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Kelly Jo Plante

Recent UNG grad Kelly Jo Plante was recently featured in the 2018 New Teacher Guide produced by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. Plante was interviewed about the experiences she had in her first year of teaching and what advice she would give to students who are still in college.

The Interview

In your experience, what was the hardest aspect of being a new teacher?

The hardest part was just trying to figure it all out. We all graduate with dreams of the perfect classroom with beautifully manicured procedures and expert-level lesson plans. In reality, it doesn't’t work that way. I had a hard time accepting that something I was doing with my kids wasn't working and that I needed a new approach. It was hard to swallow my pride and say, "It's okay. I'm a first-year teacher. Everything does not need to be perfect" -- especially when I compare myself to veteran teachers. New teachers strive to be those teachers ... and we will be one day.

What is an important lesson have you learned about teaching?

It is crucial to know how your kids function, how they learn best and how they stay focused. We know that all kids are different, but it's important to know that groups of kids work differently as well. I have tried doing lessons that mirror the lessons of other teachers, but I realized that my students function differently than theirs. It is SO important to figure out how your class works together in a group and adapt your practices for them. Don't try to make them change for you.

What was the most pleasant surprise?

I have had the most wonderful experience this year with the parents. I was nervous that parents would not like their students to be with a first-year teacher and that they would be extra critical because of this. However, I have had the exact opposite experience. My parents have constantly supported me through every new idea I wanted to test out.

What have you now realized about teaching that you did not know as a college student?

In college, you're still just the “student teacher” to the students. Having your own students creates a much deeper level relationship whereby trust and loyalty is built. I did not realize that would happen. I find myself cheering my students on in all aspects of life -- academically but also emotionally. I constantly wonder if I'm doing enough for them. That being said, my students mirror the support I show them. Knowing it's my first year, they love to give me their compliments (or critiques) on lessons and assignments, and they seem to always know when it's time for a good joke. However, with the highs, there are the lows. I always knew there would be good days and bad days, but in the classroom (that really turned into my family) I found it was like any other relationship. You go through good periods, but also times of getting frustrated with each other. In the end, I know they love me and they know that I love them.

What have you realized about students?

Students come from all walks of life. They are all so different. They have off days just like adults but often are not given the benefit of the doubt. They are inherently good (in my opinion). The troublemakers just need someone to give them a chance and a minute of their attention.

Do you have any advice regarding parental support?

Be open and honest with them. Make sure they know you are going to do everything in your power to make this the best year for their students, but don't pretend you have everything figured out.

What's the best advice you've received about teaching?

Keep yourself balanced. You will burn out SO fast if you don't let yourself relax. Us "teacher types" always want to do the best to keep our students engaged and challenged. This results in staying late and weekend work days. Don't forget it is your FIRST YEAR. You can't do everything perfectly. Do your best, work hard, but remember to enjoy everything else life has to offer.    

What advice do you have for new teachers?

Take. A. Breath. When the kids are acting like it's a full moon, take a breath. When it’s October and grades are due for the first time, take a breath. When lesson planning, grading, taking data, managing behaviors and organizing your life all become too much, take a breath. During that breath, remember why you are in this job. Think about all the kiddos that fill your classroom each morning and how much you adore seeing them finally “get it.” Don't forget to take a moment every now and then to push the paperwork aside and simply enjoy being with your students.

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