Two teachers recount their first year in the classroom

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 6, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY – Rowan County natives Rachel Graham and Tammy Tutterow wrapped up their first year teaching in June.
Graham, who graduated from West Rowan High School in 2007, began her career as a fourth-grade teacher at Hurley Elementary School last August after finishing her bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University.
As she prepared to embark on her first year in the classroom, Graham told a Post reporter her biggest fears were related to curriculum and testing. She wanted to make the classroom interactive while preparing students for end-of-grade exams.
Before launching South Rowan High School’s first marketing program in August, Tutterow worked as a kitchen and bathroom designer.
But when the economy tanked and construction jobs became scarce, she decided it was time for a career change.
So, the South Rowan class of 1992 graduate went back to Catawba College to earn her teaching certificate.
Tutterow told a Post reporter last August that as she set out to be an educator, she wondered whether she’d be able to stay ahead of the students and prepare interesting lessons.
A Post reporter recently checked back in with both women as they began their sophomore year on the job. Read the interviews here.
How was your first year teaching?
Tutterow: “Love, love, love it. I’ve enjoyed my students far more than I ever thought I would. My administrators and co-workers have been great.”
Graham: “I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. It was definitely a great year, but it was a learning experience. College is great, but you really don’t really get the full perspective until you are actually in the classroom. It was good, but it was tough.”
What was the biggest surprise?
Graham: “I didn’t realize how much assessing kids that we would actually have to do. It’s every day that you’re assessing kids, not just at the end of the unit or what you’re teaching. When I was in college, I didn’t realize how much teachers have to do that.
Tutterow: “The connection with the students. You learn so much about them and their lives and their families . Before you know it you’ve got this real connection and you just want the best for each of them.”
What’s the greatest lesson you learned?
Tutterow: “Don’t judge too soon. Give yourself time to learn the kids and their personalities as well as their strengths and weaknesses. They will surprise you.”
Graham: “Never get discouraged. As a first year teacher you have times where things are going great and then you have your challenging times. When you face challenges, it is important to remember that you have to pick yourself up, redirect yourself and get back on track. The first year of teaching is kind of like a science experiment, you have to test a whole bunch of different techniques before you find something that works for you and the class that you teach. I can say that at times, it was easy to get discouraged, but you just have to remember that there is a positive learning experience stemming from it.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Graham: “The greatest challenge that I faced this year was classroom management. I think that is a hard task to conquer for a first year teacher. You want to come in being this super sweet, really cool new teacher, but you have to change your perspective slightly. There is a way that you can be that ideal new teacher that you have in your mind, but you have to gain student respect before you can have that. That is an important task, students must respect you and your rules before you can be the awesome new teacher that you would like to be.”
Tutterow: “Planning ahead and having really good lessons. I want my lessons to be fun, but that takes time and planning and money, honestly. I don’t want to kill them with lectures, I want them busy with hands on learning.”
How did you overcome that challenge?
Tutterow: “The Internet is a great resource for getting fun ideas for the classroom. Also, we have some cooperative groups within Rowan-Salisbury schools, where there is a great exchange of ideas.”
Graham: “Classroom management is a tough task for any new teacher and I have found that you have to, as I said before, try out and test new ways of managing your class before you have one that works specifically for your group of students. I had the support of my wonderful mentor and my team mates that made that challenge easier. They reassured me that classroom management, at times, can even be a challenge for even the veteran teachers. It was a great relief and success once I found a management plan that worked for my students.”
What was your most memorable moment?
Graham: “My most memorable moment this year would definitely have to be the day we received our EOG scores back. From the day of the last test up until the day we were given the scores, I worried continuously, not because I hadn’t done my job, but being a first year teacher you second guess yourself at times and need reassurance that you have done your job to the best of your ability. The day our guidance counselor came in and handed me my scores, I received the reassurance that I needed. (The) kids I taught had done very well on the EOGs. They had not only passed the EOGs, but made and exceeded the growth they needed to make for that year. That moment is one that I will never forget as I had a sense of accomplishment for myself as well as my students.”
Tutterow: “One day nearing graduation, it hit me like a freight train that graduation meant several of the students I’d taught would not be returning and that I may not ever see them again. I am not looking forward to graduation this year, I’ll be crying like a baby as I watch some of the kids move on.”
Has your teaching style changed any throughout the year?
Tutterow: “Perhaps some aspects, but overall, not too much. Ask me again in a few years.”
Graham: “I think my teaching style has definitely changed throughout the year. I have grown so much as a teacher and my teaching style reflects that. I am more consciously aware of student growth and achievement and have done a much better job planning and tweaking my lessons accordingly so that I see growth for all students. I think I have done a better job of creating lessons for all types of learners.”
How do you feel now that the first year in under your belt?
Tutterow: “Great, simply great. I love my school and I feel lucky to have the job I have.”
Graham: I would describe the feeling of having my first year under my belt as bittersweet. I am excited that I can take with me what I learned this year, and use it during the (new) school year. I also feel that I am going to be more prepared because I now know what to expect. Your first year of teaching is something you can never have again. The relationships that I built with my, as I called them first class ever is something that can never be replaced. I can never have another first class, but I know that I will remember the wonderful students I had this year forever. They taught me so much this year, not only as an educator but as a human being. Kids are much more knowledgeable about the world around us than we think and I can’t wait to share experiences with my future classes. I am looking forward to a new year, with new students that I can build these relationships with and bring new ideas to them.