My First Year as a Teacher
Leigh Anne Connors, Math Teacher
While reflecting on my first year of teaching, I can recall feeling a wide range of emotions at various times of the year. Teaching was a completely new experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone but was tremendously exciting, rewarding and educational. I was blessed with a wonderful support system, and I loved it.
As a student at Plymouth State University, I had never planned on becoming a teacher. I hadn’t even taken an education course. I actually wanted to be an actuary, measuring and managing risk in business. The more I learned about myself throughout college, though, the more I realized that that career path didn’t fit who I was or wanted to be. I wanted to help people and make a difference in their lives. Then, when some of my fellow ski team members needed math help, I took up tutoring. As my skills as a tutor improved, I would catch myself thinking that I’d like to teach.
Making the transition from tutoring to teaching was not an easy task. It’s like anything else you try for the first time. No matter how prepared you are, what skills you think you’ve mastered, how much help you have been given by your fellow teachers, the first time you stand in front of a class is like looking down the biggest vertical drop you have ever seen. You think you have the ability to finish and finish strong, but you won’t know until you get to the bottom; it’s truly a wild ride. In the end, it’s a life-changing experience because you have gained the confidence in yourself to match the skill that your colleagues and students know you possess. It changes your entire outlook on what you have to offer as a person, as a mentor, and as a teacher.
One experience with a student most resonates with me. It was already winter, and there was clearly a lot weighing on this young skier’s mind – the short days, piles of school work, team commitments, and just being a teenager. With thoughts of quitting the ski team, this impressive young skier talked, and I listened. I then shared the best advice that I could give. With a bit of encouragement, the skier ended up having both a successful ski season and a successful academic year. While this is a story that many of my colleagues have likely dealt with over the course of their careers, the act of helping a student navigate and overcome obstacles in life, not just in the classroom, is why I teach.
The camaraderie with fellow faculty members was amazing and so helpful. In teaching, I have learned that the best classes are the ones that are both educational and fun. Starting from scratch, I found that the coaching my colleagues generously provided inspired and motivated me to create my own approach by combining proven classroom practices with new techniques. It was fun to explore different ways to engage students. One piece of advice a fellow math teacher shared with me gave me the direction I needed to create my own dynamic exercises and lessons plans. When they worked, it was truly exciting. To be perfectly honest, I was quite proud of two of my students who applied geometry they had learned in class to calculate the circumference of the Holderness seal and were featured in the Head’s Photo of the Day. It was a small gesture with a big impact; it meant that the lessons I taught my students were worthy of display.
The collective experiences of the year, both in and out of the classroom, made me realize that I love teaching and all that it encompasses. I love actively participating in the learning process, growing with each new experience, being a mentor and advisor, providing guidance when needed and watching young students grow into adults with endless potential. And, one day it will actually be flattering to be mistaken for a student.
My first year as a teacher changed my life and life’s goals. Instead of preparing for actuarial exams, I am now planning on getting my master’s degree in teaching. Instead of finding a position in a busy metropolitan area, I now realize how much I love living in New Hampshire. Instead of having to walk away from skiing, it is now part of my profession. The greatest gift that Holderness and my first year of teaching have given me is an understanding of who I am and what I want to do with my life.
Leigh Anne's Advice for a First-Year Teacher:
1. Never be afraid to ask for help. Every teacher has been a first-year teacher at one point in their life, and they know how overwhelming it can be.
2. Have confidence. You are more knowledgeable than the students and have way more schooling under your belt. It's okay to say "I don't know."
3. Observe other teachers. A new teacher can learn a lot from how others teach and interact with their students.