Our Stories

First year teaching: It's all about teamwork!!


Kristin Deeks graduated from the Mount Royal University (MRU) Bachelor of Education Elementary Program in the spring of 2015. While at MRU she was also the Captain of the Women's Soccer Team and a Canadian Inter-university Sport (CIS) Academic All-Canadian.

Initially, Kristin's goal after graduation was to substitute teach for the first year in order to develop her confidence and experience in the profession. But . . . she completed her final practicum at Heritage Heights School with the Foothills School Division and the Senior Administration at this school had other plans for her. After completing her practicum, Kristin began interviewing for substitute teaching positions with the various school divisions in the Calgary area. While waiting for a Calgary Board of Education interview with two of her MRU classmates she received a phone call from the principal of Heritage Heights inviting her for an interview for a Grade 2 teaching position the next day.

" I came in for the interview with Heritage Heights but I was very nervous. They were great though. They said that this was just a conversation. They gave me the interview questions in advance so I had twenty minutes to look at them but I was just exploding inside. Honestly, I did not do very well in my interview. I was amazed when they called me back and said that they wanted to hire me based on my fourth year practicum experience. The vice principal had observed me teaching one of my lessons during my practicum the Vice Principal also attended our practicum showcase where we demonstrated our program ePortfolios and applied curriculum projects. The Vice Principal was very excited about my inquiry-based unit plan for Math and she invited me into her office to learn more about my work. She asked if I could send her all my practicum planning material such as lesson plans and reflections. This was easy for me to do since it was all in a series of Google Docs that I could share with her".

Once hired, Kristin began immediately planning for the new school year. "Over the summer I spent time and money preparing my Grade 2 class. A lot of the furniture in this room has been given to me from other teachers in the school. Lady Bug table, Scholastic shelves, back shelf, all these shelves were given to me. Lots of teachers were happy to give me old books".

In addition, the Foothills School Division has a new teacher orientation before the beginning of the school year. "In the morning they went through benefits and paper work and then in the afternoon there was a workshop about surviving your first year. They also have cohorts for first, second, and third year teachers. It reminds me of Mount Royal. There is a first year cohort and they explained to us that we would have cohort meetings throughout the year. Each cohort has a different topic for the year. For the first year's it is Backwards Design, the second year is Assessment, and the third year is Digital Technologies. So our focus is on Backwards Design this year and we have met two times so far this year. It's like being in a Mount Royal class. There are 15 of us in the first year cohort and 4 of us are MRU graduates".

With regards to in-school support, Kristin stresses the "amazing support from the Administration Team. I cannot sing praise for them enough. They texted me throughout the summer to check-in on how I was doing. I go into their offices every third day to ask a question and their door is always open. I have their cell phone numbers if I need anything. I was very nervous at the beginning of the school year but they were able to calm me down and put me on the right track. They gave me a beautiful journal at the beginning of the year to document my first year. They have sat me down to discuss the first year evaluation process and how it will take place from the end of November through to January. They emphasized that it's a growth plan. They are really awesome - they just really want to support, develop, and grow their teachers".

Kristin admits that "at the beginning of the year I was very anxious and my confidence was pretty low. The two other Grade 2 teachers really wanted to help me settle in and they gave me lots of resources and ideas. But I felt like I was getting overwhelmed and a bit lost because I wasn't focusing on what I wanted to do with my students and what the children needed. So now that I have settled in I've started to do my own planning but we still meet as a Grade 2 Team on a regular basis to share ideas and resources. We just met the other Grade 2 teacher who graduated from MRU in Journalism, I go over to her house and we have plan and have laughter together. She sends texts and asks me how my day went. Her door is always open when I have questions and the same with the other Grade 2 teacher. Whenever I have a question, they drop everything and they help me".

