Wow, what an amazing journey I had my first year of teaching! That year will be treasured forever as a huge time of finding myself and growing as a teacher. I moved a long way from home, and I fell in love with a part of the country I’d never visited before. I may date myself in this post, but yet, it was such a motivating and career shaping experience. That first year provided a wonderful foundation.
What age group and subject were you teaching?
At the time I graduated (1989), jobs were hard to get in the State of Iowa. I graduated from Iowa State University with good grades and strong recommendations from my cooperating teachers. Still there were 200+ applications for every position I applied for. I decided to get brave and apply a long way from home. I was hired for a fourth grade position in Superior, Arizona, a small mining town about 45 minutes outside of the Phoenix area.
What was your first classroom like?
My first classroom was amazing. It was a large room that opened straight out to the playground. All of the rooms were accessed from the outside (maybe 6 classrooms long) in a rectangular building. A long hallway ran through the middle of the building which accessed classrooms from the inside too…a design that actually worked quite nicely.
My class included 19 Hispanic children and 1 Caucasian child. All spoke English, but for many, Spanish was the primary language in the home. I loved every minute with my little group. We had amazing parties and our potluck teacher meals were to die for. School lunch was catered by a local Mexican restaurant (yum!). Not kidding!
Were you given supplies or materials?
I was given some supplies, and I started with leftover books in my classroom library. I was fortunate though to have access to a well stocked library and to have had a teacher retire the previous year where I student taught. I snagged lots of her giveaway items. The previous teacher in my room also left me a few things as well. That year, I made quite a few decorations for my walls, etc.
What was the hardest part of your first year of teaching?
I think the hardest part of my first year was being away from home. I was 25 hours away from all those I loved, and about a month into school, I got engaged. I flew home to see Joe and my family on holidays and special family events (4 times that year I think), and each time, I cried when I had to leave. The beauty of being there that year though is that I really focused on being a good teacher. I spent my evenings planning and prepping. What else was there to do, right?? Because that part of Phoenix is not hopping with people right out of college, I found it hard to meet new people. I was a little too shy to just go show up places and start up a conversation, but I survived and still have fond memories of that time.
What was the best part of your first year of teaching?
I think the best part of my first year was just getting to know the families, bonding with my students, and collaborating with my fellow teachers. I really enjoyed the cultural experience and flavor of the area.
What do you know now that you wish you knew that first year?
One thing that would have helped me tremendously would have been to know Spanish. As hard as I tried to reach out to my families, not knowing their language did cause a barrier to communication. Technology would have been tremendously helpful as a bridge to improving communications had we had what we have today. Even if it is a rough form of communication, the ability to use tools like Google Translate help us to reach out to those who speak a different language.
I am so thankful I had the opportunity to travel to Arizona and be on my own that year. I grew so much. I learned to appreciate each child’s unique situation and gifts. When many come together from different walks of life, we all walk away stronger and more empathetic to other.
Last week, at an inservice, our Director of Curriculum and Instruction shared this short Ted Talk video from Rita Pierson, and I found it so inspirational. I hope you will too.
I hope all my readers will be champions for their students this year. Have a wonderful back to school!