It seems to me that there’s almost nothing more difficult in your career as a teacher than that first year! Everything is new and a bit overwhelming, and some days you feel like a fish that someone stuck out in the open ocean and just told to “swim…oh and good luck!” Of course not everyday is like this, but I wanted to share with you some tips that I’ve learned along the way.
1. It’s OK to make mistakes (and trust me you’re going to). For some reason, coming right out of college, I felt like I had to do everything right 100% of the time. I wanted, of course, to prove myself to all of the other teachers, parents, and students (and myself). When I realized that I was indeed human 🙂 and allowed to make mistakes (granted that I would learn from them and apologize when needed… yes even to my students!) I could let out a huge sigh of relief and learn and grown with everyone else.
2. Ask Questions…A LOT of them! There are so many things that happen in a school that you don’t learn about in college, and with every school differing in curriculum, policies, and style, you’re bound to have some things you just don’t know about. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask when you don’t know about something or don’t know how something works. I found that often the staff didn’t even realize when something came up that I didn’t know (especially if the staff have been there a long time, it’s just a part of their routine now). I also experienced that I sometimes didn’t know what questions to ask (I didn’t even know what I needed to know…eh? Make sense?). It’s ok to feel a little lost, but it’s not ok to not voice that to someone. You are not alone!
3. Learn from the Veteran’s. Find those teacher’s who’ve been in the business for hundreds of years and then stalk them. 🙂 Ok, a little bit of an exaggeration, but there are great teacher’s who have been teaching for a long time and a lot of them actually want to help you. Every teacher was once a first year teacher. Pick their brains, take them out for a hot drink, get to know them…you’ll be glad you did.
4. Visit other classrooms. With the internet and amazing blogs that are out there, you have classrooms accessible to you with the click of your mouse. Look at them. Find out what you like and don’t like. Beg, borrow, steal. I’ve found that most teachers love when you like an idea they have created and want to use in your room (granted you give them the credit). There is also tremendous value in visiting classrooms in person on your grade level. My first year, I went to two different 1st grade classrooms outside of my school, one each quarter. Not only did I create great relationships with other teachers, but I gleaned so much inspiration from watching other teacher’s teach. It also helped that I did this after the school year started for a professional development day, as I was learning more of the areas I wanted to improve upon and watching these teachers was the perfect answer.
5. Read, Read, and Read some more…about teaching. There are so many GREAT teacher-related books out there that can help you start your first year, most of which are written by teachers (YES!). Some of my favorites are “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong (an oldie but a goodie), ANYTHING by Debbie Diller (I especially love her “Spaces and Places” and “Math Workstations”), “The Daily Five” by the Two Sisters, and “The Essential 55″ by Ron Clark (Disney Teacher of the Year, 2000). I’m sure there are so many more books I could list here, as many other teachers could as well. So, ask your fellow teacher’s their suggestions, find recommended book lists on the internet, and begin your before bed reading routine!
6. Find your own style. As you’re reading and visiting and gleaning I’m sure you’ll notice certain things about classrooms and teachers that you really like, and other things that just aren’t you. It’s ok to take a little from here and a little from there to create your own style, but do just that, create YOUR own style. Just because there are great teachers out there, doesn’t mean that you have to do things exactly like them to be great too. We are all unique and bring something special to a classroom. Develop your own style and celebrate being you!
7. Wait a year to purge. There are some classrooms you’ll enter that have a TON of supplies and misc. stuff, and others that seem to be bare to the bone. If you enter a classroom that has a lot of stuff 1. Yes, it’s ok to go through and throw things out (it’s your classroom after all) 2. Be cautious this first year as you might find yourself saying the next year “Oops, I could have used that (fill-in-the-blank).” Now, I’m not one to condone hoarding (after all we’re selling ,most of our possessions and moving into an airstream for a year to lead a minimalist lifestyle), with that being said, don’t throw everything away and don’t keep everything that you don’t use for years and years just because it’s always been there and you may use it…someday. My advice is to do a quick run through and take inventory of things you may need that are not present, throwing away obvious trash or broken/worn out items, and organize the best you can what’s left. As the year goes on, take note of what you used and what you didn’t. At the end of the year, get rid of what you didn’t use (giving away to other teachers, thrift stores, homeschool associations, etc.). If you didn’t use it in a year, you probably won’t.
8. Have a life. This is really tough as a teacher in general, not to mention your first year, but you need to take time for yourself. Do things that aren’t school related such as; signing up for a class at a gym, crafting/sewing, take music lessons, have a weekly meet-up with a friend that isn’t a teacher. Whatever you do, it’s important that you write it down and work it into your weekly routine/schedule (after all, a goal not written is only a wish!). For me I had to make sure that I was setting boundaries with the time I spent at school (ex. I wouldn’t stay past __o’clock) and that my outside activities were with other people so that I had accountability to do them. We all want to be well-rounded individuals, and the more you can find balance between your work life and all other aspects, surprisingly, the better teacher (and person) you will be!
9. Keep a chocolate stash. I just had to throw this one in for fun. I always like to have something in my classroom for a little “treat” or pick me up. That way if I’m having a stressful day or needing a smile (or I didn’t eat breakfast HA!) I could go to a special drawer and snag something real quick. Just be careful. You’ve heard of the Freshman 15?? Well, it’s probably double that for the first year of teacher. So be sure, in addition to your chocolate stash, that you always start the day with a full water bottle and a healthy snack. Almonds or fruit are great choices to give you the healthy energy you will need!
10. Stay connected with God. I realize that not everyone is religious, but staying connected with God really was the number one thing that helped me through my first year as a teacher. There are so many things that can get you down that first year, between making deadlines to teacher lounge gossip, that can be simply overwhelming on your own. I would suggest keeping a journal to jot down your day and prayers, being sure to include 3 things you are thankful for each day. Gratitude is healing and a thankful spirit can really turn things around when they’re heading south quick! I also made it a priority to get in The Word daily, as well as to connect with other believers on a continual. With God all things are possible!
All in all, that first year can be the best year of your life!
I’m sure there’s so much more that I’ve left out, so if anyone has any other tips that really helped them through that first year (or things you wish you’d known) feel free to link up to your blog post and share. You can also leave a comment below if you’d prefer or if you don’t have a blog. We’re all in this together!
Go get ’em First Year Teachers!