17. Teaching Begins within the New Learning Infrastructure

New teachers are always overwhelmed. Many orientation meetings and new colleagues. Policies and procedures difficult to absorb and comply with. Getting a classroom ready is another challenge.

With Mary’s university-based preparation and the compatible systems in place when she was hired, her first days as a seventh-grade science teacher were focused and clear.

Mary began her teaching career with expertise in systematic and systemic academic planning, design, and implementation. Within a classroom and institutional framework long acknowledged as what school should be physically and structurally.

But five years later, when the worldwide coronavirus pandemic hit, that carefully honed idea of what constitutes a place of learning was dramatically transformed.

Neither Mary nor her associates had any idea they were laying the foundation for a different kind of educational universe.

One that could work effectively either within a brick-and-mortar structure or virtually in an electronic milieu.

For those educators, five years ago, the new learning infrastructure made sense regardless of institutional configuration. The laser-like focus on QUALITY student learning and conditions made it happen.

The new learning infrastructure depended on solid intentions for student growth. Teachers were trusted to create powerful curricula and establish instructional processes aligned with it. Teachers were trusted to evaluate student learning quality and personal development.

Examine Mary’s story and experiences in two ways. Recognize her immediate success and why it happened. Then use hindsight with the knowledge of what is coming five years later — COVID-19.

The new learning infrastructure allowed a smooth transition from the traditional to the unimaginable.

An scenario that involved computers, the internet, virtual interactions with students, and closer involvement with parents who became guides on the side in living rooms.

Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 15

As with most new teachers, my first week on the job became a blur. Survival training until things smooth out. When each day would become routine.

Teaching is challenging because it involves the constant barrage of decision-making responsibilities. Analyses of a teaching day often reveal dozens of decisions a teacher makes every minute.

Perhaps people in other vocations and professions do not understand the significance of this phenomenon. Occasionally a lawyer, executive, business owner, salesperson, or other non-teacher will assume a teaching role for a few days.

Just to see what it feels like.

Sometimes those people are board members or laypeople simply interested in getting more insight into the work of teachers.

Temporary teachers often find their experience exhausting. Frustrating.

Add to the barrage of decisions needing to be made, the extreme need to possess a tolerance for ambiguity. The result of multiple micro decisions is ambiguous in terms of the impact on students.

Rarely any certainty as to whether an answer or the issuance of instructions mean a positive outcome. The lack of time or opportunity to reflect on the possible result of decisions is frustrating.

Something said in an offhand way to a student could be damaging in unknown ways.  

As a new teacher, I was sensitive to how I responded to the many demands of my students. Worried I would not pick up clues as to what my responses meant.

My new colleagues said, “It will get better in time.”

But during the first week my poor husband was the sounding board to salve my emotions.

How do teachers without a live-in partner survive that first week? Maybe social media helps.

A lack of emotional debriefing can be psychologically devasting. Especially for a new teacher who has not yet bonded with colleagues.

My district had a debriefing team of counselors and seasoned teachers to help new teachers get their emotional and psychological feet on the ground. It was voluntary and I opted out. But some of my new associates participated and found the service helpful.

One class I took at the university was titled “Classroom Management and Discipline.” The admonition that stuck with me was what to do the first few days of a school year.

Like all human beings, students individually and collectively size up the person in charge. The suggestion that a teacher should not smile until Christmas has a modicum of truth behind it.

But I was not interested in being seen by students as a martinet or severe disciplinarian.

I was interested in being accepted as a competent young adult leader with a clear plan for helping my students achieve goals and objectives. I wanted to prove that intention through my first days on the other side of the desk.

The world in which seventh grade students live is different than mine. Many adults shut away those memories of an era in which they were grateful to survive.

But teachers do not have the luxury of just shrugging off a difficult experience.

The trick to getting things started well is to come across as purposeful. As a leader who is focused on the attainment of understandable and meaningful learning goals.

The mechanics of being a teacher in the first week are also a source of stress. Classrooms need to be prepared, resources organized and ready for distribution, and lessons ready to begin the year.

My outstanding preparation at the university, combined with compatible systems used by my district, made the mechanics manageable enough to help me succeed.

My students and I were getting off to a good start.

 ©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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