Choosing your battles: Reflections of a first-year teacher

Guest poster Angela Riggs shares her experience as a first-year preschool teacher and the importance of learning how to choose the correct battles.

I’m proud this week to post a guest blog from one of my former students, Angela Riggs. Angela was a pre-service teacher in one of my classes when I worked as the Educator-in-Residence at the University of Central Florida, and she shined then as she shines now. She is currently working as a pre-Kindergarten teacher at the Peninsula Children’s Learning Center in Portland, Oregon, and is a member of the CTQ Collaboratory (@AngelaRiggs). 

 

As a first-year preschool teacher, I’m on a learning curve for just about everything-from how to handle tantrums, to planning and implementing curriculum, to parent communication. Today, I want to talk about something that I’ve just started to realize I need to work on… choosing my battles. That is, learning how to decide which behaviors to comment on and correct, and which ones to let go.

One of the times this struggle comes up is during our morning centers, when we set up areas of the room for the kids to play in. We have dramatic play, a sensory table, a block area, and other learning centers. There are few rules, but the main one is to use the items we’ve set out rather than taking everything off the shelves. One morning, I noticed that instead of playing with the open toys in the block area, two girls had brought over stuffed dogs and were using them to jump around and race back and forth. My first reaction was to correct them – to tell them to put the dogs back, and to remember what they should be doing.

But really, what should they be doing? They should be playing together – and they were! They worked together to clean up the blocks, to get the dogs, and to create a game that they enjoyed. I realized that my expectations were wrong. Instead of thinking: “The kids will play with those toys in this specific way”, I should be thinking about thegoals of play. Our play curriculum* helps kids socialize and sustain friendships, solve social problems on their own (like sharing and taking turns), use creative thinking and build problem-solving skills. So were theseexpectations being met? Darn right they were!

I’m starting to let more things go, and to adjust my approaches and expectations in the classroom. When I saw my students taking all of the chairs from the table, I curbed the reaction to say “Put them back!” Instead, I talked with them to find out what they had in mind – a train trip through space! How fantastic! We were in the middle of a space study, and they were using the facts they’d learned to guide their trip.

Because I took the time to dig deeper, instead of concentrating on the chaos of moving chairs around, I realized that they were incorporating their learning into play – talk about meeting and exceeding expectations!

As I let go moreand focus my attention on the right expectations, my students will be able to have more ownership over their experiences in the classroom. They’ll get to be more creative and have more positive interactions with each other. It also lets me experience along with them, instead of spending all of my effort and energy nagging them about what they “should” be doing. And that means everyone is having more fun!

I’d love to hear from other educators! What battles did you have to learn to “let go of” as a new teacher?

*Our Early Childhood Education program uses The Creative Curriculum as a framework for classroom curriculum. We use Teaching Strategies Gold to set goals and plan outcomes for a variety of standards, which include Social-Emotional, Mathematics, Cognitive, Physical, Literacy, and Language. You can read more on the Teaching Strategies website.

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