My first week of assistant teaching was this week and, before it began, I really wanted to write a blog post about how in a way this was the start of my whole career as a teacher. While I’ve taught and tutored numerous kids over the past two and half years, and observed in over half a dozen classrooms, and learned so much theory, this was the start of me being in the classroom full time, something that will continue more or less for (hopefully) the rest of my life. Next semester I’ll be student teaching, and minus this summer, and next spring, I can’t really see myself not teaching for a least quite some time.
With that being said, I didn’t have internet earlier this week and thus wasn’t able to write a post about the start of it all. I’ll try to capture what I was going to say here, but I also want to write a little about what I learned this first week, both for you as readers, but also for myself, so I can look back on my initial thoughts as I began to teach.
First off, let me say that I see this experience in many ways as not just a break from college life or the chance to learn a new language and explore a new culture, but also as a time to build really good habits that will get me through a life full of rambunctious six to nine year olds (In case you haven’t been in the loop, my hope one day is to teach in a mixed-age Montessori classroom).
First habit I’m trying to (re)build: running everyday. I know I have been talking about running lots and lots on here recently, so I’ll keep it simple and say that I want to run or dance or exercise in some way everyday afterschool so that I can have time to think, reflect, escape, and find some endorphins. I think making sure I take this time for myself and my body will help make me a happier, more relaxed teacher throughout the next day. At the very least, I’ll be better able to run after kids if they stray too far.
Second habit I’m trying to build, preparing for the next morning the day before. This means packing my backpack, laying out clothes, all of that jazz so that the next morning I can get up, get dressed, and be ready to go. A few less things to think about at 6:30 in the morning. I’m really, really lucky right now to have a host mom who makes lunch for me (a privilege I haven’t had since I was in first grade), so in the future, I’m sure this routine will include making lunch for the next day.
Third habit I’m trying to build, deep breaths all throughout the day. I am lucky to be with a teacher who is calm, even-keeled, and rarely raises her voice. I want to be like this when I’m a teacher, and it all starts with learning how to step back, pause, and breathe. If I’m calm, my students are much more likely to be calm. Classroom Management 101.
Speaking of classroom management, as many of you know and as I’ve written about before, my thesis is all about classroom management, and already I’m learning a few tricks and tips for my own classroom management philosophy:
-Positive feedback is the best. It’s tough to be positive with someone who is exhibiting negative behavior, but I found my first graders this week were much more likely to be quiet if I said, ‘Thank you for being quiet right now” rather than “Please quiet down.” Seems a little paradoxical to thank a student for something they aren’t quite doing, but surprisingly it works.
-Especially with first graders, sometimes it’s the sillier methods of classroom management that work best. I was in charge of making sure the students stayed quiet during silent reading while Jodi worked with a strategy group, and I found that the best way to get the students to be quiet was to tell them to hold an air bubble in their mouth. No joke, about ten of the kids had chipmunk cheeks for the whole reading period, including the new girl in the class who speaks minimal English, but understood, just by looking at me, what she should do. It was pretty cute (and effective). Jodi also does a lot of stretching activities with the kids and silly noises and songs, which helps them get a little bit of their energy out and stay engaged. Obviously, I probably wouldn’t tell fourth graders to hold air bubbles in their mouths or make whirring noises, but for this age, strategies like this work perfectly.
-Listening. Awhile back I read this blog post by a first year teacher (who also teaches first grade) which was all about how first graders, in many ways, are little adults, and need to be treated with the same respect you would give a peer or co-worker. You can read her post here. (In fact, read her whole blog. She deserves it. Apparently she has the mid-winter blues right now.) Treating kids with the same respect as a classmate is all great in theory, but hard to do in practice, when they’re 3.5 ft. tall, picking their nose, and scooting across the floor on their butt. But to stop and listen to them, as you would an adult, is important, and a step towards letting them know, at a young age, that what they say is valid and deserves to be heard. It lets them know that they already, before even knowing how to read, have agency and a voice.
Overall, I’m pretty happy about my first week of assistant teaching. I read Something Beautiful to the kids on Monday (of course), and it was pretty fantastic to ask them some of the same questions I asked the girls in West Philly last fall, including what foods they think are beautiful. Surprisingly, most the kids think pasta and cookies are beautiful. Not too far off from the pizza and desserts the girls in West Philly mentioned. Cultural comparison at it’s unintentional best. I spent a lot of time making sure the kids were keeping quiet and relatively still while Jodi talked. I helped some kids with writing problems and solutions for their first realistic fiction stories (bilingualism is tough for first graders), and I did some prep work for word study and made drawings depicting various emotions to put up over the board. I’m looking forward to when I start taking over one of the strategy groups during reading time and have other more directly teacher related responsibilities throughout the day. Hopefully, I’ll also get to teach a lesson or two a week sometime in the future.
As for now, like I said, I’m a pretty happy camper here in Costa Rica. I visited a coffee farm with the staff on Wednesday and saw my first Tucan and a baby goat that was only two days old. I tried to tell it that I was goat and I could be it’s mom if he came home with me, but when he started to head over towards me, an adult goat head butted him and he ran away. So rude. Tomorrow I don’t have school. The international teachers are headed to San Jose to finally get their work visas, so I’ll be thesising it up, trying to get my grant application done as well as IRB approval. On Saturday, though, super exciting, I’m going to the Carnival in Puntarenas. It’ll be my first time going to the beach here, and while it’s not the prettiest one in Costa Rica by far, I’m excited to see the ocean, be with thousands of people, and hear some live music. Should be really great. Plus it will be my first excursion from Monteverde since arriving here. About time I ventured out.