My first semester as a teacher is officially over! This semester seemed to fly by, especially the last couple of months. The stress and anxiety that I felt at the beginning of the semester has subsided and I am now looking forward to Christmas Break — a break from the seemingly endless responsibility of lesson planning, teaching, and grading. Before moving forward, however, I would like to pause and reflect on some of the lessons I have learned over this first semester.
Lesson 1: Every Day is a New Day
About two months ago I walked into my classroom to find that all of the desks had been rearranged into groups of four. Students were all facing one another and were involved in a game that involved stations. Groups had to complete certain tasks before moving onto the next station. There was lots of energy in the room and every student was engaged in the learning. I wish I could say that I was teaching this class, but it was the 6th grade Spanish teacher who used my classroom during 5th period this last semester. The contrast between this lesson and the other lessons that I had seen this teacher teach before was noticeable. When students are expected to simply listen to a lecture or watch a video and take notes they can often get bored and lose interest (unless they come to class with a high interest or desire to learn the content in the first place). Teachers should avoid get stuck in a rut using the same methods each and every day (especially if those methods have not proven to be effective).
The experience I described above has caused me to reflect on my own teaching. One of the things that is amazing about teaching is the possibility to completely change things on a moment’s notice. Each and every day is a new day. There were many times this semester when I finished a class with the sense that I could have done things better. Often times lesson plans don’t turn out how we envision them to. However, the wonderful thing is that the very next day I had a chance to do better. I could change the type of homework I was assigning. I could tweak a computer lab assignment and try something for the very first time (as a first year teacher I did a lot of things for the first time)! Teachers have an enormous amount of ability to change the learning environment in their classrooms. The challenge is to create space to make changes in the midst of all of the demands that come with teaching.
Lesson 2: Be Passionate About What You Teach
The last unit that we did in my World History class this semester was on Islam. This is a topic that I am very interested in. I found myself creating very engaging lessons and spending much more time preparing for some of these lessons because of how interested I was in the material. I think that my students sensed my enthusiasm and it helped them to be more engaged in the learning also. Veteran teacher and podcaster, Lauren Anderson, says that the most important things for teachers to do are to be passionate about the subject they are teaching and also to be compassionate towards students. I am very grateful to be teaching Social Studies at a Christian school because this allows me to teach subjects that I am passionate about (history, world cultures, and the Bible).
Lesson 3: Learning Should be Connected with the Real World
Some of my favorite experiences teaching this semester happened when I invited guest speakers to come to my class to share from their experiences in the real world that were related to the topics we were studying in class. Recently, a friend of mine came to share about this trip to the Middle East. He showed fascinating pictures and videos and most of my students were super interested in learning about what he experienced and why he decided to go there.
In my next semester I want to do an even better job of helping my students connect what they are learning to the real world. One way I plan to do this is through taking students on a field trip. God willing, I will take a couple of field trips in the Spring semester of 2017. If you have read this far and you have any suggestions for making learning relevant to the real world, please let me know in the comment section below!
Lesson 4: All Teachers Need Mentors!
When I started my first year of teaching I was happy to hear that all first year teachers at CCA would be assigned a mentor. I have experienced first hand the importance of having mentors in one’s life. As a new teacher I was hungry to learn all I could from experienced teachers. Jim Almack (pictured above) has been a wonderful mentor to me throughout this first semester. He has shared valuable wisdom in our meetings and he also gives me a ride to school every morning (since we live in the same apartment complex). His example in the classroom has been very helpful to me. I can see that he genuinely cares about the students and he strives to instill Christian values in his students with all of his heart.
As I reflect on how important Jim and others have been to my development, it reminds me of what Dr. Robert Clinton says in his book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships you Need to Succeed in Life. All people need upward, lateral and downward mentors. Upward mentors are those who have more experience then you do. Lateral mentors are peers and downward mentors are those who have less experience than you. Wherever you are in your journey, I encourage you to seek out a mentor who can help you on your journey of growth and development. Also, if you are a veteran, look for ways to mentor others (especially first year teachers!).