"Embrace your mistakes ... because that is when you learn." These were the wise words from my mentor on my final placement as a student teacher. Words I had started to live by as a new teacher midway through my first year of real-world teaching. I had not been lucky enough to secure a permanent job offer after receiving my teaching credential, so I started my first year teaching by picking up odd days of substitute work.
Newly licensed and fresh-faced, I was eager to accept every assignment offered.
"A school over an hour's drive away? Yes, that's great!"
A phone call at 9.30am. with the news that another substitute backed out at the last minute? "Of course, I'll leave immediately!"
Like earning my teaching credential before, I found substitute teaching also had a steep learning curve. The teachers' lounge protocol, timing of lessons, routines for lunch and breaks all needed to be negotiated before I could pick up someone else's planning for a class of strangers.
You learn a lot more than you think
As I reflect on my experiences so far, I realize how much I have learnt. The name games I used as ice-breakers have been honed after a particularly mischievous portion of the class created new identities for themselves.
An afternoon painting activity resulted in over-zealous helpers mixing mass quantities of powdered paint. The more reluctant artists began a war of paint flicking and sabotaged their artwork.
What works wonderfully with a class you know will not have the same effect with children who are as strange to you as you are to them.
The thing is, teaching requires a relationship. You may have been loved by your internship class but it is near impossible to build trust in a class loaned to you for just one day.
My judgment skills have improved considerably since I held an improvised circle time after a turbulent lunch and it descended into a heated argument.
The lows have been numerous, the highs few and far between, but I cling to the positives. I have a wealth of anecdotes and can answer interview questions much more sharply with apt examples from recent experience. More than this I have learnt from my mistakes. While the experience has been mildly painful, I have emerged from the first few months of teaching as a wiser and savvier teacher.
Ursula Watson is a substitute teacher. This story is a reprint from an earlier issue of TES.
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