By Anna Luberda — The second semester began a couple of weeks ago and with it came many new things. For one thing, all students were granted a clean slate. One of the policies at my school is that students are asked to leave if they accrue ten or more unexcused absences. Some of my students were at eight or nine days just before the new semester started so it was nice to wipe the record clean and give them a second chance.
Like I mentioned in my last post, teaching first grade is not something I would have chosen. Now that I have been doing it for a semester, however, I feel differently. In fact, I have actually learned a handful of things about teaching and about myself. Here are some of the more important things I have learned from my first semester as a first grade teacher.
1.) First graders are a lot like high schoolers. I’m not kidding. I spent a semester student teaching in a high school and I can honestly draw some legitimate parallels. For instance, when given an assignment, the high school student will groan and ask, “Do I really have to do this?” The first grader will respond, “But we did this yesterday, aren’t we done with this?” Although there is less attitude and more genuine curiosity from the first grade response, but questions are equally annoying.
2.) Getting involved is always a good choice. Because I am a Jesuit Volunteer, part of my job description is to always be available when help is needed. Possibly the toughest job I’ve accepted is that of concession stand duty. Basketball is the widely favored sport on the reservation so it’s no surprise when the whole town shows up my school on a Tuesday evening for the 8th grade boys’ game. My duties at the concession stand include grilling burgers, popping popcorn, selling candy, and other various basketball game snacks. Not only do I get a free burger and some chips, but I also get to know most of the parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins of my students. Basketball really brings the town together and I am grateful to have gotten yet another opportunity to be immersed in the culture.
3.) Loosen up, PLEASE! I am usually a very easy going person. However, when I have to ask a student to tuck in his shirt over and over all day I can feel the steam start to pour out of my ears. There are days when I leave school with knots in my neck because I can’t stop thinking about all the things that my students did to make me angry during the day. Usually by the end of my drive home I have thought of at least three hilarious things the kids did or said and the knots work themselves out. I have learned to leave the annoyances behind and hold on to the funny, cute, and often ridiculous things 6-year-olds say and do.
4.) No two students are alike. This fact actually took me a while to figure out. I knew the students were all at different reading and math levels. I also had an idea that some were more mature than others. I did not realize, however, that even within my four reading groups that each students would be at a different level. I also didn’t realize how maturity levels could vary so drastically amongst first graders. Some students are only children, some are the oldest of seven kids, and some are the youngest of seven. I only have twelve students but they are a handful, especially when each has a unique personality and learning style. I have been able to plan lessons to include all students and am working to improve for the semester to come.
5.) Appreciate the little things. This is possibly the most important thing I have learned from the first semester. It has become increasingly more difficult for my kids to focus because they know Spring is coming and they just want to be running around outside instead of sitting in a classroom. Needless to say I become extremely excited when they line up quietly or when they say please without me asking or when they tie their own shoe laces. Tears of joy well in my eyes when they follow directions after only repeating them once or when they raise their little hands instead of blurting out answers. I am hoping that these little improvements will tide me over for the second semester.
I am looking forward to the rest of second semester and the Spring. The snow is finally melting and the wind from the mountains is starting to warm up. The kids are looking forward to planting seeds in their garden for science class and I am prepared for more crazy situations, opportunities to get involved, and more things to make me smile when I feel like the day was a waste– because really, it never is.