What’s Your Learning Curve?

I obtained my first teaching certificate in 1997 upon my graduation from UGA. I taught for one year at Twiggs County Comprehensive High School and then for three years at Warner Robins High School in Middle Georgia. Upon relocating to North Georgia, I did not immediately find a teaching job. I did find a temporary teaching job as a daycare facility’s pre-K teacher, and though I was not certified to teach early childhood or primary school students, I believe I was the only certified teacher at the center. I worked for two years at Snellville Middle School following my pre-K job, after which I ended up back in high school (where I belong) at the Weber School. This is my third year at Weber.

I have a theory, and I am interested to see what any of you think of it. My theory is that it takes a teacher two years teaching at the same school, same subjects, in order to feel completely comfortable — like a competent veteran. I have noticed that each time I worked at a new school, I felt like a first-year teacher all over again. Each school as a different curriculum, culture, climate, and system of rules. It seems to take me two years to get all that down. After this point, working as a teacher seems easier. I already have, for example, handouts, quizzes, tests, and other materials already prepared, so it takes me less time to plan. I have already had time to teach material and learn what works well and what doesn’t. I get to know what my students will most likely already know or will already have done by the time they come to me. It’s a wonderful feeling. It really makes me feel more organized. I also feel like I get assignments graded more quickly — probably because creating materials takes less time.

For only the second time in a career in its tenth year, I feel that sense of comfort that comes with working at the same school for the third year in a row. What about you? How long do you think it takes you to feel comfortable and completely competent at a teaching post?

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9 thoughts on “What’s Your Learning Curve?

  1. As much as I can, I agree: This is my second year teaching (period) and I feel this year that I've really hit a stride. Everything's working.

    Last year I fumbled through everything, while this year everything's nearly "flowing."

    I'm already looking forward to next year, hoping it will make more sense for me AND my students.

    If/When I move to another school I'll let you know if it takes another two years to get that flow flowing again.

  2. "Comfortable and completely competent"…? er, is it bad that I've been teaching in higher ed for nine years (not counting grad school) — four years at one college and five at my current — and still don't feel like I'm close to either one of those yet?

  3. Reflective Teacher, you have some awesome things going on in your classroom. I can tell things are going well for you.

    And Robert, based on your blog, I'd have to say you appear to be on the ball. Maybe just one of those days?

  4. My first teaching job was in a middle school. First year-was what was expected–first year getting used to everything. Second year went more smoothly, although I was teaching something slightly different. Then I moved to the high school last year. Learning again. This year I started a little bit feeling like I did last year, but have hit a stride and feel as if I am accomplishing quite a bit.

  5. Year 1: teach what they tell you to, add a pinch of you(with style)

    Year 2-3: add a lot more of what you like, drop some of what they told you, still with style

    Year 4: survive, style optional

    Year 5: stride, style, you name it-I've found it.

    It seems to all depend on the students after the first year. Great kids overall=comfort in teaching. Thank you, scheduling gods for smiling upon me this year!

  6. I KNOW yr an awesome teacher, Dana. I can Just tell- even thru this infernal interweb (An aside: I always capitalize "Just" cuz I once had a hi-school Eng. teach who deducted 10 points every dang time one of her students used 'Just' in a writing assignment. She insisted it was an adverb that never ever should be used. So here I am.. can you say Obsessive-Compulsive??.. here I am, some four decades later.. and each time I see that word, Just, in a book, I circle it. I have been told that I am hard to read after.. IE.. peeps who borrow my books tell me so:))

    I will have to agree w/ the contributors above. I think the 3rd year at same school doing basically same stuff is among the best- but there is a ton to be said of that after 10 yrs too.

    My 10th (of 31) year was among my best. I had great coworkers. The principal that year was only OK… but when yr peers are good, and you've "established yr name" w/ the parental units.. it's pretty much white on rice. That year, we "split" reading.

    My 13th year was magical, pure unadulterated (sp?) magic. We had 4 strong teachers again. We "split" social studies. This was a different group of four teachers, but I was lucky again with my "draw."

    (AND a great principal.. too bad she only stayed a year..) but even if the leadership had been poor, it was a magical combo of 4 vvv different peeps.

    1.One was the "doer" (logistically put our ideas together)

    2.One was the "disciplinarian."

    3.One was the Mad Hat Out Out Out of The Box thinker.. what SUPER ideas..

    4.One was the "sooth-sayer" and the "Mama/Daddy/guidance"

    We all shared the above roles, yet they were separate too.

    The whole curriculum was integrated.. every single unit..

    We once spent a (Fri-Sat) weekend IN the school, going to a football game at the HS, watching movies all night.. (some kids actually slept, not many tho- We watched the flicks thru the school's media center hook-up.. Cooking breakfast for the 80, or so, 8th graders who chose to participate in the camp-in. I still can't believe we slept on those classroom floors!

