New teacher struggles to maintain balance

Editor's note: This is part of a monthly series tracking Laura Evans' first year teaching at Summerville Elementary. An article runs on the second Tuesday of each month.

As Laura Evans approaches the halfway point in her first year of teaching, she's taken some time to reflect on what's gone right, and what she might have done differently.

Over all, she says the process has been smoother than she first anticipated. "I hate to say everything is great, because everything could always be better, but it's really going very well," she says "I'm learning a lot along the way. It hasn't been like the horror stories I heard before I started."  

Among the things Evans said she did right was to start off strong in terms of discipline. "I was always told it was better to start off being strict.  Of course, you can lighten up later," says Evans. "That has worked really well. I can now enjoy them, and they know what's expected. I don't think it would have worked well the other way around. It's not easy to go back if they don't respect you."

Evans says one of the things she had not expected was the need for procedure in the classroom. "I knew we had to have established procedures for everything, and in the beginning I thought we did. But something out of the ordinary always comes up, and I think to myself that I'll need to come up with a procedure for that. I've also had to eliminate the procedures that don't work. I didn't realize that I would be creating and deleting procedures all year."

One of the best things Evans did was to create a job for every student in her class. "I think every child has to have a job to do. It teaches responsibility, and lets them know that they have to do their part and that there are other people counting on them to do it." Evans says the kids take their jobs very seriously, and that it gives them a sense of purpose.

"They know I'm in charge, but I really want them to feel like it's everyone's classroom. Everyone has a role and mine is to teach."

As she was required to do, Evans mapped out a lesson plan for the year as a way of ensuring all of the standards are met. Mapping out the plan was something that, at first, seemed very daunting. "As it turns out, it was really a big stress reliever. Of course, you make modifications along the way, but it gives you a good outline to follow," she says. "Now that I know how helpful it is in terms of planning, I wish I could have gotten it done well before school started."

Another one of the district requirements for new teachers is that they take a few days out of the year to observe other seasoned teachers from other schools in action.

"That was truly one of the best things I ever did. It's great to see different teaching styles and I think it's the best way to get new ideas. One of the best ways to learn to be a better teacher is to watch others teach. It gives you fresh insight into everything from classroom layout to team building strategies, to just the smallest things that make a huge difference," Evans says. "I visited three different teachers in one day, and I learned so much from them. I'm looking forward to doing it again later in the school year."

Evans says something that makes her job easier is the Smart Board. "We have been provided the best technology for our kids. The smart board has endless possibilities and makes it possible to do so many things we weren't able to do before. It's such a great teaching tool." Evans says. "The school district is so supportive of our efforts and provides us with the best technology available. It's great because if we need something, they find a way to provide it."

In terms of the relationships she has with her students, Evans says she thinks she's where she needs to be. "The thing I always regret the most are the times when I'm working to keep everyone on schedule, and one of the children needs to talk to me about something. You're trying to get so much done, but you always want to be there to listen. There never seems to be enough time and I'm always mindful of the fact that I might be the only person that child can talk to. You never know what's going on with them at home so you want to make school a good place for them to be. It's hard to balance that."

As the holidays approach, the balancing act continues as Evans plans class activities to make this time of the year special. "I know that some of my students won't have the same warm and fuzzy Christmas I had when I was growing

up. I have so many great memories from my own childhood. It's hard for me to imagine what it's like for children who won't have those memories."

While she can't change what happens to her students at home, she works hard to make the time they spend in her classroom a source of good memories. "Before they leave school for the holidays, we're going to spend some time doing things like drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, which is really just warm chocolate, but they won't realize that, and watching The Polar Express.  I just want them to have good memories from this time of year. Children need that."

Evans has a lot to reflect on as the first part of the year draws to a close. "It's not so much that I can understand everything my kids are going through. I can't because their experiences are different from mine. But I can embrace it, and I can create what happens here. I can make it a warm and inviting place."

Contact Sharon Gnau at 873-9424 ext. 215 or sgnau@journalscene.com