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How I Not Only Survived, but Thrived During My First Semester Teaching High School!

As a new teacher, I have been sharing my learning journey from the Faculty to the Field since early 2016. I have contributed in many ways; whether it was through a series of blog posts on my website, podcast episodes with Que sera Sarah, Twitter chats, EdTechTeam Summits or even live radio shows such as #onEdMentors. I have continuously taken the risk in opening up my journey for people to read/listen and hopefully be inspired. This openness has allowed me to reflect, share my highs and lows, receive constructive feedback, have a dialogue with other educators as well as contribute to the world of teacher candidates and new teachers in an online space and beyond. 

As a recent graduate of the University of Ottawa, I am very fortunate to have gotten hired in June of 2018 for a full time teaching position with the school board of my dreams! I am now working in a small rural school, only a short distance away from my house, teaching grade 9 and 10. I must admit that my previously mentioned involvement in blogging, PD sessions, and social media allowed me to be visible to the school board of my dreams and most definitely helped in the hiring process.

Fast forward many months… As I have now completed my first official high school semester! (Insert celebration song) Marking ✔ Exams ✔ Report cards ✔ First semester ✔ Without a doubt, closing off this semester is bittersweet. It is the first of MANY. Thankfully, this natural transition has allowed me to take the time for a quick pause to reflect on how I was not only able to survive but thrive through my first semester of teaching. In the end, I broke it down into 5 main ideas.

ASK QUESTIONS

Accept what you do not know and allow yourself to grow. Each question you ask is a learning opportunity to add to your knowledge and baggage that you are continuously building, processing and using. I must admit that I used to be a student who was petrified of asking questions… It wasn’t until I understood the concept of Growth Mindset that I began embracing the fact that I could be curious and seek new knowledge without feeling vulnerable for not knowing the answer. 

Asking questions also has a lot to do with being curious about the people around you - ask them questions, be interested in them. You never know what you might have in common with them and what relationships may come out of it! In addition, don’t only ask others questions, but don’t forget to question yourself. Keep examining your practice and taking the time to reflect. Reflection is the seed you plant, and putting that practice in place allows you to grow. 


BE YOURSELF

I feel as though it is fair to say that: “At the beginning of your teaching career, no one necessarily knows who they are.” I believe it is important to know who you are currently, who you want to be and how you want to get there. Naturally, you have to understand that there are so many experiences to be had to allow you to develop tons of your teaching self; that is a mindset I adopted early on in September. I believe that... In order to be the best version of yourself as an educator, you have to stay true to who you are and your core values. There’s no better feeling in the world than when you can be yourself in front of the class and a group of students. So, be proud of who you are and be your authentic self! Students can smell a phony from a mile away ;) When you show your true colours, students are more prone to feel comfortable demonstrating who they are with you… it’s in the classroom culture!

GET INVOLVED

I hesitated to put this advice in the blog, but I realized that this was a huge component in my success this semester. Evidently, there is a fine line in the infamous concept of finding balance. On one hand, you do not want to take on too much; you need to be aware of your time management; be conscious of your mental health and overall workload… But on the other hand, you’re a new teacher and everything is so new and exciting. Plus, if you’re passionate like me, you want to get involved in everything. You want to show that you are interested, curious and willing to contribute because that’s what DRIVES you. 

What I have already learned about that ^^^ is: 

Prioritizing is a skill I am constantly developing and my mindset for 2019 is: If it’s not a “hell yes” when I am asked to do something, then it’s a no. So focus on what is IMPORTANT to you and brings meaning to your work. A good start would be deciding what IS truly important to you and where you can put your time and energy. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later!


MENTORSHIP MATTERS

As a new teacher, I am currently in the process of completing my NTIP(aussi connu sous le nom de PIPNPE en fran├žais) where I have been associated with a mentor in my school and must complete 2 evaluations from my principal. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this program is the mentorship. I must admit, my in-school mentorship has saved me. Big time! Being able to choose an educator who is able to support me in every aspect of my teaching, in who I feel I can confide in and trust changes the game. 

I also got involved in the #OnEdMentorsConnect program with Noa Daniel and Leigh Cassel. I had the pleasure of being mentored by Eryka Desrosiers, an innovative English teacher in Quebec. We documented our mentee and mentor conversations through sketchnotes, Google Docs, and a couple podcasts. Take a listen to our first one here. (If you are a new teacher looking for a mentor, do not be shy to reach out to myself, Noa or Leigh!)

The thing about mentorship is that your mentor/mentee relationship does not have to be “official” through a program; it can be informal and sometimes you may have people who are not even aware they are mentoring you. Many members of your PLN could mentor you in different ways. All things considered, my advice is to not be scared to find someone to lean on. Find educators, find experts, ask them questions and build relationships with them.

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF 

Lastly, and most importantly... Don’t try and be the teacher across from you, or the teacher you saw on Instagram or the teacher who won the best teacher award three years in a row… 

During an OnEdMentors show, a line from new teacher Karaline Vlahopoulos shared some wise words: Do not compare your Chapter 1 to someone’s Chapter 7, 15 or even 23! If you’re interested in listening to that conversation, you can catch it here

Simply be happy with where you are RIGHT now. If you keep a growth mindset, ask questions, be yourself, stop comparing and find people to support you - I can almost promise that you will be able to live a successful first year of teaching. 

Going into my second semester, I am going to take my own advice. Keep my focus on what works, ask myself how I can improve and continuously try and find balance. 

An extra resource I want to share for any new teachers reading is the free Disillusionment Power Pack from Roxanna Elden. “The Disillusionment Power Pack is a free, one-month series of the emails I'd send to the first-year-teacher version of myself. I don't send these emails to most of the people on my mailing list, nor will you find them on my website. They are my small experiment in over-sharing for new teachers who are having really bad days right now. If that's you, sign up below to receive emails every few days for one month. Which, as you'll see soon, might be all you really need.” I felt as though the e-mails found in my Inbox really spoke to me and what I was going through that week - yes, kind of like magic. You can sign up to receive these emails at: RoxannaElden.com



Sarah Lalonde

Sarah is a first year teacher in Ontario.  She has a podcast about her learning and teaching journey - 

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