Beginning Teachers: The expectations versus the reality of primary teaching
Welcome to a new series of blog posts looking at the experiences of a group of first and second-year teachers. In this blog post, these fantastic teachers explore the expectations versus the reality of beginning teaching. I hope you are able to gain some useful insights into the reality of a teacher’s life from this series and that it will help to prepare you for what is to come. [Please note: each of the perspectives is separated by the sub-headings below]
The expectations versus the reality of beginning teachers
My expectations of working within the primary school sector blew me out of the water. Although you’re generally in the classroom from 8.15 PM to at least 3.15 PM, the rest of the week is consumed with emails, talking to teachers, parents, and colleagues, planning, making resources, marking, and much more. Also, don’t forget the meetings. Even being in the classroom for around six hours a day is completely and utterly exhausting. It doesn’t matter if you have 15 kids in your classroom or 30 – the effect is the same. I am thankful that during my Grad Dip Placements I was able to use the schools planning rather than the university’s planning. This made it more realistic and showed me how I could simplify it right down.
The reality of the teacher workload
My expectation coming into the profession was that I would find the first year challenging in terms of organising my workload in such a way that I would not burn out. However, I have found that the reality of teaching is more far-reaching than organisation alone. I have found myself struggling with the enormity of expectations from parents and with the burden of being available at all hours during home learning at many times throughout the school year this year.
The reality of teacher planning and resources
I think that my placements at university gave me pretty realistic expectations for teaching full-time. There were some things that I was unaware of, however!
I expected that every lesson taught had to be planned in excruciating detail. In my placements and my university assignments, each lesson plan was at least two pages. My lesson plans resembled a script and a play by play of everything that I would do. I began teaching and expected to have to do the exact same thing. My entire weekend was consumed with planning in detail. As you can imagine, I was over this by the end of Term 1 and had to have a sit down with my principal and other teachers to figure out how to plan for a full weeks’ worth of teaching without taking 16 hours to do it!
I expected that I would have more resources in my classroom. I walked into it and was overwhelmed with how little there was. If I wanted to have activity rotations out for learning – how was I going to do that? I took everything in my placement classes for granted and realised that this came with years and years of collecting.
I expected a great relationship with the children in my class. There were definitely some great relationships in my placement classes! However, the reality is – you have such a stronger and better connection with your own class. At the end of Year One, I couldn’t imagine loving another group of kids more. Then the new ones came in and I love them all too.
The reality of teacher support
Unfortunately, not every beginning teacher gets the support they deserve and this can be one of the key variances between the expectations versus reality for beginning teachers. Please note: this is NOT how it is meant to be! If you find yourself in this position, reach out to a teacher you trust or your senior management team.
My first year of teaching started last year in February along with the countless other beginning teachers. I was so nervous, but excited, that I had finally reached my goal to have a classroom all to myself. I expected that I would have more support and encouragement from my mentor teacher and colleagues.
In reflection, I can honestly say for the whole year I managed myself and figured things out for myself. I had little help from my mentor who halfway through the year had a student-teacher and focused her time on her. When people would ask me how teaching was I would stay silent for a few seconds because I wasn’t able to say anything. My expectations of teaching in my first year and the reality were honestly not what I had expected. I am, however, passionate about teaching and making a difference for my students.
A great Facebook page for support as a Beginning Teacher is the NZ Teachers Mentorship Group.
The reality of teacher time pressures
I think one of the biggest expectations I had when I began my first year of teaching was that I would spend every day and every minute in the classroom, you know… teaching. I expected to have time to plan these amazing lessons and teach them to my students on a daily basis. In reality, I have found that being a teacher means you have to have the flexibility of a circus performer. Things almost never go as planned and you just have to go with it and do the best you can. You can’t be too hard on yourself because there are so many different things that are expected of you on top of planning and teaching.
Here are just some of the many things that can take time out of your classroom schedule:
- BT courses which take a day out of your schedule
- Staff meetings where you’re told new information that needs to be implemented in the next week
- School events that either you need to arrange your class schedule around or you’re expected to be at until late in the evening
- Testing that can take out whole chunks of time in the classroom
- Guests of the school coming into the classroom who require attention in the middle of a lesson
- Notices that need to be handed out (sometimes multiple), collected and inputted into a spreadsheet
- Class trips, camps, and so much more!
I have found that it can often be difficult to keep up with the different things that throw wrenches in your class time. It can be overwhelming at times.
My experiences have shown me that I am totally capable of being flexible and I think that’s a very important aspect of teaching.
The reality of teacher-student connections
The one thing that I did not ever expect to happen was the crazy close bond I’d form with my kiddos. These guys are such sophisticated little learners. They need to put up a front about “not caring”. However, in reality, if you have the patience and genuine care to listen, they have a world full of ideas ready to share with you.
In a real-life classroom, relationships with the students need to come first before you even begin to try anything else.
The realities of daily teacher life
While studying, I knew what I was doing (most of the time). I knew what was due because I had highlighted everything and it was colour-coded. Once the last assignments were submitted, I was able to relax before the next big or small assignment came along. In reality, the ‘to do’ list is never completed, it simply gets longer. Sometimes you don’t care what colour highlighter or pen you use! In reality, you get minimal paperwork completed in class. This is done during break times and at home once my own children have gone to bed.
I always assumed parents would be 100% interested in the academic achievement of their child. In reality, for some, their priority is to not be homeless or hungry. Academics feature down their personal lists. Their lives are about survival, where the next meal is coming from and keeping themselves and their children safe.
The reality of teaching is your workday will often start before you are at work. This will often involve answering emails or messages from parents. It also doesn’t finish when you get home. However, learning to be able to switch off, set solid time boundaries of contacting parents, and answering emails and messages is important.
All of the negatives of the average school day, week, term, and year all seem to fade away when one of your students ‘get it’.
That light bulb moment when they finally get something is priceless.
I hope you were able to find some excellent nuggets of gold within this blog post on the expectations versus the reality of beginning teachers.
See more from our beginning teacher series
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