Weekly Reflection: Heading towards the Beginning Teacher wall

A different wall of exhaustion (photo by author)

One of the best pieces advice I received when my stepdaughter came into my life is that in parenting the days are long but the years are short.

I hadn’t thought about those words of wisdom until I collapsed into a heap on Friday and wondered not only where the week has gone but how fast the term seems to be slipping away.  How can it already be Week 5 and why do I feel like my class and I haven’t achieved much?

Surely my disappointment wasn’t for lack of effort. I get into school before 7.30 and wasn’t leaving until after 6. I’m often to be found there on Saturday. It was little wonder that exhausted just didn’t even begin to describe my lack of energy.

Yet despite spending a ridiculous amount of time working, I know I haven’t been working all that smart. Every time I sat down to complete a task, I would immediately start thinking about all the other things on my to do list which were screaming like a newborn for my undivided attention. My classroom still looks rather barren in comparison to all the colourful wall displays found in other classrooms, there are units of work that I know we are behind in, parent emails to respond to and wow did that middle session on Wednesday not go in the way I had anticipated it.

Welcome to the mid-first term wall.

It’s the time of year when for Beginning Teachers, or at least this one, that the minute something is not going right then it seems like everything is not going right and it feels like you are the worst teacher ever grace a classroom. Undoubtedly outside events will be colouring my perspective as the end of February has become a time when I find myself lamenting what might of been. But I’m sure I’m not the only Beginning Teacher feeling a lot like the Little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dyke right now and realizing there are many more leaks that need plugging than I can ever hope to stem. Undoubtedly that mindset of the wall undoubtedly creates more anxiety and setbacks.

Even though I knew I had a mountain of work I know I need to get done, this weekend I didn’t go to school. I switched off my devices on Saturday and instead spent time doing some mundane things. I went to the gym, did laundry, spent an entire day meeting up with friends and caught up on my missing hours sleep and wow do I feel the better for it as with distance comes perspective.

I realized that I might have accomplished more in my first few weeks than I gave myself credit for. My start of year assessment has all been marked and I’ve sorted my students into maths and writing groups. We’ve filmed some videos on school norms and the kids know what to do at the start and end of the day. I managed to see all of my writing groups while the rest of the class was working independently and spent time with each individual student in the class conferencing about their writing (by far one of my favourite things to do). Our class blog has had almost 1,700 page views and some of the students are starting to use Quality Commenting Checklist that we developed via our blog. I respond to parent emails usually within 24 hours of receiving them and I’ve made an observation of another teacher’s teaching.

The step back allowed me to identify some tasks to get done during my Classroom Release Time this week as well as prioritize my to do list into manageable chunks so I don’t get so overwhelmed by that wall. It also made realize that perhaps I’m not doing as bad as I think I am. Could I be doing better? Absolutely. If I was in the same space next year, feeling like I was blindly feeling my way around the classroom, then I would be disappointed in myself for not heeding the lessons of the last few weeks.

Because when I look back, I realized I’ve learned so much and I really love my job. But ouch that wall of exhaustion is huge  and overwhelming especially when each brick represents another task on my to do list.

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13 thoughts on “Weekly Reflection: Heading towards the Beginning Teacher wall

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  1. Wow, Steph! To me it sounds like you have achieved a huge amount!

    The best teachers, no matter how long they have been teaching, always think they should/could be doing more. Instead of keeping a list of what you haven’t done yet, maybe you should consider keeping a list of what you HAVE achieved! (or at least do both.)

    focus on creating and building relationships with your kids. Get comfortable thinking about learning, rather than about work. Spend less time on tasks that don’t relate to learning. Keep taking days off to be yourself, like you did this weekend.

    I’ll be back to check 🙂

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    1. Hi Ed,
      I think having a list of stuff I have achieved as well as next steps is a fabulous idea. I will start adding that into my thought processes!

      I think you are right about creating and building relationships with my kids. I find myself drawn into writing conferences as a way to find out about kids. But also I need to know my kids before I can get a feel for their writing.

      Thanks so much for your wise words.

      Stephanie

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  2. 🙂 Thank you for sharing- I am feeling better as well after a day away from thinking reflecting and worrying about the elusive job, reflecting on my volunteer work and what I see happening in the classroom and thinking how would I deal with that, picturing myself doing the programmes ect ect where to next steps and the constant soaking up of personal learning and reflection, it must have been the weekend for reflection and time out hey.

    For the first day yesterday I did not look at trade me jobs, Ed Gazette, seek, or read tweets or wikis or blogs- being unemployed I think is perhaps just as stressful as being employed by the sounds of it. It was the first day I relaxed without a worry about either study, assignments or finding a job since starting Uni three and a bit years ago- I have to admit though it took me to clean the ceiling walls floors and doors with loud music to get my mind away from it all.

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    1. Hi Sandy
      Thanks for your comment. I know I am very fortunate to have a teaching job and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m sorry your situation is getting you down. But by the sounds of things you are doing a bit of relief work which is good. And yes switch off time is important. I need to do far more of it.

      Stephanie

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  3. You’ll get there, Steph. Also, it’s not just the first-year-teacher-wall, but the any-new-job-wall. They differ in their quality and their import – the responsibility you have for the young people in your classroom is daunting – but it’s a place that many of us have been, and we have come out the other side, jobs done, responsibilities discharged, lessons learned and taken to heart. And not only will you get there, but the children in your class will too.

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    1. Deborah
      Indeed these first few weeks reminded me of moving to Korea. So at least I have the bonus of actually speaking the language this time around.

      Gather dust to build a mountain.

      Stephanie

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  4. You sound like you have your have everything summed up beautifully – and yes, you will probably hit that wall many times over the next few months. But it is easy to bounce back, and considering how amazingly well you reflect and how great your perspective is, you will have no trouble keeping it real.
    The BT at our school had a conversation that sounded just like this with me this week…we ALL feel overwhelmed by the workload at times, we ALL have a never-ending, ever-expanding list of ‘to-do’s’, and we ALL feel daunted by the amazing awesomeness of the super-teacher next door or down the line.
    Enjoy those kids – enjoy their learning, enjoy getting to know them, enjoy everything that they ask and discover, and the rest will fall into place. YOU will never forget this year and neither will they so savour every drop of it 🙂

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  5. Hi Stephanie,
    I know exactly how you feel after 4 weeks in the job as a beginning teacher. I keep asking myself how it can be Week 5 already and like you, I worry that I haven’t accomplished what I should have in those first 4 weeks.

    This week I have also been trying to build resilience and concentrate on the positives, taking Saturdays off has also helped alleviate some of the exhaustion. I think it’s really important to remember that all those other teachers down the hall who look so much more sorted and organised, with more plentiful work displays than us were in our shoes once too. We’ll get there, and next year we’ll be all the wiser for it.

    Tamara

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    1. Hi Tamara
      Thanks so much for your comment. You are right that there is little point in comparing yourself to others. Especially in the case of more experienced teachers who have years of resources to back up their classrooms. I am permanently in awe of the master teachers I have seen in action.

      Stephanie

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  6. Stephanie – I think your kids are so lucky to have you as a teacher.

    Sandy – don’t know whether you are in Wellington, but if you are and would be interested in doing some volunteer work with social groups for autistic children (all ages), I know someone who would really appreciate your help. If you are interested email me stacefamily@actrix.co,nz

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