Saturday, January 4, 2014

Evolving From a New Teacher...To a Not So New Teacher

Post by Breelyn Seifert: Breelyn is in her 4th year of teaching science. She has taught all four years at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Breelyn on twitter @BreelynSeifert

One of my most memorable college courses was my Educational Psychology class. This particular professor would assign a fellow classmate to teach a mini lesson during each class, while the rest of us would act as mock students. Each mock student was assigned various behaviors that we were to perform during the mini lesson. For example, I was a first grader who would hide under my desk whenever I was assigned work. The “teacher” would have to deal with the situations and manage the class while continuing on with the lesson. At the end of the class, we would discuss how the situation was handled, what could have been done better, and any other suggestions classmates might pose. As the semester progressed, the situations would become increasingly more difficult and I remember thinking to myself, “No one at my high school would have acted like that. Who would do that? Is she being serious right now?” Growing up in a small farm community, some of these behaviors seemed hard to imagine and I would often find myself wondering, “Would that really happen?” I was about to find out.

After graduating college I was lucky enough to land my first teaching job at Bettendorf. I was so excited, not only to just have a job, but a good job in the field I had studied in. I tirelessly prepared for those first few days of class of all summer. Finally August had approached and it was time for in-service. While at in-service, it hit me, I had no idea what I was doing, what to expect, or what to do. Luckily, my science department was extremely helpful and supportive. They made sure I had everything, but I still spent countless hours looking over my plans and making sure I knew how to do the labs and what the kids were supposed to be observing and learning. When it was time for the first day of school, everything went fine, and so did the second, the third, fourth, and fifth; basically the first week went great. However, the second week is when the “newness” of school starts to wear off, and the real fun begins.

Instantly, I went into survival mode. I was trying to figure out how to manage 25 teenagers for 85 minutes. Its amazing how different the behavior of a “mock” college student is when you compare it to the actual behavior of teenagers. Looking back, I wish my classmates and professor would have been a little tougher on me during that semester because kids really do “act like that,” and my instructor was being gentle.

To survive, I started asking other teachers about their classroom policies, practices, and procedures. The ideas I liked, I mimicked in my own classroom (in Biology, since I’m a science teacher, we call this relationship commensalism, one organism is benefiting from another, but the other organism isn't affected). As I started to get more comfortable, I adapted those ideas to fit my own personal teaching style. My confidence was growing, my classroom management was improving, and I was really feeling good about how the year was progressing.

During my second year, I began reshaping activities and labs to fit me and my students. My second year was when I really got the opportunity to evolve (more Biology!) and grow as a teacher. I was implementing more and more things, even creating some original activities. I even got the opportunity to visit a project based school in San Diego. Through that experience, I was able to bring back some ideas of how to incorporate more project ideas in my curriculum; I was finally starting to hit a stride. Then my administration threw a couple curve balls; 1. Our freshman and sophomores would be getting iPads and 2. I was teaching Biology. It appeared as though my third year of teaching would be spent in “new teacher” survival mode, again.

Again, I found myself mimicking other good teachers and adapting their materials and lessons, not only to fit my teaching style, but also to fit iPad usage in a classroom. In that year, I learned more than I had the previous years combined; mostly about Biology and ways iPads don’t work in a classroom. From that, I learned better, more efficient ways for my students to use their iPad and now I’m able to share my experiences with my colleagues to prevent them from going through the same trials and tribulations I went through (In Biology we call this a mutualism relationship, where both parties are benefited)

While writing this blog and reflecting on my experiences as a new teacher, I realized that surviving your first year(s), in my case, is like surviving in the wild. I imitated other, better teachers, I adapted materials to fit my style, and I evolved as a teacher and continually tried to improve my craft. I guess its kind of comforting in a way, to know that my survival techniques are techniques nature has been using for a while (it seems to be surviving okay). One of the most important pieces of advice I could give to a new teacher, is take ideas from others, but make them your own. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel has to fit the vehicle you drive! Hopefully this post is helpful to other new teachers and if you need someone to help you through it, I am always here for support! Enjoy your first few years as a teacher and have a great rest of the school year!


  1. Breelyn - I have enjoyed watching you develop & grow as a teacher, although you were already pretty darn good when we first met you. It takes a special person to sit back & watch and learn from her team. You are fortunate to be surrounded by a great group of teachers, but you also deserve much of the credit for your willingness to take risks, adapt, and work hard to always find another way to reach your kids. We are very, very proud of you! Jacked to have you joining us to Educon! - jimmy

  2. Breelyn - thank you for sharing your transitional experience over your first few years of teaching and how you are transforming your craft. I especially appreciate your personal connections to your prior psychology classes as well as the scientific connections to collaboration with your colleagues. It sounds like you are fortunate to have quite the "ecosystem" to nourish your PD needs and flourish as a educator. Best wishes to you as you to grow!

  3. Hi Breelyn,
    Thank you for taking the risk and writing on your staff blog. It was great to read your post. It took me back 25 years ago when I started my teaching career. As I stop to reflect, I am so excited for you! This is a great time to be a teacher! There are so many new and innovative techniques you can use and share with students. The sky is the limit! I love that you have a super leader at the helm and an awesome support system in your colleagues. I have no doubt that you yourself bring a ray of sunshine and great new ideas to Bettendorf. They are lucky to have you. Keep on, keeping on!