Julianne Voigts West, BSEd ’19, Elementary Education
Sigler Elementary, Plano ISD
My first year of teaching was nothing that I expected, but I have left this year full of growth and thankfulness for the experience. My students were such a joy and made every day worth any challenge that came. I will forever be changed by those sweet faces in room B101.
I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the preparation that Baylor SOE gave me. I still use many pieces of advice from my professors, and I hold onto their wise words tightly. Being able to have a full year of student teaching was a major asset. Not only was this valuable when applying for teaching positions, it also boosted my readiness for that first day of school with all those little faces looking up at me. Baylor SOE also gave me my two best friends who are elementary teachers as well. Although we all live in different cities and teach different grades, having friends who I could always relate to and trust was huge for me this year. Who would’ve thought that Baylor SOE would given me incredible career preparation and two bridesmaids! I am abundantly thankful.
In the spring of my senior year, I did what most graduating education students do — I traveled to job fairs, emailed principals, and went to more job fairs. I accepted a job at an elementary school in Plano ISD teaching kindergarten. I cannot express how excited I was to get started! My first three weeks at school flew by. I had learned so much from my team and was starting to find my own groove as a teacher. I’ll never forget that Thursday afternoon on the third week of school when my principal asked me to come to his office. My principal told me that, due to low numbers in my class, I was being “rifted” to another school to teach first grade. The move would happen in two days. Immediately I felt like my world was falling apart. I was in love with my school, my students, my team and truly could not believe this was happening. Soon my room was packed up and I was driving to my new home campus.
For me, the hardest part of getting rifted was trying to re-establish myself. Each school has its own procedures, environment, and overall way of doing things. It takes some time to really figure out how your school runs. I was very blessed to have been rifted to an incredible team, who were very patient with me as I adjusted and asked dozens of questions. What was also hard is that my new students did not understand why they were being removed from their original classroom and placed into mine. Parents were also not very happy with their children being transitioned to a new teacher, so I had a lot of work to do building trust with both students and parents, all while trying to establish teaching plans for a new grade.
The best advice that I received to help me with this task was to give “good news phone calls” to every parent for my first two weeks at my new school. I found that this was instrumental in showing parents that I had their child’s best interests at heart. Also my students loved it, because they were getting praised at home. I really tried to keep this up throughout the year, and it became a powerful behavior reinforcement.
This was my first experience teaching first grade, and I had spent the summer planning and designing my room for a Kindergarten class. However, I quickly fell in love with these inquisitive first graders. You see so much growth in first grade, especially in reading and it was motivating for both students and me. In my class, 85 percent of the students were below grade level for reading at the beginning of the year. My team and I decided to challenge ourselves by conducting reading inventories monthly instead of the required every few months. This made such a big difference in our teaching and differentiation. We were able to keep close track of student progress so we could keep them growing. When leaving for spring break, 95 percent of my students were reading on grade level. They worked so hard, and I was so proud of them.
Then COVID-19 hit. No one saw this coming, and we were not prepared for teaching online. My team and I worked around the clock to come up with virtual lessons, learn new technology programs, and answer the many questions from concerned parents. Many of our students did not have technology devices at home or access to the Internet, so a big priority was making sure students were set up for success at home with needed materials. Plano ISD used Google Classroom as their primary virtual learning platform, and I found it very easy to navigate. We really prioritized creating engaging and user-friendly lessons. We did this by making Google Slides for the whole week with lesson plans, videos, and materials all embedded inside the slideshow. This allowed parents to keep up with only one lesson source for the whole week. We got great feedback from this, and by the end of virtual learning really had our method down comfortably.
For me personally, this was a difficult and emotional time. I cannot explain how much I missed my students, and every day wished I gave them one last big hug before sending them off for spring break. The last day of school, my team masked up and stood in our school’s carpool line, waving to students as they dropped off their computers. It was a sweet few hours full of smiles, laughs, some tears, and much talk about the crazy couple months we had just shared.
If I could share any advice for a new teacher going into their first year, it would be this: To make learning truly impactful, students need to first learn that they are loved, valued, and safe with and by you. Behavior management is key and one of the hardest things to master. Figure out what each student is motivated by and do not be afraid to try several positive reinforcement strategies throughout the year. Do not be hesitant to ask for help. I particularly had a difficult time with this, and once I found my voice it was so beneficial.
Teaching requires an immense amount of patience. It is okay to take a step back and breathe.
Lastly, always approach situations with a positive attitude. This sounds like a given, but it is truly so important. After I was rifted, the biggest compliment I received from other staff members was regarding my attitude. I knew that if I went into my new school upset by my unusual transition, it would only have a negative effect on my students, team, and myself. This positive mindset was also useful when we began virtual learning. Teaching is very unpredictable; things will happen that you are not expecting. But one thing you can always control is your attitude and outlook.
Due to COVID-19, I have no idea what school will look like in my second year. But what I do know is that we have bright minds to teach, compassion to show, and a whole lot of teacher love to give. Bring it on 2020-2021!