When I first started teaching, I was blessed to have a grade level partner who shared everything with me. As an educator, I was extremely lucky to work beside someone who had a lot of experience in education and was willing to share their knowledge and wisdom with a brand new teacher. I was also lucky to be in a school where someone was teaching the same grade level. Many schools to this day might have only one grade level or subject area teacher in the entire school, and the isolation of that could be extremely tough.
That being said, I look back at a lot of what I used to do as a first-year teacher and cringe. This was not because I did not have the support of a great staff, but I was building experience. Most of the great educators I know look back at their first year and feel the same way. To be honest, it is part of the reason they are great educators. They constantly learn and grow in the profession and continuously get better at their craft. I hope ten years from now I look back on this time and see that I have grown as well.
The reason I am looking back at when I first started teaching was because of a conversation I recently had with a new teacher starting in the same grade level in which I started (grade four). I talked about my experience teaching that grade level and shared that I loved what I did, but there are so many things that I have learned from that time, What I did share is that he will look back on these years of teaching at some point in his career and feel the same way I do. He will think, “I cannot believe I used to do that”, and for good reason. I would be concerned if he didn’t.
That being said, he should be so much better a first-year teacher than I was. I had access to an awesome teacher; he has access to thousands of awesome teachers through social media. Simply looking up the hashtag #4thchat will give him access to both teachers that work at the same grade level, or ideas related to teaching that grade. Something tweeted to that hashtag doesn’t make it automatically good, and some filtering will be needed. Filtering through what is useful and what won’t help is not something we should only do online as well but in our face-to-face interactions. Something being shared doesn’t automatically make it good but sometimes even bad ideas can be adapted to become great ideas. Joe Sanfelippo shared with me that “culture is not copied, but created”. This also goes with what and how we teach. You cannot simply carbon copy an idea for your students that someone else uses and ensure that it is 100% successful. Working backward from the point of your students often means iterations to even the best ideas. Start with your students, not necessarily the strategy.
Looking through hashtags like #4thchat is not the only way to use this medium. I often encourage people to find their hashtag and use it as a “Bat Signal”. The main people who will keep an eye on #4thchat are other 4th grade teachers. #4thchat” will increase the opportunities that other educators that have a similar job will be able to share their wisdom, experience, and learning with you. Who better to learn from than people that are doing your same job? The best person to make you an amazing fourth-grade teacher is not me; it’s other fourth grade teachers. Utilize their wisdom.
Here is something I believe and have shared often:
What I mean by this quote, is that teachers have access to other teachers in a way that I did not have even when I first started teaching in 1999. In less than 20 years, so much has changed, and the opportunities as a first-year teacher and a 50th-year teacher are mind blowing. It would be crazy to not take advantage of learning from the wisdom and experience of others in the same profession. Find your “bat signal” and use it to learn from others.