Here’s your test

The good old days are a product of a bad memory

Sept 2009 – I remember entering the classroom like it was yesterday. For this new teacher, the night before my first day was understandably complete with a several concerns: Would I wake up on time? What if the staff weren’t nice? Am I prepared? Thankfully, I woke up before my alarm and my new colleagues were incredibly welcoming. I was breathing a little easier, but there were still a few doubts to overcome on the day.

Most pressingly, I wondered whether I was going to have any disciplinary issues with students? What was going to happen if it became an issue? Would I keep my cool? Would I lose the room? Would I default to my parenting brain or my parents’ parenting brains? Fortunately, the students were amazing and my first 4 days as a teacher served to cement my love of education for life.

As a Prep Coverage teacher in a French Immersion school, I taught classes from Grades 1 to 8. On Days 1 – 4, I taught English to grades 4 – 8. I never knew it could be so much fun. From the start, we created classroom culture, shared our ideas, and set goals.  Day 5 was my day to teach in the Primary Division en Français. So what could possibly go wrong after 4 amazing days? Then came Day 5 –  a Monday to boot.

Oh wait, did we forget the lesson?

You know how in Physics there is matter and anti-matter? That was how Days 1 – 4 felt compared to Day 5. By that day ‘s end I was exhausted, confused, and discouraged. The cherry on that fun sundae came when I fell asleep at a stop light on the way home after school; much to the displeasure of the rush hour commuters behind me. This experience did not diminish my love of education, but it sure made me dig in to learn and improve. I was going to need it to survive and thrive.

First things first

Things began to settle into place and I was fortunate to receive excellent guidance from my admin, NTIP mentor, and experienced colleagues. However, I still wondered about the best way behavioural expectations could be met while honouring the needs of each learner.

After all, behaviour is communication. What were students telling me by their actions? Then it happened, a yet to be identified student destroyed the classroom and I needed help. I’d always worked hard to avoid losing my temper or sending students to the office, but this time was different. My old grade 1 teacher would have tied that child to a chair (true story) and that would have been that. Yet, that never crossed my mind until I began drafting this post and reflecting on my own educational experiences.

I remember physically shaking as I dialled the office for help. I felt ashamed that I could not manage this little student, but at the same time knew help was necessary. I removed the students from the class, for their safety, and waited for backup – which was there in a heartbeat. What would my admin think? Would I be judged for not being able to handle the situation?

Supported, safe, and secure in the care of experienced CPI trained educators, the student was de-escalated and escorted out of the classroom. And then, as quickly as it started, it was over. We returned to the class, but my thoughts were still focused on what had happened 10 minutes beforehand. This singular event consumed many subsequent moments of the days that followed as I wrestled with what happened. I wanted to be able to do what they did. Was their skillset only achievable through experiencing it in person? Would I be better next time because of it? Wisely, I’ve sought the wisdom of my SERT and admin ever since(many lessons learned).

For most new teachers, the test always comes before the lesson when it comes to discipline and responding to students in various states of distress. Theories are read, strategies planned, and words of advice are offered. Yet, until an educator is in the classroom, no amount of tool box equipping will prepare them for the individuals and situations they’ll encounter in our schools. We have to lean on one another in these times. This is why it is so important for teachers at all stages of their careers to find support and wisdom in their fellow educators. It does not mean you are weak to ask for help.

It means you, like your students, are constantly learning.
That is the true heart and art of teaching and learning.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share and add your comments to continue the conversation.
Thank you for reading.

Updated: October 31, 2017 — 9:44 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

P/J lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at

1 Comment

Add a Comment
  1. Mike Beetham says:

    Once again your experience, knowledge and wonderful ability to put it into words has provided all teachers with both a valuable and passionate message. Thank you for broaching such a timely and critical topic. The current increase in maladaptive behaviour and the escalating violence in our classrooms is real. We are not alone and to repeat your message, it is okay to seek support.

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