Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Days

"Every new adjustment is a crisis in self-esteem." Eric Hoffer

Whenever I’ve begun a new job (or a new anything), there’s a period of adjustment. Any position I’ve ever held took from three weeks to two months to feel confident, depending on how unfamiliar it was to previous work I’d done. While I’ve waited for a job to become familiar, my life has been less even-keeled. But once the tasks became routine, I’ve gained confidence. Hitting my stride as a Substitute Teacher has been more challenging.

Remember when you were a young student and the first day or two of a new school year was spent learning the rules and getting to know one another? Even if it was sometimes boring (but better than doing real work), it served its purpose, the teacher got to know you and give his or her expectations for the year. When I sub, I have mere seconds to project my personality and expectations before we dig into the assignment. My voice and demeanor must reflect that I mean business in order to get to business.

Sometimes I’m more successful learning about the students than they are learning about my expectations. That’s why I like to arrive early so I know where everything is and what I’m expected to do – especially in subjects I’m less familiar with (Like middle school Science). Because if I’m distracted and unsure, not standing at the door and greeting each student while looking him or her in the eye, then I’ve lost an advantage. As a result, I quickly get to know the behavior problem students. My next step is to work at gaining control – a more difficult task.

Having virtually each day, a new day means that it’s important to get it right. Yesterday, I made some errors, which I had the luxury to begin to correct today, since I’m at this school for five days. First, I spent a lot of time preparing for first period – I didn’t know where everything was in order to show a documentary. As a result, my homeroom was too chatty and unfocused. Then, one of the classes was more difficult to reign in because I didn’t greet them at the door, so they entered the room loud and unruly. I had most of the same students for a math class last year, and though I handled them better this time, I plan to be even stricter tomorrow. This morning, I already warned a new group that if they couldn’t stay focused, they would finish the assignment with me at lunch. The class quickly became quiet and focused.

When I have a successful “first day” at work, it reflects better on me to the other teachers, it’s better for the students (though they’d never admit it), and it’s better for the teacher that’s entrusting me with his or her students. Certainly it makes the day much better for me. I have to work on making all my first days go smoothly, even in middle school Science.

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