Weekly Reflection: The First Post

An empty classroom (photo by author)

Welcome back dear readers and happy 2012!

I am now in possession of keys to a classroom I’m responsible for. But right now there are no students only a couple of teachers oh and me.

Hang on.

I’m one of these teacher people now too.

A school without students is a very surreal place. Possibly because I’ve read Children of Men one too many times but also because right now that room still feels like someone else’s classroom. Most student teachers secretly yearn for the day when they get their own classroom and they get to decide what goes where and how to set up their classroom programmes. But oddly when faced with creating a learning space instead of merely borrowing someone else’s instead of feeling liberated I felt the walls of indecision closing in on me.

How can I possibly arrange the classroom until I’ve thought through all possible options for configuration and decided upon the one that will maximize student interaction and collaboration? Am I going first name or last name? What are we going to do for ice-breakers? Even the very act of writing this first post has been an exercise indecisiveness. It’s my first post as a real teacher shouldn’t I have something profound to say now that I have an actual audience?

Nope.

I’m sitting here trying to think of something of substance to type and I got nothing.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

That was my attempt at a primal scream in blog form.

Screaming in MoMA (photo by author)

A few years ago I was sitting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York where I became fascinated by this one exhibition that was simply an open mic in the middle of a crowded foyer. Anyone could rock up to the mic say anything and have their words amplified to the thousands of people wandering the museum’s halls. Every so often people would step up to the mic to speak and instead of saying anything profound or even just something coherent people simply screamed. It struck me as odd that when people were faced with the freedom to say anything they wanted they couldn’t find the words to say anything at all. Perhaps the artist’s intention was to show how people will conform to what comes before or perhaps it was a demonstration of a great Volitare saying, the best is the enemy of the good.

Voltaire’s idea that in an endless quest for perfection sometimes we sacrifice good options in a quest to discover an elusive ‘best’ option is a phrase that I and many new teachers need to keep in mind in these coming weeks and months. Not because I think new teachers shouldn’t be striving to be ‘the best’ but more because when you are faced with so many decisions and put so much pressure on yourself to get things right the first time, you end up forgoing the good options in the search for perfection. And it is that expectation of instant perfection that inevitably leads to disappointment and disillusionment.

Over the last few months I’ve read or heard horror stories about people’s first year/s of teaching and wondered if the real frustration comes out of the disconnection between what what new teachers might envision teaching to be and the reality of life in the classroom. We painstakingly make plans, spend hours deliberating over choices and then see so many hours of decision-making and angst go awry in just minutes. However when faced with things not going to plan being able to walk back from the ledge of ‘zomg I am the worst teacher ever how many days is it until the end of term?’ to ‘Ok that sucked now what can I do differently next time?’ is the best survival strategy a new teacher can have when faced with the paradox of making so many choices work.

That might not be the wording of a focusing inquiry question that the authors of the New Zealand Curriculum had in mind when they wrote the Teaching as Inquiry section of the document. But it’s a good enough option for now…

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9 thoughts on “Weekly Reflection: The First Post

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  1. Oh I can imagine how daunting a blank canvas of an empty classroom could be. Like a blank page to a writer who finally has the moment to sit at their desk. Good Luck & enjoy your first year as much as you can. I’m sure it will have its moments of frustration as well but you’re a keen teacher by the sounds of it. Good to know intelligent keen people are still bothering to train as teachers when they seem to be undervalued by successive governments.

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    1. Hello Bex and thanks for dropping by and your kind comments
      Yep a blank canvas is sometimes so daunting. I often think that construction is so much harder than destruction but I know it will be ultimately hugely rewarding. Learning anything new can be fun but it can also be downright frustrating at times. Having met and interacted with a few new and student teachers in the last year I’ve been amazed at the calibre of people who have decided to become teachers. Contrary to popular opinion teaching isn’t easy to get into and not everyone gets in and of the people who get in not all of us will get jobs.

      Stephanie

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  2. You’ll be fine! Your capacity for reflection, and your ability to be flexible will be huge assets. In this first year teaching. Do you have a colleague who will mentor you this year? That’s something I wish I had when I started my first year tertiary teaching.

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    1. Hi Deborah
      Thanks for your kind comment. The New Zealand system of teacher registration has quite a lengthy process of induction for new teachers which I will be blogging about in the future. Basically for the first two years we are under the watchful eye of a mentor teacher and have to demonstrate competency before we go from being provisionally registered to fully registered.

      Stephanie

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  3. Stephanie
    Today I was sweating it out putting up backing on my pinboard – had to, it was gross- and I was thinking to myself, Iwonder how Stephanie is going with her room. I still have a lot to do, settling into a new space.
    Loved your post, I would love to be perfect but am happy when I hit good on some days. I too am really excited to have students back next week. Hope you sleep night before they come back, I never can!!
    Your Twitter PLN will be cheering for you, go to it.
    Kathryn

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    1. Kathryn,
      What a lovely comment! I’ve just covered my pinboard however my classroom is in no state for pictures right now I’m afraid.

      I will definitely be trying to keep posting and sharing my story.

      Stephanie

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