If you're a newer visitor to my blog, you should know that my first year teaching (last year) was no picnic. Let's just say that there were A LOT of tears and a lot of times I considered quitting. Luckily, I had a lot of wonderful people around me to help me through the year, and I came back this year for Round 2 renewed, refreshed, and with a new perspective. I've given the First Year a lot of thought, and I've decided that these are the 12 most important things that helped me make it through, or that would have made things easier. The truth is that so many teachers quit in the first few years, and that doesn't have to be the case. Teaching is hard, but if you are one of those people with the passion for teaching in your heart, then it is SO worth it.
*If you like this list, please share it with the young teachers in your life!*
1. Build a support system for yourself both in and out of school This was so important for me last year, and continues to be important for me this year. If you are as fortunate as I was in my first year, you will have a great mentor assigned to you and a couple of really awesome, supportive teammates who make it their business to get you through your year. I'm not kidding, one morning when I was in tears over how many management issues I was having in my classroom, my teammates came in and helped me rearrange the desks, then covered my class for the first 15 minutes of the day while I collected myself. It's important also to have other teachers to talk to who KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH! For me, this was another first year teacher in my building and a friend from college who was also starting out her career. Our other friends didn't understand why we were so stressed out, and it was therapeutic to be able to talk about what I was going through with someone who was going through the same thing.
2. Have an outlet to relieve stress that is completely unrelated to teaching This is something I really wish I had done a better job at last year. It is easy to become consumed by the job, especially the first year, and I'm sorry to say that I definitely let myself become far too consumed last year. Make time to work out, play a sport, read, etc. as often as possible. Burn out is real, and a balance of work and fun is so important. I am still working on this one. :)
3. Set a cut-off time for yourself to leave school each night, and STICK TO IT This is another one that I wish I had done a better job at last year! While there is so much work to be done as a teacher in general, it is extra overwhelming as a first year teacher. It's really easy to get caught up and suddenly be the last one in the building...Last year, I stayed at school until 7 or 8 on a nightly basis. One particularly rotten night, I was at school until 10pm. I vowed that that would never happen again. I still have lots to do this year, but now I set a cut-off time for myself. Pick 1 or 2 days when you're going to stay at school late to copy things or do whatever you need to do, and on the other days, do everything possible to get yourself out of the buildng early. Trust me when I say that it's good for the soul.
4. Make peace early on with the fact that you will not be able to "do it all" the first year Oh gosh, this was a tough one for me to learn. When I realized all of the challenges in my classroom last year, I was overwhelmed. I had no idea how to help 5th graders who could barely read, unmedicated and out of control ADHD kids, kids with terrible home lives and emotional problems, and kids with no respect for adults. A life long perfectionist, of course I thought I needed to fix everything and everyone right away. I also thought I needed to be awesome at teaching every subject right away. Realistic expectations, right? Guess how I felt when it turned out I wasn't an immediate rockstar? Let's just say there were a lot of tears...About two months into the school year, I started adjusting my expectations. I focused on growing stronger in one area at a time. First it was management. Then reading. Then math. Then writing...you get the idea. Am I an expert now? Nope. Not even close. But once I realized that I wasn't going to be amazing at everything right away and started setting smaller goals, it was a lot easier to feel like I was growing and see that we were making progress.
5. Ask for help And ask again, and again, and again. The truth is, you're gonna need a lot of it (if your first year is anything like mine, that is)!! There are resources in your school to help you with difficult children and difficult curriculum--USE THEM! No one wants to seem like an incompetent idiot their first year, but don't be afraid to ask for help from your principal, social worker, psychologist, reading specialists, special services teachers, teammates, etc. I would never have made it through last year without the support I received from so many wonderful people!
6. Know your limits ...and respect them. Maybe don't volunteer to coach a sport or start a club your first year. Maybe don't sign up for committees. Rethink the second job. Remember, it's okay to say no to some things. It will pay off in terms of keeping your sanity in tact!!!
7. Celebrate small achievements This goes both for you and for the kids. It took me awhile to put things into perspective with my kids. I had student taught in a fairly affluent elementary school, and starting my job in a low-income school was a reality-check. When I saw just how academically needy most of my students were, I panicked. Eventually, though, I realized that while I may not be able to get every kid up to grade level, it is worth celebrating every small step. It's also worth celebrating YOUR growth as a teacher. Take a moment to celebrate that you finally have trained your kids to line up appropriately or walk down the hall without talking. Celebrate that you got through a math lesson without losing your patience (still working on this one... :-/). Celebrate that you made it through a week without staying past 6. As new teachers, it's easy to get caught up on the things we still need to improve at. Take time to appreciate how far you've come.
8. Think of something you loved about the day before leaving school, no matter how small it is This is one little thing that makes a BIG difference. It's easy to get caught up in and dwell on the negative things, and there were many days I'd drive home in tears thinking about the challenging students or what had gone wrong in my lessons. One of my coworkers told me very simply that I need to think about the wonderful students at night, NOT the ones that were draining my life. While there are good days and bad days, I found it easier to classify good and bad in terms of moments. There weren't many days that were 100% good, but when I looked for happy moments, it was easier to find them. Sometimes they were just reading aloud to the class, or how, when my water bottle spilled, one student jumped up, grabbed paper towels, and cleaned it up for me. Look for a happy moment that reminds you why you're here, and can get you back into school tomorrow.
9. Find something to love about every single kid, no matter how tough that may be This one pretty much speaks for itself, but I am a firm believer that teaching is an act of love. We need to love our students, and we need to get them to fall in love with us. The former makes the latter possible.
10. VENT. But also understand and respect the line between venting and complaining Venting is important, if only because it preserves your sanity!!
11. Approach every day as a fresh start, both for yourself and your kids Lost your patience with a kid yesterday? Lesson flopped? Couldn't control your class? Lucky for you, every day really is a fresh start with teaching. If you realize one day that your behavior plan isn't working, the next day go in and change it. If your seating arrangement isn't working, change it. If your lesson flopped, teach it differently tomorrow. If you lost it with a kid, go in tomorrow and apologize straight off. I guarantee they will forget about it in a day (the younger ones will at least, and the older ones will let you earn them back). The really great thing about kids is that they adapt. It gives you a change to learn and grow and adapt too.
12. Remind yourself every day that it only gets better from here :) It does. I promise. :)