    We also presented at the state middle school convention that year to a hugely appreciative group, a large one. The downside of that state level presentation was a ton of "visitors." I am never quite at ease when I am being watched. My nerves kick in Big Time.

    My 14th year, the following, involved a new school (same district), but again another VERY magical group of 4 teachers. We split "science" (YIKES) That year I learned more about teaching and learning than in any year that preceded- or followed. It was the year they introduced "laptops."

    "Learning with Laptops" (in the middle schools) in the entire district. I sometimes felt more like a Toshiba salesman than an instructor, but Man did I learn..

    WHOA.. and WHAT a great principal he was. Dr. Randy Wall, now a superintendent for this same district. We had 125 kids, all with laptops. I had NEVER touched a computer prior to this year, but he (the principal) demanded excellence and we (staff) followed his lead. We stayed, no monetary compensation, three hours after school every Tuesday to learn how to use them. For One Year. Thank you David Rockwell. I (by choice) stayed the next year under the instruction of (then computer teacher for that middle school) David Rockwell again. Randy Wall and David Rockwell had a vision and it worked.

    Although (then our county, only 3 middle schools, enrollments of 1,000+) had the same opportunities, I was fortunate to be under the leadership of someone who made US (the teachers) WANT it (laptops in the CR) as badly as he. Learning with Laptops WORKED.. at Lady's Island Middle School.. 1,000 kids that first year, and 1/3 of them had laptops. I was fortunate and selected to be with the sixth grade, the grade that received the laptops (Toshiba grant) that first year. Following years, all grades and kids had them. This continued through 2002, or so.

    I returned to Hilton Head Middle School and was placed on a team where all the kids had laptops. By then, I was given a classroom set of handheld Jornadas. The kids had long put away the palm pilots. It is hard to imagine myself (I trip on flat ground) maneuvering (sp?) around that room of wires.. Wires, wires, wires.. everywhere..

    So tho I have rambled here, my thoughts on yr Q are, probably the 3rd year is the easiest.. on yr brain and on yr time, but for me yrs 10-15 were, as I have said, pure magic.

    It is, imVVVho, success- or lack of- is largely due to the "mix" of peeps in yr dept or on yr team. I absolutely despise negativity on a daily/regular basis. I've had my days, probably even weeks.. of rants and complaints, but the longer you stay in the trenches, the better it gets.

    Teaching is quite simply a calling. It, like singing, or art, or preaching.. is a gift. A real gift. You have it, Dana, as well as other gifts- yr a writer and a thinker. I only wish that some day, I can convey in writing, Just what made +that magic+

    Thx for this opportunity to reflect on some vvv special people and times. I hope I haven't taken up too much of yr space

    SL

    PS. I want to quickly return to (another) random thought. After around 10 yrs teaching basically the same thing.. English.. I Really thought I Knew It All. I know that's arrogant, but it was true. Due to overcrowding, I shared my CR with another teacher. Actually it was her CR and I had GT (gifted/talented) downstairs all day sans the one English class at the end of the day.

    I walked in every AM, read her board.. said, "That looks interesting.. mind if I use it?" Then about 30 minutes before my class began, I walked in and watched he teach it. OMG. Off The Hook.

    The next year, she (Carole Ingram) was beckoned to be an Ass. Principal. I inherited her room. I also inherited the same English class. She looked at me with those doe eyes and said, "Hey, Syb, do you even know how to teach English?"

    She was kidding, but likely quite serious.. since I had used her lesson(s) every day for a year. So back to the arrogance, I learned how to teach from Carole. She is the person I wanna be when I grow up!

    If you ever have time, and I don't know how you do- you are a lot like Carole, Dana. Anyhoo, she is principal at Beaufort Middle School now. They have a web page. I visit periodically. She puts out something called "Friday Notes" Amazing, Just like you

    Here is a link (I am not sure how to hyperlink from a comment:

    http://web.beaufort.k12.sc.us/education/component

    http://web.beaufort.k12.sc.us/education/component

    http://web.beaufort.k12.sc.us/education/school/sc

    If that doesn't work, Google for Beaufort Middle School

    Again, sorry for the length of this. I enjoy yr mind, a lot.

  7. I've moved around a fair bit, and I find that it takes me four or five years to be really smooth with a new curriculum or a new school. That's when I can focus on KIDS instead of material, and everything is much better. Since I've switched among grade levels, subjects, schools, and states, this has happened very seldom. I've spent several years now assigned to teach something I didn't know much about (this year: Brit Lit — something I haven't read in a little more than 35 years!)

  8. Oh my gosh, your post came at a great time. I'm feeling the crush of being at my third school and feeling like a first-year-teacher. Your observations put the situation in more perspective for me.

    I look forward to next year, my repeat year. And I finally have a good archiving system: each day is on Powerpoint because we have projectors in the room.

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