No matter how many years we have been teaching, once a new school year begins, so does the inevitable phases of teaching.
You will begin your year in Anticipation. You will be excited, you will feel prepared, you will be determined to be the best teacher ever. Then Survival will hit and you will be bombarded with a whole bunch of things you weren’t expecting. Then you will hit the lowest of lows, Disillusionment. You will question your decision to be a teacher, you will dislike many parts of the job, and you will probably cry…no…you cry, it is inevitable, but you are not alone. Luckily, soon you will move onto Rejuvenation, it usually starts after a break, most likely the winter break right before a semester change. You will start to get the hang of things and you will realize you did make the right decision to become a teacher.
By the end of the year, you will begin Reflection. You will take into account all of the things that went great and all of the things you want to change. Doing this causes you to reactivate Anticipation all over again, and you start to get excited about the upcoming year.
This will happen every year, but at different intensities for different durations.
The Play-by-Play of the Year Phases Of Teaching
It is the beginning of the school year, you are excited and although the older kids act like they don’t want to be back at school, you can tell they are excited too, and things are running pretty well. You are trying to be the perfect teacher, and testing out all of the things you have learned. It is still the beginning of the year so lots of changes are happening: scheduling, students, teachers, all kinds of fun stuff. But these first couple weeks are blissful. You feel good, things are running smoothly, you think to yourself “yaaassss, I am such a good teacher!”
About 3 Weeks after School Starts
Survival is about to hit. You are starting to get bombarded with a plethora of meetings, and paperwork, and probably some school changes that you are being asked to implement. Your lessons are going ok, but you are thinking you want to make them better, but you have no idea when you are going to find the time to do that. The students are starting to show their true selves.
You find yourself thinking “these kids!” more often than not. It’s ok, we’ve all been there. Your “you were so sweet the first day of school” students are starting to show their true, manipulative ways [insert that maniacal laugh here]. Even some teachers are showing their true colors too: “oh they’re just testing you,” “those kids would never try that in my class,” “you know what you should do…” “see, that’s why I’m done!”
Survival is hitting hard. This is nothing like you expected (or remembered). You are starting to question your decision to be a teacher. Every time you think you’ve got the hang of it, something new comes up. Papers are piling up; you’re probably getting behind on your lesson planning and definitely getting behind on grading. You are working overtime attempting to get caught up but it feels like you never will. You think to yourself “this sucks!” actually, you might say that one out loud. You want to change some things but you are thinking, “I am 5 weeks in, how can I change,” and “I am totally not ready for this.”
You are done with this phases of teaching ideas! Disillusionment is setting in. You are realizing this is nothing like what you expected. You literally say “Can I just reset and start over?” You envisioned coming in and teaching your subject to students who are hanging on to your every word and instead you feel like a lion tamer in the center ring. Confidence fails you because you are not sure what you are doing or how you actually want to do it. You want to cry (or break something). Lean on your fellow teachers they probably need a good cry session too. Go to the bar or go grab a coffee and leave everything at school. Good news is: Thanksgiving break coming up!
This is rock bottom! You think back to the things you learned in grad school like planning lessons, reflecting, differentiation, content knowledge, psychology, and research. Then you realize you are not doing any of that! Instead, you are trying to figure out routines, procedures, communication with administration and parents, evaluations, and time management. You think to yourself “what the heck did I go to school for? I learned nothing!” This is not true, you learned a great deal, and it will soon be useful. Your kids are bouncing off the walls, and you are dying! In phases of teaching, you feel like a broken record because you literally repeat yourself all day. You are losing your voice and your sanity. You are physically counting down the days till winter break, and this is completely normal.
Projects are your friend during this time; rubrics are your lifesaver. Don’t try to teach anything with too much substance because the kids won’t take it into the new year (you will have to reteach anyway). Use this time to have students demonstrate their knowledge through projects with clear daily milestones that you can check off. This is also a good time to have student-led conferences where students show you evidence of their learning.
You have had a break, and you are feeling better. You are ready to attack the upcoming final exams and move into next semester where you swear to do things differently. You have probably had to deal with a few parents; either through calls home or parent-teacher conferences. Remember to smile and nod, and take note of the parent’s actions and demeanor, it will tell you a lot about their kids.
You should be moving into the second semester. You have determined all of the changes you want to make and you have started implementing them. You are thinking to yourself “OK, I’ve got this.” It is getting a little easier, but you will start to get nervous and anxious this time of year with the high-stakes testing looming.
High stakes testing time. It will drive you crazy, just be ready for it! If you have been handling the learning over to the students, and they have been applying their knowledge all year (not just listening to you lecture), then trust me…they will remember it!
Spring break is near (or just passed) you are feeling Rejuvenated. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, the air is warming up, and you are feeling very confident. You have got a good handle on your class, and you are learning new things every day. You remind yourself, “I love teaching.”
You can see the light at the end of the tunnel! You made it and you are ready to go to sleep for a long, long time. You are Reflecting on the year and making some concrete decisions about next year. The good news is, the next year is always better with phases of teaching. During the last week of school, give your students a survey of the class. Remember, they are your clients; they are in your room the whole time. So, although you will get evaluations from your administrators, department leaders, fellow teachers, mentors, and coaches, feedback from your students is invaluable. Trust their feedback, they know what they are talking about, and trust me, they won’t sugar coat it.
The Anticipation is starting again. You have made it through the year. Although when you were going through it, you thought it would ever end but now you are thinking back to how fast time flew! Enjoy your summer, play with friends and family, and start taking a look at the notes you made during the year, so you can implement new things the next time around!
Especially for the first year of phases of teaching, it is a good idea to set yourself some reminders, because once the year starts it will be a whirlwind and you will literally get to the end and think to yourself “what just happened?” Let us know where to send the Reminders Checklist below. It will give you specific reminders you can place in your phone or on your calendar/planner that will be exactly what you need to hear, when you need sing to hear it.
Happy Back to School With These Phases of Teaching Ideas!
Jaime Patterson is the Executive Director of Creative Affairs for EducationCloset. She is passionate about supporting educators in their pathway to teaching and learning through arts integration and STEAM.