When I cried in my class

numeracy leaders teachers Aug 01, 2023

My graduate class was a tough bunch of Year 1/2 students. There were learning needs, behavioural issues and some challenging parents thrown into the mix. When I look back now I am grateful I was given that class as they made me into the teacher I am today, however at the time it was hard!

I am sure all of you remember your graduate class and the challenges of those first few years.

Everything is new. The cognitive load you carry around is huge. I was utterly exhausted at the end of each day. Even the simple act of learning how to mark the roll and remembering to complete it every morning and afternoon took up a lot of space in my brain. Yard duty and keeping track of home readers was a big mental load.

And just when I thought I was getting into some sort of 'routine', something like staffroom cleaning duty or a wet day program or having a class mass to prepare (I taught in a Catholic school) would throw another spanner in the works! I felt I was just in a constant state of being reactive (which is completely normal as it was all new- but still unnerving!)

In my graduate year I remember really struggling with teaching writing. I absolutely loved writing, but I just didn’t know how my lesson and instruction should ‘look’. I decided to ask the lovely Reading Recovery teacher, Chris, who I respected immensely, if she would come in and model a writing session with my class.

I watched her take the lesson and it was AMAZING. She had my normally wriggly, non-engaged students listening intently and there was order and structure to what she was doing.

I desperately wanted to be able to achieve that in my teaching!

After the class was finished, all of my students happily went out to recess, having successfully completed a super productive writing session. I remember talking to Chris and reflecting on the lesson. I was so impressed and immediately started to compare myself to her.

Not long into our conversation I remember starting to cry. I am not generally a big crier. It is usually something I prefer to save for home. So for me to cry in my classroom was a big thing. All of the emotion related to being a graduate teacher welled up inside me.

Chris was lovely. She comforted me, reassured me and gave me tissues! She explained that teaching is a challenge and that she had many years experience. She said, as a graduate I wasn’t expected to be an expert. I had to learn many things before I could become an expert teacher. The perfectionist in me desperately wanted to be an expert teacher immediately, but she made me realise that that doesn’t happen over night. 

It takes time, experience and mini steps to improve at anything, and teaching is no different!

This made me feel much better. We worked on a plan. First I would work on behaviour management. I needed to have some routines and reward systems, some protocols in place to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to learn. Then we would worry about the content.

I learnt that a sense of order in the classroom is critical. What this looks like in each class will be different. Some classes will be rowdy. Some will be quiet. Whatever suits your style and the style of your students. You need to have systems and structure in place. The students need to know what is expected and there needs to be rules- for example, MABs should not 'fly' anywhere.

Chris made me realise that there are things which need to be in place to make a classroom ‘work’. Get these things right before you move onto anything related to content.

In the maths context, this might mean looking at teaching protocols around playing games- how do we roll the dice so it doesn't make too much noise? ( mini dice rolling mats made from Kmart multipurpose liner material are ✅). Where is the maths equipment kept? (labelled shelves/containers help students know everything has a place- hello cricut machine -masking tape and texta works just as well though!). Where are the game board templates kept so they are easy to access when we want to play (these Kenji letterfiles are great) and how do we pack equipment away? (one table at a time, we have a table monitor in charge of taking the equipment back etc.).

When looking at the TIMSS data it was reported that 65% of Australian Year 8 students reported disorderly behaviour occurred in 'some' maths lessons and 24% in 'most' maths lessons (Thomson et al., 2021).

It is the 'little' things that allow the learning to occur! The protocols and structures don't have to look the same in every class, because the beauty of teaching is that we all have our own way and approach. But I think each of us can always look to streamline our practices. 

This week I encourage you to have a think about the routines you have in your maths class. Are there ways you can help make the session run a little more smoothly?

If you are a leader, maybe you could approach a graduate or early career teacher and offer them help around these logistical challenges (remember to BYO tissues!).

Wherever we are in our teaching career, we can all keep refining and improving!

Have a great week!


Want to learn more from Dr Ange Rogers? Click here to find out about her 'Quality Place Value Assessment in Years 3-6 Mini Course'

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