New teacher diaries

Happy together

New Teacher Diaries

When I interviewed at my new elementary school and the principal asked me whether I’d be interested in a collaborative team teaching classroom, I immediately said yes. I wanted the experience of being in a classroom where students who needed a modified curriculum were getting the services they deserved. And I was also interested in the experience of team teaching.

Co-teaching will definitely be a new adventure. My new co-teacher and I have spent a significant amount of time together setting up our room and planning for the first few days. One thing our principal warned us about our class is that we’ve got a number of strong personalities (something I’m used to by now!) and that we’ll need to be highly structured in our expectations of behavior and get on the same page so that we can be consistent.

There are so many things that go into classroom management that I’ve never had to agree upon with another teacher: What signal will we use to get our class silent and attentive? When is it OK to get out of your seat, or to ask permission to go to the bathroom?

I have to admit, at one point, our endless discussions started to wear me down. I’m also experiencing a little bit of culture shock, moving to a new school; when we were discussing what the consequences should be for inappropriate behavior, my co-teacher suggested “removal from the group.”

Apparently it’s common to send a student to another classroom, or banish someone from the meeting area — both totally verboten at my former school. (Which isn’t to say that we didn’t do it, but I preferred the gentler terminology of “giving someone a break” from the crowded meeting area or distracting classroom.)

I could tell from the start that my principal was invested in making sure that my co-teacher (who had already been hired) and I would make a good team. I can see why he thought we would be a good fit; we’re both analytical and detail-oriented. Unfortunately, sometimes we seem to be oriented to different details: In the past few days, my co-teacher has been focused on planning our curriculum, while my priority has been to get our room in order for the first day — which is probably natural considering that I’m entering my fourth year and this is her first.

I can teach in my sleep those early management mini-lessons that a first-year teacher is learning (you know, “writers think of ideas for personal narratives by sketching a memory,” “readers prepare for reader’s workshop by setting goals for themselves,” blah blah blah). While she focused on curriculum, she may not have ever considered that our students will need to practice pushing in their chairs over and over and over again on the first day of school.

She starts a lot of her sentences with “I’m worried that ...” but has at least given me permission to tell her to calm down.

So slowly but surely, we nailed down our routines and expectations. We’ll ring a bell for attention, but we won’t clap. No one may leave for the bathroom without permission when we’re meeting at the carpet, but no one needs permission to go get another pencil or piece of paper. And there will be no boys’ line and girls’ line — because when I taped down lines on the floor to mark the beginning of each line, my new principal gently asked me to rethink it; there was a girl at the school who identified as a boy, and the principal preferred not to delineate gender specifics. “I want especially the girls to know that they’re people, too, not just ‘girls,’” he said.

Inside, I cheered. And I slowly began to think outside the box my former school built around me. We could do a “Question of the Day” as part of our new morning routine! We could build choice time into our Friday afternoon schedule! We could let our students have more than two minutes to pack up at the end of the day! “Here, no one will tell you how to do anything,” noted a veteran teacher down the hall. And that is an idea I can get married to.

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