According to Kristin, the Foothills School Division is very focused on professional development for their teachers. "Instead of early dismissals on Fridays - every other Friday in the Foothills School Division is a PD day. So it's the whole day without students. The morning is with the entire staff and we do a lot of awesome team building activities and discussions that are very meaningful. For example, on one of the first PD days we dissected our schools Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) results for Grade 3, 6, and 9. Based on our analysis of the results we decided as a school that we are going to focus on literacy this year. So last week, when we had our school PD day, we made SMART goals related to literacy for each of our Grade Teams. Each Grade Team then shared their ideas with the other teams. And, then as a Grade Team we discussed how we will infuse literacy into a specific unit plan for our grade level. Then at the end of the school year we plan to showcase and share these unit plans with our school community. These morning PD sessions are very well thought out and very intentional. The afternoons are spent planning in our Grade Teams and then we have individual time for planning and organization in our own classrooms".

In terms of how Kristin's time at MRU helped her prepare for her first year of teaching she indicates that "the School Administration openly admitted that I had an edge up on other teacher candidates because I was the Captain of the MRU Soccer Team. So I am going to be coaching junior high basketball. Also, the intense lesson planning that I experienced during my 3rd and 4th year practicums. I know that a lot of us during the practicums complained that we didn't need to write our plans all out because we thought we knew what we were doing but my Google Docs planning documents helped me to get hired. In addition, I really want to emphasize how important the applied curriculum project is for the Capstone course. Our School Administration really liked the inquiry focus of my unit plan for Grade 3 Math. So the focus on inquiry was a big thing. Getting the focus on inquiry pounded in my head throughout the program has really helped. I now focus on the bigger ideas and front matter of the program of studies guides when I'm teaching my Grade 2 class".

Kristin adds that she thinks "our MRU B.Ed. program standards are higher than other programs in Alberta from what I am hearing and observing from other teachers in the Foothills School Division. The eight programs of studies courses were also key to my MRU experience because we got to cover subject areas like Drama, Music, and Art that most other B.Ed. programs don't focus on. And, the modeling of all the faculty members in our B.Ed. program - whether it was in my Drama or Math program of studies classes. I learned not only the content but the ways in which I could engage and empower my students in these subject areas. In each Program of Studies course we really dissected the Alberta K to 6 curriculum and I now really understand the Front Matter for all Elementary subject areas. This helps me make sure my teaching is connected to these programs of studies documents. And, I wouldn't even know the Front Matter existed for each of the subject areas if we didn't go over it in our Program of Studies courses".

In terms of recommendations for the MRU B.Ed. program, Kristin suggests that the volunteer placement in the 2nd year of the fall semester include time in K to 6 schools before and during the beginning of the school year. "I must admit that I was losing my beans a bit this summer as I had no experience with setting up my classroom or how to start a new school year. I don't think this would work for a 3rd or 4th year practicum but I think it would work as a volunteer experience. If we could get second year students volunteering in classrooms before the beginning of the K to 6 school year. Helping and observing how a teacher sets up their classroom for volunteer hours. I know that I would have found that extremely useful because I was clueless about the process of setting up a classroom and beginning a new school year. For next year, I would love to have a MRU Education student volunteer to help me set up my classroom before the K to 6 school year begins. I think this would also be great PR for the MRU B.Ed. program because teachers and administrators could see how our program can be of service and benefit to their school and K to 6 students".

Finally, looking back on her time at MRU, Kristin would like to stress the importance of the first year Education courses. "I think a lot of people take for granted what you learn in first year and think it is really fluffy but the discussions we had about worldview and the importance of relationships with students and parents has stuck with me and really helped me in my first year of teaching. I would also recommend getting involved in the Education community. Even within our B.Ed. program there are opportunities to get involved, which unfortunately I wasn't able to do because I was on the soccer team but I wish I could have. Being part of the MRU Women's Soccer Team for five years really helped me learn about the different roles of a successful team. I now understand what my strengths and roles are on a team. I know how to pick and chose when I should share ideas and when I need to listen to the other members of my Grade Team for advice. Even as an athlete, I understood that I have a lot of things to learn. I am slowly developing my confidence and identity as a first year teacher. I know now when to ask for help and when to say thank you for the idea but maybe I will use it and maybe I will not. It's all about mindset - I'm really learning to keep an open mind".