My first year teaching in a private school at the Unites Arab Emirates was something for the books. It is always a difficult thing to replace another teacher and even more when students are as loving as the students at Manor Hall.
One of the second grade teachers had to go back to her country after spending six months in the beautiful city of Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. I immediately felt like I was put in the right place at the right time. I was hired to replace her. I was very fortunate to have an administration that knows the importance of a slow transition of teachers, thus, I had two weeks to get to know my students before I took over the class. This is when I met Aisha, who looked at me with suspicious eyes and a defiant face, almost as if she knew something was going on.
I learned that students would see you as an intruder when you arrive in the middle of the school year. So, I needed to start strong and extra strict to establish discipline in the classroom for the future. Aisha really loved her former teacher, so I knew it would be a challenge to get her to warm up to me. It was even worse for her and the others once they realized that things had changed. This “new” teacher was different than the sweet, soft-spoken teacher they had just lost.
The challenge in a new classroom is to have students see you as the authority figure and not as an intruder who is changing everything, to make them realize that discipline, structure and a little bit of tough love makes learning and teaching easier. That change can be frustrating for students and teachers when students constantly emphasize how the previous teacher used to run the classroom: “Miss Ana always let us…,” “Miss Ana never…,””Miss Ana was so nice and never got mad at us”.
She was indeed nice, while I was very stern due to my experience with middle school students, which helped me manage the class faster and change procedures, routines, and bad habits sooner. But my little Aisha did not see it that way. She even told me she wanted her teacher back and that she preferred her to me. I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me. I was used to being the cool middle school teacher and now I was the mean 2nd grade teacher.
But tough love is never easy. For her own good, I moved her to a place where she could not copy anyone and had to try to do the work on her own. I would always repeat the same lines to her, “I believe you are smart and that you can do your own work. It makes me sad that you don’t think the same. Try it”.
Much has changed since that day. I don’t have to be extra strict anymore. They have their procedures and routines in place. But more than anything, they complete tasks on their own. I am happy to report that Aisha comes every morning to give me a big hug before going outside for assembly. She does not remind me of how sweet her other teacher was and her reading skills and math reasoning have increased. She still struggles, but now she is confident enough to try to do her own work. She made me so happy when one day she told me: ” I can do it miss. I am smart to try it on my own”.