This past semester I had the honor of meeting Megan Ryan, who began her teaching journey in the school where I teach. My first year was a long time ago 😉 — another place and another time. So, when the year came to a close, I really wanted to pick her brain. Learning from each other’s experiences — successes and struggles — is what makes us grow as teachers. For this blog post, I’m breaking my traditional “fast five” format to bring you Ms. Ryan’s responses in her own words; I loved her candor and detail.
Meet Ms. Ryan:
1) Describe your teacher-education experience.
I went to a private Christian school (Lee University). They have a fantastic education department, although there are many things I wish they had better explained to me before becoming a teacher. For example, I began teaching with very little knowledge concerning practical things that may come up in the classroom. I think a lot of things you just have learn from experience, though. Student teaching was very helpful, as it gave me a better idea of what to expect as a licensed teacher. By “practical things” I just mean things like how much contact I should have with parents, how differently (if any) I should grade work that is turned in by students with learning needs/disabilities, how harsh consequences should be depending on the rules broken… smaller things of that nature. Most of those things are up to me to decide about, but I didn’t think about many of these smaller details until the time came where I was faced with making a decision about them.
2) What are your thoughts about teaching in a rural school district?
I attended a relatively large suburban high school, but I really enjoyed my experience teaching in a rural school. There are, of course, pros and cons to teaching in a rural school. A rural school district means less funding, and that can be difficult. I loved having smaller class sizes because I felt that I was able to better get to know my students. I think that teaching in a rural school my very first semester of teaching was a bit less intimidating than a city school would have been, mainly because of the smaller setting.
3) Were there things you needed/wanted and didn’t have?
For the most part, I had everything I needed. There were several times when the copy room was out of paper, or something of that nature, but it was always a situation where I could just improvise my instruction. I did an independent reading unit with my students, and this was a little difficult because the library didn’t have as wide a variety as I would have liked. I ended up bringing all of the young adult books I own so that my students had a wider selection to choose from.
4) Most useful “teaching tools” to you as a first-year teacher.
A few resources I found useful were the Remind app and Google Classroom.
5) What did you feel prepared for… and not prepared for?
I felt prepared for the amount of grading and lesson planning–student teaching prepared me for that. I felt less prepared for managing my classroom. As a student teacher, my cooperating teachers handled most of the management because they chose the rules, procedures, and consequences.
6) Describe and explain one lesson that worked… and one that didn’t.
One lesson that worked: poetry stations! First, I modeled how to annotate and analyze a poem. Then, I had stations set up for students to annotate and analyze a poem that was inspired by the poem that we had read together. Each station had thorough instructions. Each student had a poetry packet with one page for each station. I had 5 stations: reading and analyzing, rhyme scheme and format, figurative language, vocab and word choice, and poetry comparisons (comparing the poem we read as a class to the poem they read that day). I was amazed at how engaged the students were during each station. I think they were able to make sense of the poem because of the way it was broken down into smaller tasks.
A lesson that didn’t work: argumentative speed debating (on Valentine’s Day). I was so excited about this lesson during our argumentative writing unit, but it just… flopped. I had two rows of desks set up so that students would be paired with a partner who was sitting across from them. I read a topic out and they had one minute to “argue.” They would then rotate so that they were with a different partner for each topic. During my first class, I realized that students were NOT as excited as I was about moving around and arguing their opinions. No matter how enthusiastic I was, they just would not debate with each other.
7) What did you learn about classroom management?
I learned–quickly–that in order to successfully manage a classroom, there must be specific rules and consequences. I’m an easygoing person, but this will not always work as a teacher. Once I realized that I was having problems because of the lack of specific rules and consequences, I went over more specific regulations with my classes. I saw a drastic change in behavior.
8) What did you teach?
I taught three regular English 9 classes. My largest class was 26 students.
9) What will you change…. not change next year?
I would like to continue having at least one unit where students are able to choose their own reading material. I believe that giving them a choice about what they read is the best way to plant a love of reading in students. I had several students who claimed to hate reading find books that they fell in love with. This only happened because I allowed them to choose their own books. I definitely want to change the way I handled classroom management. I learned that it is crucial to set clear rules and consequences the very first week. Kids need structure and guidelines just as much, if not more, than we do.
10) What else can you add to help new (and other) teachers?
My advice for other new teachers is to ask for help and advice from experienced teachers. I wish that I had asked more questions in the beginning because it would have saved me from making a few mistakes. However, know that it is okay to make mistakes. There is much knowledge in the world of teaching that you’ll only gain from experience. I still have so much to learn!
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