Dear First Year Teacher
Dear First Year Teacher,
Congratulations! You have just earned the responsibility of molding young minds. Are you quivering with excitement? Brimming with anxiety? Filled with the urge to buy all the school supplies? Are you overwhelmed? Are you confident and ready?
You might be all of the above ... all at once. That's good. That means you're alive, which is like the first requirement of being a teacher! Put a check in that box!
This profession is rewarding on so many levels, however, it comes with its fair share of trials. When it gets hard, remember why you started and what made you fight so hard to get your name on your own classroom door. Not every day is a movie scene, but hopefully you get small moments of magic that keep you coming back.
As as a first year teacher entering my second semester, I have learned a lot from my own experiences and from interacting with my peers. I work in a Title I school with 79% of students receiving free or reduced lunch. 80% of the student population is black, and I am a white female teacher. It would be silly to think that I could ever summarize a whole semester with a blog post, but I'll try, and that leads me piece of advice number one ...
1. There will never be enough time. Realize this early and find closure in repeating this mantra daily, because ultimately, this realization will free you from a lot of guilt, shame, and anxiety. There will always be grading to do and lessons to plan, you will never be caught up 100%, which means that YES, it's OKAY to leave work at a decent time and not take anything home. You need to set boundaries. It is impossible to leave work at work mentally, so don't bring it home physically. Take time to recharge so you can be energized for the kids.
2. Not everything needs a grade. When we fix grades to every assignment, it teaches the kids that their effort only matters if it is capable of being translated to a point value. Sometimes it's not about the end result, it's about the process. Also, who has time to grade every single assignment?! I already told you there will never be enough time ... don't waste what little you have trying to add a check or a check plus to a warm up!
3. Kids don't want stuff. They want relationships. Let's be clear: I'm talking about giving them your time and attention, nothing shady. Go to their games. acknowledge them in the hallways by name. Talk to them one-on-one. You will quickly start referring to the children who come to your classroom as "my kids" -- if you call them your kids, treat them like your kids. This means you will need to be patient like a parent, and if you mess up, own it. Parents should want to see their kids succeed, and you'll need to invest in their success like it is your own success, because it is! I'm not talking about test scores, people! I'm talking about meaningful relationships. Find a way to relate to your kids; you can't get to the content without making the connection. Seek first to understand, then teach from that understanding. It doesn't take much to meet them in the middle.
4. It's okay to not know everything. It's not okay to pretend you do. Kids can see through a façade in a heartbeat and if you insist on not being real, they will call you out. Instead of making it awkward, give them the opportunity to be a teacher. Although you are the professional teacher in the classroom, you are not the only teacher -- each one of your students has a unique wealth of knowledge accrued from their own life experiences. Give them opportunities to teach you something, and give those opportunities often! Learning doesn't stop just because you received a degree, it's a daily practice that comes with exposure. Invest in your classroom community by practicing communal learning. And don't worry if you mess up, it's just an opportunity to model humility.
5. Reflect reflect reflect. Then reflect some more. Your first year is all trial and error, it's expected. But if you don't learn from your errors, you'll never grow. Be honest about what didn't work and pull from what has worked when you're struggling. Seek out advice from your colleagues and rework it to fit the needs of your classroom. Make decisions based on your kids and their individual learning styles and preferences, because no one knows them better than YOU. Stay eager to grow.
6. Smile and laugh (when appropriate). Don't reserve your warmth for after Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Learning should be fun -- don't waste energy on being a buzzkill in order to gain street cred ... that's not genuine or enjoyable.
There's no secret formula to success, and most of the time you'll feel like you're in survival mode. I promise you will survive (or at least you should ...) and every year, you will get better. When you are weary, remember why you started. Remember the joy of feeling challenged. Remember that kids need teachers who stay. Remember that there was once a teacher who reached you in some way -- you can be that teacher for so many students. You can do this.
Another First Year Teacher