Oh how I love a good email from a reader. This one really hit home for me as I’m writing and editing the story of my first year in kindergarten and remember these feelings well. Let me start with the email and then my reply will follow.
I’m writing to get your opinion and experience as a 1st, 2nd and 3rd year teacher. What was the start of your teaching experience like? Did you even have any idea of how to start teaching Kindergarteners that first day? I have taught Kindergarten in an Early Childhood Center before which is similar but a lot different then teaching them in an Elementary School. I have applied to several Kindergarten positions but Im so fearful of how I’m going to even start the first day of teaching them. I teach Prek 4-5 year olds and it is such a challenge sometimes to get them to listen during circle time. How am I going to get 5 year olds, some of which have never even been in preschool and school is new to them, to sit and listen? Did you ever have feeling when you first started that you just weren’t sure if you could do it and teaching might be the death of you?
First, let me commend the sender’s honesty. Many teachers wouldn’t admit their blatant fear (hence I’m keeping her anonymous). I admire her and thought others might a) like to hear what I have to say about her questions and b) have their own insights to share (in the comments below please). Let’s get started.
What was the start of your teaching experience like? Did you even have any idea of how to start teaching Kindergarteners that first day?
Not a freaking clue. I came from second grade and the difference between kindergarten and second grade is akin to the difference between a purring kitten and hungry lion. You know they’re related somehow, but in the moment when that lion is looking at you like you’re lunch, you can’t seem to figure out how to connect the dots.
I was very lucky my first year – in retrospect, I realize I had an incredible class. They were basically all angels who were so enamored with being in school that our first day wasn’t so terrible. My advice to you would be to overplan. Remember they can’t sit for much more than ten minutes and that might be pushing it the first day. I didn’t get half of what I’d planned done on the first day, but I was prepared and had detailed what we’d be doing, almost down to the minute – which if nothing else, made me feel better.
Expect some tears, a few smiles, and some cranky tiredness the first day. Usually the hugs don’t come for a few days, but I’ve been surprised with one that first day before, so don’t discount it entirely.
How am I going to get 5 year olds, some of which have never even been in preschool and school is new to them, to sit and listen?
You are going to be charming, witty, hilarious, quiet, excited, zany, and anything else to keep their attention. The best teachers I know (you know who you are) are nothing short of of theatrical. They’re transformative – remember, you’re competing with television, video games, and 3D movies. You have to bring it in every aspect.
My secret weapon on day one (it also works on the last day) is a fantastic read aloud. It never ceases to amaze me how a good book can stop the most active, whiney, or upset child in their tracks. For the first day, a few titles I recommend are: Pete the Cat – Rocking in My School Shoes, The Kissing Hand, Wemberly Worried, and Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten. Actually, you might plan to read all four of them – they are all amazing literature and Pete the Cat introduces the school and the kids can join in and sing with you. Which leads me to…
MOVE. Sing, dance, and pretend you are going to win some reality show where you have to be able to both sing and dance. For the record, I do neither well, but my students love it just the same. If you keep them up and active they won’t have time to cry. Hey, that’s a good quote. Quote me.
Did you ever have feeling when you first started that you just weren’t sure if you could do it and teaching might be the death of you?
Um, not just when I first started… that feeling creeps in from time to time. Usually it’s stopped by the smile of a child. Or a hug. Or by being called ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’. Let me assure you, the first day is always difficult. But it does get better with each day. Usually by the end of September or early October, things are humming along and you’ll look back at that first day with humor and gratitude – that it’s over.
I hope this helps alleviate some of your worries. If not, read Wemberly Worried. You can always bring your own stuffed animal and stash it in your desk to make you feel better.
OK readers, I’ve had my say. What advice can you offer my friend?