First-year teacher learns lessons from students

June 10, 2005|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

"So, how was your first year of teaching?"

In the last few weeks, I've been asked that question numerous times. It's not easy to pick up a new career when you're in your late 30s, but, like many people who are entering education as a midlife career, I felt called to do so.

There were times when I wished I could be back in the newsroom full-time, staring at a computer screen all day. Other times I wished I was still homeschooling and only had two students instead of 24.

But those times were fleeting.

Overall, it was a wonderful year. I think I learned as much as the children. Some lessons were harder than others, but all were beneficial.


I thought a teacher's day ends at 4 p.m. I was surprised at the amount of studying, grading and other preparation that is done outside of school. Most nights, I worked on school-related items two to four hours beyond the eight hours I was in the classroom.

The whole process became very intriguing. The more prepared I was, the smoother things would go in my classroom. However, if I stayed up too late preparing, my patience would run thin the next day. Striking a balance became very important.

I envisioned my role as a partnership with the parents who became so dear to me. On tough days, when the children were overly rambunctious and my temples throbbed, I imagined their parents standing around the perimeter of the classroom, depending on me to give my very best to their children.

The more I got to know the children, the easier the job became and the more I regretted the end of school. I started to refer to them as "my kids."

I could laugh with them a little easier and roll with the punches as they came, particularly in the form of unanticipated questions.

Once, we were reading "Where the Red Fern Grows." I saw a student's hand go up.

"Mrs. Prejean, what does disembowel mean?"

(After a fight with a mountain lion, the dog in the story becomes caught in some underbrush and is disemboweled.)

"It means that his intestines came out."

A student asked what intestines do.

"They help to digest your food. If you have an injury on your tummy and it causes your intestines to come out, that's very serious."

The students seemed to think about that for a little bit. Some visibly shuddered.

Then another hand went up.

"Doesn't the word 'bowel' have something to do with going to the bathroom?"

I simply said, "Yes," and left it at that. Thankfully, it was time for recess.

Often, while grading papers, I'd read something and laugh out loud. I think secretly the children were hoping for that reaction.

To make English more interesting, I asked students to write a story using that week's 25 spelling and vocabulary words. One week, the list included "uncertain," "definite" and "adjectives."

One of my fifth-graders combined those words this way: "It was uncertain that John would live. Soon it was definite. John died. 'It's so sad,' his English teacher said. 'We didn't finish learning about adjectives.' "

At times, my own childhood memories came flooding back. While I gently steered my students away from foolishness, I smiled on the inside because I could remember doing similar things as a 10-year-old.

I truly enjoyed the times when I got to know the children outside the classroom. During recess duty, some children would stand or sit by me and talk for the whole 20 minutes. Those were precious times and always will be a highlight of my first year in an elementary classroom.

So how am I going to spend my summer? There's so much more that I want to add to my classes next year now that I know the curriculum. There are new projects I'd like to try, other study guides to explore, quizzes and tests to create and books to read about the subjects I teach.

My husband says he's looking forward to having his wife back this summer. Guess I still need to work on that balancing act. They say the second year of teaching is much smoother than the first.

However uncertain that might be, it's definite that I'm looking forward to my second year, especially since I can teach about adjectives.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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