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Getting to Know You Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Kimberly and and her mentor, Laurie Stenehjem, share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

During our weekly meetings, Laurie and I keep a mini-journal of what I am feeling good about and what is most frustrating me. Last week's entry described how really good I'm feeling about the new attitude I have toward my students -- and about improvements my students have shown in the way they respond to me.

In the past few weeks, I have seen higher homework production and fewer behavior problems in my classroom. Students are taking more academic risks -- I stress the importance of "learning by mistake" -- and generally responding more positively when I make requests. My classroom management techniques are less shaky, and I feel just a little more competent. As strange as it may sound, I feel more like an adult now.

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One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year is a teacher doll holding a heart. On the heart is written "I will not throw a tantrum in class ... because I am the teacher." I can't remember how many times before the holiday break I felt like yelling and kicking and screaming to get my way!

Because she wants to use my experiences to help other first-year teachers, Laurie asked what I thought contributed to this shift in attitude. I have yet to pinpoint one single factor that might have brought about the change, so I struggled to give her an answer.

I suppose it might have been the weeklong field trip that our seventh grade classes took in December to an environmental learning center. Students got to see me bundled up in outdoor winter gear, hiking miles of icy trails. I know that having the opportunity to see my students in a hands-on, alternative classroom environment changed my opinion about some of them!

Whatever the magic was that brought about this newly positive classroom atmosphere, I hope it doesn't wear off any time soon. My biggest fear is that my current attitude toward my students won't last. Although I plan to continue enjoying the rest of this school year, I'm afraid I'll have to start over again when I face a new bunch of kids next year.

Will I? Does this storming-to-norming process take the first half of every year to resolve itself? Or is it normal only for first-year teachers?

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Kimberly Johnson
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