Four Things That I Have Learned as a First Year Teacher in Memphis

Posted on December 3, 2014

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By: Jenny Bitzer

When I was accepted into Teach For America in October 2013, I had not imagined the ups and downs that I would experience in my first few months of teaching.  By the time that 4:00 pm rolls around and I am sitting at dismissal with my students I seem to question where the day has gone: what I had accomplished, and how successful or not successful my lessons were that day. But the one question that pops into my head every single day as I watch the students walk out the door is, “What did I learn today?” People weren’t kidding when they told me that this would be a learning experience.  I am not going to sit here and say that things are going wonderfully, that my lessons are impeccable, and that teaching is a piece of cake.  I have figuratively fallen on my face more times than I can count.  But, I will say that my experience with these 27 first graders taught me more over the past four months than I could have ever imagined.

1. We are not perfect and we never will be

We are human, and even though as a teacher I am the adult in the room, mistakes will always happen.  As a first year teacher I am constantly thinking on my feet, and if plan A doesn’t work, thank goodness I have plans B-Z. Things aren’t going to be easy and comfortable, but I have learned to be confident in what I can control and do that really well, and the rest will come with time. Never be afraid to stand your ground, but also be able to admit when you are wrong.  Adults are not above apologizing to a six-year-old.

2. Parents matter – keep them in the loop

Parents can be your biggest allies in the classroom.  All parents truly want the best for their child, and I have now realized how important it is to form these relationships early.  Students spend the majority of their day with their teachers.  My students are with me from 7:15 am- 4:00 pm, but if we can form great relationships with parents, we can set up a strong team to make sure that our students are getting the support that they need both inside and outside of the classroom.

3. The idea of college begins in Kindergarten

There is no doubt that there is a cycle in inner-city communities that suggests that our students cannot and will not go to college.  The color of your skin, where you live, and your parents’ economic status should not decide a child’s potential.  The path that inner city children are set on is a violation of their most basic human rights.  Every child deserves the opportunity to attend college and follow their dreams.  Instill in your students that they can succeed in and beyond college.  Expose them to different colleges, majors, and jobs to show that they too can be a doctor, an engineer, or even a teacher.

4. Enjoy the little moments

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I genuinely enjoy the little moments with my students and getting to know them on a personal level.  At the end of the day it wont matter how much time I put into my lesson plans, or on seating arrangements if I don’t have strong relationships with my students.  I have learned to take advantage of recess, talk to them about what they like to do outside of school, what their favorite ninja turtle is, or what they want to be when they grow up.  Most importantly I strive to show them that I care.

Everyone always tells me, “Wow you are doing such amazing work!” or “Your kids are so lucky to have you in that classroom”.  And, while I hope later on in life my students will be able to look back and say how lucky they were to have me as their teacher, I know that I am just as lucky as any one of them because my students teach me how to be a more kind, patient, and loving person every single day.

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Posted in: Education