This past Wednesday, February 4th, was my first day of school…well, as a teacher that is. It was the first week of my 8 week field placement, which I will be spending in a grade 6 classroom!
Although our placement is supposed to start at 12:30 each week, my fellow pre-service intern and I had arranged to meet with our co-op teacher early to introduce ourselves, take a tour of the school, and to discuss the introductory lesson that we had planned for that day. The school itself is quite large–which is a change from the one-hallway school that I was in last year for my first-year placement. The library is stationed at the centre of the school, and each wing is organized by grade level; the kindergarten, grade 1, and grade 2 classrooms are in one hallway, the grade 3, 4, and 5 classrooms are in another hallway, etc. Fun fact: The school has a collaborative grade 4/5 classroom, which I had heard of before but never seen. The concept is similar to that of a split classroom, except that in a collaborative classroom, two full-sized classes combined into one, and there are two teachers who co-teach together. I got to talk to one of the teachers of this classroom–she said that it can be a bit hectic at times (there are 40 kids in the class!), but she also said that she loves the collaborative atmosphere. Another fun fact: The school used to be a high school, so it has both a practical & applied arts (PAA) classroom and a workshop. My co-op teacher explained that they still use these classrooms frequently–the grade 6 students even have PAA as a subject!
My co-op teacher and I connected right from the start. She’s very outgoing and upbeat, which helped calm my nerves. She’s also helpful and encouraging–she wants us to practice our teaching as much as possible this semester, and she is willing to offer any guidance to help us develop our teaching along the way. For example, she helped us adapt our simple, introductory lesson plan into a full-fledged lesson with an outcome, a formal assessment, the works! My co-op is also very honest–she is open with us about her own flaws as a teacher. I appreciate this characteristic in a mentor, and it makes me feel comfortable teaching in her classroom; she understands that we are only learning to be teachers, so there is no pressure to be perfect.
Overall, I thought that our intro lesson was mediocre. I thought that our activities were thoughtful and well-planned, and the kids were definitely engaged, but I think that there were a lot of factors that we did not take into consideration while planning our lesson. First, classroom management was a problem. I went in with the expectation that the kids would automatically listen to me because it was my first time in their classroom–but this was not the reality. We did have some classroom management strategies implemented throughout our lesson, and the students were not misbehaving by any means, but they were very chatty. I felt uncomfortable with classroom management this week because it was my very first time in this classroom, I didn’t know the students very well, and I was still unfamiliar with the normal classroom routines and procedures. Luckily our co-op stepped in to help us keep things controlled, and in our lesson debrief later that afternoon we discussed classroom management strategies for the future.
Another factor that we did not consider while lesson planning was adaptive dimensions, granted this is difficult to plan for until you get to know the students in your classroom. For instance, as part of our lesson, we made name crossword puzzles with the students. The idea is to start with your name in the centre of a piece of graph paper, and then connect adjectives to the letters in your name in a Scrabble-style format to create a personal crossword puzzle. However, some students struggled with the crossword format–they were writing words bottom-to-top and left-to-right, or not connecting their words at all. This was something that my pre-service partner and I did not plan for; we assumed that the kids would be familiar with the format of a crossword puzzle. However, we were flexible and adapted the lesson as we taught: we spent extra time doing our class example on the board, and we told the kids that they could do their name puzzle on the computer if it was helpful. In addition, there is a young girl in our classroom who is hard of hearing. There is an interpreter in the classroom who works with this girl, so our lesson plan did not need any adaptations in this sense; however, this was something that we did not consider while planning, and it is definitely something that we will have to consider for future lessons.
At the end of the day, we sat down with our co-op to debrief our lesson and plan for the rest of the semester. As it is planned right now, for the next two weeks I will be teaching a Phys-Ed lesson, and then for the last five weeks of my placement I will teaching a full unit on the solar system, focusing particularly on the planets. It looks like I have a lot of planning and research to do!
Following my first week in the classroom, I am much less nervous to be teaching this semester, but I also feel very overwhelmed. Teaching is a lot of work, but I also have four other university classes that I have to make time for. Clearly, time-management will be important for me this semester. That being said, I feel as though I lucked out with my placement this semester: I have a fantastic co-op teacher and a great group of kids to work with. I’m excited to see how the rest of the semester goes.