What was the biggest change in your teaching between your first and second year?

Recently I was asked this question, “What was the biggest change you made between your first and second year?” As I reflected on this I remembered how I struggled my first year. Although I was better off than some, due to several years experience as a substitute and an excellent teacher prep program at VCU, I faced difficulties.

One of the biggest issues I faced was the integration of my knowledge, my sense of self, and the crafting of my teacher identity that would serve my students. Then I remembered that I had some help in doing this from another teacher.

In my first year I mostly tried to imitate what I thought good teaching looked like. I experienced some challenging behavior and many of my learning activities did not reflect the developmental level of my students. I sought support from my preschool program’s social worker. She engaged a highly effective retired teacher, who had taught in the same community, to come observe and offer some advice.  This teacher spent a few hours in my class one day and told me what I needed to hear to be effective. Much of what she told me had to do with culture and understanding my students’ backgrounds. It also had to do with me knowing who I am in relation to my students. After that I changed my style of interaction, from my diction, to my intonation, to my sentence structure, to more closely reflect the language interactions my students were used to. Mostly, it had to do with becoming the person my students needed me to be. I still give the same advice to young teachers that retired teacher gave me.

I realize now that many accomplished teachers, like National Board Certified Teachers, get that way from similar experiences. By sharing their practice from one teacher to another, one teacher at a time, the profession gets stronger. In my second year, I was much better at getting and holding my students’ attention. I was also better at planning activities that hit the development sweet spot.

As I think about how our profession can become truly empowered, especially through ideas like teacher residencies, I wonder if this might be the way forward. If I had done a teacher residency I might have experienced that first year with the assistance of an effective colleague. If those outside teaching realized that teachers learn best from teachers, how would our profession look different? Who was your mentor? What did you change between your first and second year?

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