step out of what was seen as the norm. With the support of colleagues and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I tried completely new activities without fear of judgement from others. And let me tell you: it was some of the most fun I've ever had teaching.
My Dad, a 30 year educator at the same building he started at, always emphasized this skill: "Trying new things keeps ME engaged in my teaching, which, in turn, engages my students. Plus, it's just FUN!"
5. "Adopt a Dog"
Without this pandemic I don't think I would have ever considered getting a dog. I never believed I had the time (or knowledge to take care of one honestly). So many others told me how hard it was, especially how difficult it would be for me as a teacher.
Too bad. I made the choice and committed to adopting him, and he's been nothing but a blessing. He has changed my life for the better and has quickly turned the "doubters" into Scout's biggest fans.
The moral here is this: follow your heart as you teach. There will always be doubters, whether it is unsupportive administrators, teachers with opposing philosophies, or worse of all: yourself.
Judge yourself and the opinions from others less. Take the leap of faith. Teach dynamically. Teach without fear.
"Adopt a dog" and never regret it. Make the others who doubted you the ones who'll regret not following your lead to begin with.
Thank you for reading! For more content, follow Ed Essentials on Instagram at @edessentials_.
Here's another photo of Scout for you: I mean, come on. One of the best decisions I've made.