Surviving my first week as a new teacher

I am finally a teacher. It’s been a surreal experience and I can’t seem to find the right words to describe everything. I’m exhausted and excited all at the same time. My mind hasn’t stopped ticking since Monday when I met the team of staff members. I won’t be able to capture everything about the school in this post, so I’ll just introduce the school for now and all the stories will unfold in the next few weeks!

I’ll start from the very beginning. I am a new teacher in a high school in Cape Town. This is the school’s second year of operation. There are 12 teachers and 260 learners and we don’t have learners in Grade12. We have a partnership with one of the best schools in the Western Cape (about 5 times bigger than our school) which means interesting conversations about planning and developing a curriculum for a new school.

Some of the values underpinning the school are hard-work, respect and responsibility. The purpose of the school is to create a culture of teaching and learning for learners who come from working class homes, where university entrance can be an option once they reach matric. There are high expectations for each learner. We have long days: school ended at 3 pm on my first day (but my mind was ready to go home by lunchtime) with planning after school(an after school program me begins in two weeks).

Our learners have been hand-picked. They come from not-so-great schools around Cape Town. They are eager to work hard and they realise there are high expectations on them because they are setting the standard for the school as well as being guinea pigs in a new school. The best part about the school is that there are no bells indicating a change in lessons, but everyone seems to be where they need to be throughout the day.

I am one of two English teachers. I also teach Social Science and Life Orientation. I have a maximum of 35 learners in each class which means 240 names to learn in the next few weeks. The excitement of being in a new school has been the adrenalin I’ve needed to survive the past week. Like any new teacher, I am eager, perhaps over-eager because I want to be a good teacher this year, and hopefully allow myself to make mistakes along the way.

“Work is love made visible.” This is a quote from Kahlil Gibran’s musing on work and I have it stuck on my classroom door. I only have 3 rules for the learners I teach: respect for one another (which means only one person talks at a time); seeing as I’m working hard trying to prepare their lessons, they also work hard. I already have marking to do because I gave them homework that was handed in on the second day of school. I’ve also had children fall asleep in class during silent reading and English reading of Artemis Fowl. I’ve made the error of benchmarking too high and I gave the Grade 9’s a short story they found difficult to understand. This was frustrating for all of us, but a good lesson for me to learn in the first week. This left me with a question about my abilities as well as the expectations I have of my learners.

I have a group of Grade 10s who are eager to learn about Shakespeare and do one of his plays. Most of the learners have never been exposed to Shakespeare nor the idea of the Renaissance and the importance (if any) of Shakespeare in modern day South Africa. They will be reading Romeo and Juliet next week.

I’ve already had a boy challenge a judgment call I made when I asked him to sit somewhere else because he was being disruptive sitting with his friends; I was told I am being unfair and this was on the first day of school (but he decided to remain where I placed him in spite of the protests).

Other interesting encounters: I have learned to use a magnificent machine that produces copious amounts of paper in minutes. My colleague in the two-person English department and I have planned learning for the whole of next week after a frantic week of trying to understand the overview and content we were given by our partner school. I have had a meeting with the library monitors as the library will be my extra responsibility apart from my teaching.

I’m still soaking in the experience of having a new responsibility such as teaching and disciplining children in my care. Thankfully I have committed to less angst this year so I hope I will learn to keep the anxieties at bay while I find my feet as a new teacher. I am happy to get things hopelessly wrong, make mistakes and fail and hopefully learn about teaching as the year progresses. But for the past few days I’ve been waking up in the morning excited. Next week will be a longer week and hopefully I’ll survive that too!


Alex Lenferna said…
Sounds like exciting times. I'm sure you'll do great and that you and your learners will learn so much from the challenges ahead. Thanks for sharing Atha.

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