Killian McIlvain is an ISU ECE alumni, and a first-year, Special Education teacher in a Chicago Public Schools blended bilingual Pre-K classroom. In this post, Killian offers advice pertinent to all teachers, especially those who are new to the field.
I graduated from ISU in May and immediately began searching for a teaching position. I knew I would prefer preschool and that I definitely wanted to be in a Chicago Public School, but beyond that I was pretty open- hey, a job’s a job! Interview after interview didn’t pan out, but I kept applying for everything that came my way until I ended up getting an interview for a special education preschool position that turned into a job offer I was thrilled to accept!
The only hiccup was that it was a co-teaching position, which I wasn’t too sure about. How would I get along with my co-teacher? What if they didn’t like me? What if they were awful and didn’t let me contribute to the classroom? These questions opened the gates for even more—I have the Special Education Letter of Approval, but is that really enough?
These questions plagued me constantly, but I was lucky enough to have a great support system to say, “Yes! It is enough! You’ll be fine!” Though, of course, just as I had started to think, “Okay, maybe I can do this,” I had my first one-on-one meeting with my co-teacher.
When I was hired, the blended program was just being created, and they were unsure with whom I would be co-teaching. My administration and Pre-K team discussed and decided to place me with Evan, who is a second year teacher, because they thought it would be easier for the two of us to work together to create a classroom as opposed to me coming into a class that had existed for years. I was so happy to hear this because I was very worried that co-teaching would end up with me as more of an assistant than a teacher. Also at our very first meeting (something new to worry about), I learned that our classroom would be bilingual! I do speak Spanish. I studied it in college and also studied abroad in Spain, but I was still more than a little nervous to learn that all of my instruction and interactions with students would be in Spanish.
But, see, here’s the thing—every twist and every turn has lead me to a job that I love more than I ever imagined possible. I am loving co-teaching. Yes, it has been hard at points; staying ahead of the game is sometimes impossible but always necessary, and we haven’t agreed on everything, but it has definitely had more good than bad. My co-teacher and I team-teach, so we are both sharing delivery of the same content at the same time, which has worked really well for us. It is a lot of give-and-take and working off what the other person has said, but we are lucky that this has felt natural from the start.
I am still nervous about the Special Education component, but I am learning to trust my training. As I go along, I realize that I know more than I thought, and I also know that each student is a completely unique person that I have to learn to teach in his or her own way. Neither of these things are really something I have ‘learned’ but they are very hard to wrap your mind around until you are actually in the midst of things.
As for the Spanish, it improves every day. Every day a student uses some new word I’ve never heard, but I’m figuring it out with the help of my native Spanish-speaking paraprofessional and Google Translate. I’ve learned “moco” means “booger,” and that my students are perfectly comfortable interrupting story time to say, “Ms. Killian, tengo mocos!” (I have boogers). I even recently observed in one of the English-speaking classrooms and kept speaking to those students in Spanish.
Overall, what I’ve learned in my first three months as a teacher is just to roll with it. Roll with it. Trust your training. Trust that you are prepared. Trust that you know what you’re doing, because in the end it always works out.