Every year new teachers step up to the plate for the first time. There is so much to learn, do, and organize that sometimes I feel that the most critical parts of the puzzle are lost in the shuffle. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has advice for you. Every where you turn there is a new training, district implementation, or face to meet. How do you tackle it all?
The answer is simple; you don’t. As a first year teacher, you need to focus on you and your students. You need to define who you are as a classroom teacher without all the interference and subterfuge that comes from well meaning people who you interact with in the hallways and workrooms in your schools.
So here it is, another well meaning person sharing some advice with you. Take it, or leave it, but these little gems are the ones I wish I had gotten from my mentor 20+ years ago.
- Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the perfect classroom set up. Be kind to yourself. Take breaks and realize that as pretty as Pinterest makes all classrooms appear, the decorations and banners are not going to make or break your year.
- Focus on making connections with your learners. Take time to get to know them. I know well meaning coworkers are piling copies in your room and reminding you of all the curriculum you have to cover, but please remember to put your learners first. Invest in them and they will invest in learning with you.
- Find your marigolds. Choose the faculty you spend precious time with wisely. If someone’s rhetoric is negative and downs your first year enthusiasm with sage words like; “Things were so much easier when I was a first year teacher,” or “Teaching these kids is tough.” Maybe they are the walnut tree raining toxicity down on your garden.
- The test is important, but the kids and their growth is the most important thing you need to focus on. If you teach, care, and focus on kids their growth is sure to follow.
- Be brave. Try new things. It’s okay for a lesson or project to fail. Embrace the ability to fail forward, reflect on that failure, plan, adjust, and soar the next go-round. Your students aren’t perfect and neither are you. Our students need to learn that failure is a learning opportunity and modeling that is essential.
- Communication is key! Please communicate with others and often. Communicate with your students, their parents, your coworkers, your admin, and your mentor. Make positive phone calls home, and yes I said phone calls. I’m a techie, but hearing your child’s teacher gush over your child is a moment of sheer bliss for all parents. Leverage technology to allow yourself to reach a wider audience. The more you allow people into your classroom through clearly communicating your goals, missions, progress, and student victories, the better the sense of community.
- It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t believe for one second that anyone expects you to know what you need to do and how to do it every moment of every day. There are seasoned teachers who will candidly tell you that every year is a new year. Ask for help. Learn from your marigolds. Seek out your mentors and instructional coaches. You fought hard for your coveted position, now allow your school’s support system to help you find success.
- Understand and embrace the importance of your role as an educator. Students will look to you as a role model. That’s a heady responsibility. When you are in public, they will see you. Rush to say hi, or even hide from you. Be prepared to be spotted on your worst hair day ever, sick and running for meds. Smile, because that student who spotted you and rushes up to say hi just realized you don’t live in your classroom and you have a real life like them.
- Take care of yourself. You will get sick, tired, and overwhelmed. This is to be expected. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of your students? Sick days, though not ideal, are given for a reason. You will be tired your first year, and germs are a reality in classrooms. Find time to do things that make you feel good, relaxed, and happy. Hit the gym, go for a walk, curl up with a good book, or spend time with a loved one. Whatever you do, pace yourself the school year is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Don’t overextend yourself. Superheroes weren’t created/born/mutated in a day. It takes time to hone your craft. Allow yourself time to get good at your instruction, routines, etc before you volunteer your life away. There is always need for something more and all hands on deck in schools. However balance is essential. As a first year teacher, teaching is your job and I dare say should be the only one whenever possible. Coaching, running clubs, doing extra duties can come later. Stick to learning the basics and becoming the best teacher you can before you don your superhero cape and flex those extracurricular muscles.
Now that I’ve shared those nuggets of wisdom, I am ready to don my superhero cape, rush into school, and overextend myself with too many projects and too little time. As you rush into your first year in your classroom, find time to cherish it. You will never get another first year of teaching. This year will be a year of amazing learning and growth for you. You’ve worked hard to get through school, interview, and land a position. Now celebrate your arrival. You are a teacher. You are a star. Allow yourself to shine.