Heeju Park is a first year Kindergarten teacher in New York City. She just finished her degree at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. She teachers at P.S.158 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Here, Park gives us a glimpse of what the first week for a new teacher is like in New York City. Hint: hectic!
Here’s Park’s sleep diary written by her.
Thursday, September 15th
Today marks the completion of my first official week as a first year Kindergarten teacher. I’ve only known what it means to be an Assistant Teacher or a Student-Teacher, so I could not fully fathom how this first week would go.
I was up most of the night of my first day wondering, what kind of students would I have? Will I be able to create a classroom that I envision? But most importantly I questioned how my life would look not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well: What will my day to day life look like? Especially because I was transitioning from the unstructured easy days of summer to a huge shift in my life. As the first week got underway, I finally got a bit of a hold on my days.
5:30 am: Rise and Shine
I used to wake up and immediately embark on a rigid morning routine: journal, meditate and say a few affirmations. However, now, I realize more than ever, sleep is a beautiful thing that I cannot get enough of. Now I am on a simple mission to force myself to get more Zzz’s! This means waking up to a phone alarm, and getting straight to the bathroom to brush my teeth and make my beautiful Folgers Instant dark black iced coffee. My tastebuds are so immune to the dark bitter coffee that without the strength of it, my whole body cannot get up. I try to drink as much as I can in the morning before I leave because throughout the day it’s hard for me to leave the classroom to use the bathroom (inside teacher info!).
I skip a real breakfast because I have to head out of my apartment in Queens at an early 6:15 a.m. My priorities have changed from spending time in the morning eating breakfast to my skincare routine (especially sunscreen!). I then choose clothes that are comfortable My go-to outfits are trousers and basic white tees.
I make sure I have all my folders of prep work for each subject in my bag. Thankfully, I still live with my parents and my little brother who also goes to school. Getting through the mornings with them awake gives me morning energy. My mom also packs me my lunch, which tends to be kimbap, a Korean seaweed roll with my choice of having bacon and egg inside. It’s easy and quick to eat during my lunch. She also packs me my water bottle, and my iced coffee for the day, and then I am headed to school. Thanks, mom!
6:25 am: Commuting
The mornings have been chilly the past few days. It confuses me on what outfit choices to make because it isn’t chilly the whole day. I walk for 10 minutes to reach the subway station and the morning crisp air slowly wakes me up. The 10 minute walk also helps me get my steps in, something that I always did in my summer mornings.
I take the F train for three stops and transfer to the Q train. I have so many different options to choose from to arrive at my school on the Upper East Side, but I find the minimal stops on the F and the Q to be more convenient. Although sometimes I wait for the Q for 10 minutes and longer, I use that time to go through my ‘eternal to-do list’ document to remind myself of the steps I need to take in the morning, when I get to school. These are very New York City specific doings.
In the mornings, the view of the Upper East Side is a sight.
7:10 am: Arriving To My Classroom
It takes me 10 minutes to walk to my school from the subway station. I always pass by people that are hurriedly on their way to their corporate work and a lot of nurses and doctors who work at a hospital nearby. It motivates me to know that all of us are passionate to get to one place in this city to persevere through the day.
When I get to school, I head to the main office to sign in and pick up my attendance folder. Then I bring it over to my classroom which is right across from the office. First thing I do is put the chairs down and turn on the AC. The classroom is always steamy.
Every morning I try to complete different task. I’ve been working on setting a balance between bringing work home the day before and getting things done early in the morning on the next day. I had to change the routine of the schedule to fit the specials (art, science, music) that my class had on today. Then I had to get the slides ready for the morning and I also made sure that I did not miss any emails.
8:30 am: Pick Up My Students
All my Kindergarten students wait for me in the school yard. It’s so great to see their little faces beaming with excitement when they see me coming out to pick them up. All of them are getting used to school and haven’t been crying as much as they did those first few days, which makes me feel like (I hope) I am creating a fun space for them.
We line up and go inside to start a new day.
10:45 am: Lunch and Planning
I drop my kids in the cafeteria for their lunch and then have my own lunch with the lovely Kindergarten team that I work with. We eat together and we talk about how the day is going. Even though they all worked together before, I always felt welcomed and safe. Most of my team members have been working here for up to six years, so they are always providing me insight about certain lessons. Thursdays are when we have our prep meetings. This is when we talk about what we will be working on each day of the following week. This has us on the same page and talk through what we will do. We also spent this time thinking about what had happened this week and to see how the students responded to certain lessons.
2:50 pm: Dismissal and More Work Time
The school day might be over for the kids, but for me it goes on. After all the kids’ parents pick them up, I go back to my classroom to clean the tables and put the chairs up. I respond to emails, and try to create big charts for the kids that reflect the learning they did today. I organize the papers of plans I used and put them in respective folders. Even though it gets messy and disorganized throughout the day (I mean it is Kindergarten), I still manage to get it back to its original shape.
Over the summer, I would go on runs at Central Park and attend fitness classes in the mornings, but now I have difficulty finding the energy to do so, especially after school. Working out has definitely been an outlet for me to relax and be with myself, but fitting it into my new busy days has been a challenge. Hopefully, after this week, I can get it back into my routine, but for now I will consider my job a workout itself.
6:30 pm: Dinner and Work From Home
Sometimes I think about moving out of my parents’ house, but the pros outweigh the cons so far. I always have dinner waiting for me when I get home. I text my mom to let her know I am coming, so that she can have food ready for me. Thanks, Mom.
After an exhausting day, and having barely any time to eat, I know that my dinner will help replenish the nutrients I could not get during the mornings and afternoons. My mom made me Kimchi Fried Rice. I’m Korean, so eating Korean food after a long day allows me to realize I’m back at home.
After dinner, I try to avoid laying on my bed because my eyes would shut right away. Especially because I have that ‘eternal to-do list’ ready for me, I automatically go to my desk and have that open. I look at all the curriculum books that are associated with Reading and Writing and Math and I think about “What am I going to teach? How am I going to teach it?” and most importantly, “Why am I going to teach it?”. These three questions help me develop a plan for the next day.
9:30 pm: Dear Sleep
By 9:00 pm I am exhausted. I used to need to read to fall asleep. Now, once I flop my body onto bed, my eyes struggle to stay open and my brain lets me know pretty immediately that it needs to go into sleep mode as soon as possible, for me to regain the energy the next day.
There is definitely a pro in being able to sleep quickly, but also a con because I am sacrificing some of the things I used to love to do daily, due to making sure I have enough sleep: finish a book in two days, scrolling on Instagram, night-time journaling, chatting with my friends who stay up. I do love being with my students, so I guess that is worth it! Plus side is holiday breaks, when I can enjoy more time for myself.
Throughout the day I am so on my feet that I realize the beauty of my bed and my room. The floral sheets that embrace my mattress make me happy and the charts that I sometimes bring home and put up on the walls across from my bed motivate me. I definitely miss the summers where I can lay on my bed anytime I want, but the sunset and sunrise lamp that sits below my bed allow me to wake up with the joy of starting a new day.