In the beginning 

Every summer I think through the previous school year, try to figure out what changes I want to make, and think back to my very first year in the classroom. 

I finished my teaching credential in the spring of 2003, after student teaching at Carson High School in LAUnified. The bank account with my student loans reached zero and I didn’t have a job with enough earning power to live in Venice for the summer. So I did what many have to do, and I moved back home. Home is Bakersfield, CA, 2 hours North of LA. My boyfriend at the time (who would later become the Mr. to my Mrs.) also lived in Venice, but we wouldn’t live together. 

The Mr. proposed that summer so the plan turned into live at home for a year, focus on my first year of teaching, pay down student loans, hang out with my parents, and plan a wedding. 

It’s funny, when I think back to the memories that stand out, almost none of them are of the math I taught. I remember a lot of direct instruction, worksheets, assigning odds out of a terrible textbook, and struggling with classroom management. 

For my own memory and for those of you embarking on this profession, here are the crazy things I remember from my first year of teaching. 

1. One of the first teachers I met in the department was a woman who was in her final year of teaching. She said on the first day of school of her last year, she had a student who was the granddaughter of one of her first students. That’s how she said she knew it was time to retire. 

2. My 2nd day of school, at the end of 2nd period, a student came up to me and whispered in my ear that my fly was down. I fixed it and figured that now that that happened It would never happen again. (But it happened the following year on the 2nd day again. Oops.)

3. At back to school night, I had a total of 9 parents show up. For 130 students. Oh, and 2 of the 9 were my parents who were so excited to see me at my job that was now covering my health insurance. I did the math that night and knew without a doubt that the biggest reason I was even able to stand in that classroom was because my parents always show up, even now. 

4. About a month into the school year, a sophomore student came up to me and started to complain about her feet hurting. She said it a few times.  Finally, she came out and said that she just found out she was pregnant. So often students are trying to reach out for help, but they don’t know the right words. 

5. At some point, a counselor asked if I could take on a TA… a senior who was dropping a class. I said sure. So one day I sent my new TA on an errand, and he found himself on the stage in the drama room, mooning the drama class. 🙄 I was so mad and mortified and afraid it would affect how admin saw me. Luckily he quickly was removed as my TA and the dean made him write me an apology letter. 

6. Coming back from Winter Break, I overheard a colleague near my age talking about an adult ballet class she was going to start the following week. I full on butted into that conversation and invited myself to come along. I’m so glad I did because that colleague is still a good friend and we had so much fun in that ballet class together. 

7. I was required to do a CPR class for BTSA. The day of the class in my 6th period, one of my students was chewing on a pen and swallowed the lid and started choking and coughing. I’m not lying but the first thought that went through my head was “you can’t do this now, my CPR class is tonight!” I had taken one before but couldn’t remember what to do. My student ended up fine, but that night as soon as the instructor introduced himself I raised my hand and said, “uh, I had a situation in class today and I need to know how to handle it.”  (FYI: if someone chokes on something and is coughing that means the airway is open and you are to help them by encouraging them to keep coughing. The obstruction will either go up or down. If they aren’t coughing and are choking, then you use the heimlic maneuver. But please, take a CPR class. You will feel better. )

8. I made a phone call to a dad about his son, who was failing the class. My impression was that the student could have had a B or an A if he only put forth some effort. I had a 45 minute discussion with the dad who was of the opinion that education should go back to the days when you just showed up and passed. After all, his wife was a high school drop out and had a fulfilling life. So it was ok if his son chose not to do well in school. I learned in that conversation that sometimes there is only so much I can do if the parents aren’t on board. But I will continue to fight that message as long as that student was in my class. 

9. I inherited my classroom from a teacher who had retired the previous year. He had been in that room for many years and left everything for whoever was to get the room. He popped in one day to ask me if the stuff had helped me get started. I lied and said of course. (This was before there was much on the internet.) Most of what he left were drill and kill worksheets that I tossed because the room was soooo full of stuff. Because of that, I’ve tried to keep everything to a minimum in my classroom.  

10. My first day of student teaching I was 22, and I called my mom to thank her for kicking my butt, even if I didn’t like it, to do well in school and set goals. Teaching taught me real quick how fortunate I was to have my parents in my corner, pushing me to be the best me I can be until I could do it on my own. So many of our students don’t have that for many reasons… my mom’s response “oh! You’re welcome! I wasn’t expecting that phone call so early!  I really like this teaching thing you are doing!”

In the beginning, teaching can be overwhelming with everything that is thrown at you.  I always say one of my favorite things about this profession is the clean slate we get each school year to reinvent ourselves and try something new. I think I look back to the beginning each summer because it’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown since then.  

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