I started my teaching career on a fixed term contract teaching English and Social Studies at Whangaparoa College during terms 3 and 4, 2016. In this new role I would be teaching Year 9 Social Studies (9WIN and 9GAV), Year 10 English (10GBR and 10HAZ) and Level 1 English. Beginning a new role at this time of year was not without it’s challenges especially in my first few weeks of teaching. During this time I was getting used to having my own classroom, getting to know 140+ new students, getting to know new colleagues, learning how to use systems such as KAMAR and on top of this learning how to teach English as a subject (social studies and geography are my subjects). Due to these initial challenges I wasn’t left much time for blogging so I am now writing this blog summarizing my key learning and reflecting upon my time at Whangaparoa.
- Establishing relationships with students and their whanāu is important even from the very beginning.
While I had the best intentions to contact home and to take time to introduce myself to parents and caregivers of my new students this was quickly pushed to the side as other more pressing matters took over such as; planning lessons, understanding how to teach English as a subject and adapting to life at a new school. Furthermore, as I shared several classes this was close to 150 students I was trying to make connections with in a short period of time.
Meeting students during my first week I asked students in all my classes to write a letter to me introducing themselves and anything they want me as their teacher to know about them. This was a useful strategy as I found students were quite open when you left it up to them to tell you what they wanted you to know. I gathered a lot of useful information including medical information about students (e.g. a few students told me they had autism or ADHD). Students also told me about hobbies, skills, music etc that I considered in my planning and for some students used this information as a platform to build connections with students in the following weeks. E.g. I knew one of my Year 10 English students was passionate about writing and was working on a novel. Their previous teachers had begun most lessons with SSR (silent sustained reading) usually for 10 minutes as a settling task. The class really enjoyed this and I wanted to keep to their routine as much as possible but knowing I had some enthusiastic writers in the class I decided to open this time up to Silent Reading and Writing. Some Year 10 students told me they like hip hop music and as we were covering unfamiliar text I used hip hop lyrics as text as well as gave students the opportunity to bring the lyrics of their favorite song to analyse in class.
While I made attempts to get to know the learner a key mistake I made during my time at Whangaparoa was not to get to know whanau, parents and caregivers of my students. Despite knowing from teacher training and through the advice of other colleagues I felt overwhelmed during my first few weeks at school and put off making contact with home. Unfortunately, leaving it for the first few weeks meant that by the time students started testing me in class it was too late to contact home on a positive/neutral note. At this point my calls home were only negative and therefore, the relationship wasn’t as good as it could be.
Nonetheless, this was a key learning from my time at Whangaparoa, I could see how important it was to begin all relationships on a positive note rather than waiting for problems to occur (behavior, work completion etc). I decided at the start of the year I would priorities contacting home ASAP to introduce myself.
2. Deciding what type of learning environment you want
As I hadn’t really had a chance to explore and shape a learning environment prior to starting a Whangaparoa I hadn’t really spent too much time considering what steps were required to create the kind of learning environment I hope to establish. On my practicum the learning environment was already establish with my mentoring teacher(s) and her students I tended to just mirror that environment. I knew I wanted students to be engaged in the content, feel safe being in the class but also to feel safe sharing their ideas and I knew building relationships were a key step in creating this type of learning environment. However, I hadn’t really considered what steps were necessary to create this which as I came to realise included establishing routines, and having fair and consistent processes that were communicated to students clearly. However, it took me most of the 2 terms to figure out that in order to establish a safe, and positive learning environment I needed these routines and consistency and fairness in the way in which I managed behaviour……all part of the learning process.
3. Set up routines and establish classroom rules early on
As I was new to teaching I didn’t really have any experience establishing routines and setting up class rules. While I had seen routines and rules modelled on my teaching practicum I hadn’t yet been in charge or responsible for creating those. Arriving at Whangaparoa I simply let students inform me what their rules and routines were and sort of went with it. This seemed to work at the time since I was still figuring out who I was as a teacher and what was important to me. E.g. did I care if students ate in class? Listened to music? Came in late? Talked while I was talking? Wore incorrect uniform? The first two terms were a little messy for me as a result of trying to figure this out. On reflection my poor students probably couldn’t keep up with my changing rules because I hadn’t taken the time to establish these with students from the get go. I was sort of figuring it out as I went along. My key learning here was to set clear rules and establish routines ASAP ideally in the first lesson and if possible co-construct these with the students.
4 Fair and consistent processes
I had very few classroom management strategies of my own when arriving at Whangaparoa and I was still figuring out what behaviours I was more or less tolerant of at this point of time. At this stage I hadn’t quite learnt what worked and what didn’t e.g. minutes on the board, holding students in during breaks, calling home, restorative conversations, asking students to write apology letters, sending students to buddy teachers. At this time I was taking advice from multiple colleagues and therefore was experimenting with numerous classroom management strategies. As a result I was a bit all over the show. Nothing seemed to work but the more approaches I tried the more I lost the support of students in the class who (rightfully so) were probably feeling like the crime didn’t always match the punishment e.g yesterday a student got sent out for talking and today the whole class got held in. By the end of term 4 I had come to realise that students need a clear, fair and consistent process. Again this should be established with the class early on if the process is going to change there needs to be a conversation with students to let them know.
Mentoring at Whangaparoa.
During my time at Whangaparoa I had a number of mentors who I met with regularly – mostly to discuss the challenges I was facing with classroom management.
I met once a fortnight with the Specialist Classroom teacher and we usually discussed classroom management issues I was facing. She would generally give me advice and came in to observe me teach on several occasions.
I also met once a fortnight with my HOD to discuss curriculum stuff – this was especially important for me as I had no experience or training in English.
I met once a fortnight with one of the Deputy Principals who also supported me and another first year teacher with our class room management.
Lastly, I was lucky enough to have a very supportive department who ate lunch and morning tea together every day. This provided me with a lot of support during the first few months of my teaching career.