Memoirs of A First-Year First Grade Teacher Aide

As I look back on my experience teaching first grade as a teacher aide at The American School of Madrid, I have a lot of fond memories.  When you work in a formal education environment, you really gain access to a different part of yourself that you may not have known existed prior to your classroom experience.  Sure, you may have known that you enjoyed being around children--but you truly discover your strengths and weaknesses when you're placed in front of a group of 20 6-year olds, 5 days a week, for 5 hours per day!

Working in a Private American School as a Teacher Aide

Upon earning my bachelor's degree in English and American Literature, I realized I wanted to travel.  I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do, and felt like I was looking at 1,000 doors!  I remember thinking to myself, "Hmmm....I have tutored a lot, I used to babysit, I have worked in day care facilities, been a summer nanny....why not live in Spain for 1 year and be a teacher aide?"  A good friend of mine had actually been a teacher aide at The American School of Madrid, so after getting some information from her, I decided to apply.  Upon hearing that I got the job, I remember thinking, "I can handle kids--it's a bunch of 1st graders.  How hard could it really be?"  Don't worry, I ate my words that year--and way too many jello snack packs from leftover lunches.

Preparing a First-Grade Classroom

With knowledge from my psychology classes and my tutoring, daycare and babysitting experiences fresh in my mind, I packed my bags and moved to Madrid, Spain.  I remember spending about a week decorating the classroom, which in essence (any teacher will probably laugh at this next comment) is basically a gigantic scrapbook with 4 walls and one ceiling.  First graders are generally about 6 years old--and are very, very visual.  We had to make sure that all of the bulletin boards were colorful, clearly-labeled and easy-to-understand.  We needed to blend the concepts outlined in the first grade American curriculum (the curriculum this school followed as an American school in Spain) with an entertaining display of colorful cutouts.   Needless to say, there was a lot of cutting, pasting, stapling, painting and organizing during that week before school started.  I was pooped before the kids even arrived!  Tired, but excited, of course.

A Day-in-the-Life of a First Grade Teacher Aide

As a teacher aide, I wasn't aware that I would be involved in so much hands-on teaching!  I loved it, but just be aware that the teacher you work for may have a tendency to have you run entire lessons.  Looking back, it was a phenomenal experience; however, I wasn't aware prior to taking the job that I would be leading 50 plus percent of the direct instruction time.  A great challenge that forced me to rise to the occasion, but a bit of a surprise when you move to a foreign country thinking you're going to be doing recess duty and a few cardboard cut-outs!

Here was our daily routine, most of which I ran in the morning while my primary teacher graded or got her lesson plan together:

1.  Morning line-up

2.  Morning message -- "Good morning boys and girls....we are going to be learning about the blend "ch" today...."

3.  Reciting blends -- I would hold flashcards and the students (sitting on the carpet in front of me) would recite the blend that appeared on the card as a group, i.e. "bl", "sh", "ck", "ch" to practice their visual word recognition and pronunciation of commonly used blends

4.  Morning story -- usually of a book we were reading -- 1 chapter per day -- 2 if they were good!

5.  Morning snack -- set up, handed out and cleaned up by yours truly

6.  Morning Lesson -- primary teacher takes over for morning lesson

7. Centers time -- primary teacher and I, the teacher's aide, would circulate the room while the student's completed their table's activity, which reinforced the lesson that was presented that morning

8.  Lunch -- recess duty!

9.  P.E./Spanish -- our prep period -- as the teacher aide, I did most of the grading, while my primary teacher did most of the lesson planning and prep work for future lessons

10.  Wind-down, homework help and study hall -- hey, it's never too early to emphasize how important homework time is!

11.  Home!

How Online Education Classes Can Improve Your Teaching Skills

What I didn't include in that schedule listed above were the specific problems I encountered during these routine activities.  They seem pretty straight-forward, right? Read the morning message, flash some flash cards, answer some questions.....well, I certainly developed a whole new level of respect for elementary school teachers after the lather-rinse-repeat routine that I performed every day in the classroom. The children were amazing, and I've never laughed so hard nor have I been the recipient of more hugs in my life; however, I wish I knew that online education classes, with an emphasis on concepts like Classroom Management, were merely a few clicks away. 

I knew how to talk to kids, but what I had to learn the hard way was how to talk to kids when you're trying to teach them a brand new academic concept that their 6 year old brains have never heard of before.  Looking at the list of online subjects available to teachers through various online education programs, I feel I could have really increased my efficiency as a teacher aide had I been enrolled in supplemental online classes.  Even just to take a child psychology class online at night after school may have given me some valuable insight that would explain some students' abnormal behavior.

Hats Off to Credentialed Elementary School Teachers

Teaching was amazing.  This is more of a journal write than an article telling you how to teach.  I didn't earn my teaching credential, but through being a teacher aide and learning the hard way, I figured out that there is a lot more to teaching first grade than simply reading stories and doing show-and-tell. 

My hats go off to elementary school teachers--when you think about it, these women and men who spend so much time with these kids during their formative years are building a foundation that will carry these children through the rest of their lives! No wonder teaching credential programs and re-certification is offered to even the best teachers out there. There is so much to learn about curriculum design, child psychology, classroom management, learning styles, learning disabilities, individual versus group learning, parent-child communication, and much, much more.  

So next time someone tells you "I'm an elementary school teacher" give them a round of applause.  Merely being a teacher aide was a challenge--certainly a rewarding one--but one that made me realize that I too am still a student in this class called "life."