It’s that time of year again! Time when the backpacks are full of fresh school supplies, the desks are clean, and the bulletin boards eagerly awaiting student work.
More importantly, a newly minted group of teachers is welcoming their students, ready to change the world. With all of my recent graduates in mind, I share these words of wisdom for the new teachers out there:
1. This year is going to be hard. Really hard. You are now going to be faced not only with applying all of that knowledge you soaked up in your certification program, but also with managing the ins and outs of a working classroom. Manage your time wisely, and leave your classroom each day with everything ready to go for the next morning.
2. Remember how I said this year was going to be hard? You’re going to mess up. Sometimes you’ll see the screwup coming a mile away; sometimes it will sneak up on you silently. Sometimes that lesson that you put hours into planning will fail spectacularly. Sometimes you will lose your cool and say something you wish you hadn’t said. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. The first year of teaching is, in many ways, like the first pancake. It’s ugly and a little burned around the edges, but it still tastes okay. The next pancake is better, and so the next school year will be better as well. Teaching well, consistently, takes practice.
3. Find your teacher tribe. You need a community of strong, like minded educators to support you through the tough times and celebrate the successes. You might not find this community at your school; stay in touch with the teachers you went to school with. This support system will be critical to your success.
4. Stay in touch with your favorite professors. They have been where you are, and they will be able to help you with important issues and big decisions. They can also provide you with lots of resources that you might never have thought of asking for during your certification program.
5. Leave your work at work. If at all possible, don’t take assignments home to grade, and don’t give out your home phone number. If you want parents or students to be able to contact you after hours, use email and set up a Google Voice number; you can get both voice calls and texts there without having your phone ring during movie night. Giving yourself uninterrupted time to NOT be a teacher is vital to your mental health.
6. Reflect on everything you do. I know you have a thousand papers to grade, and you need to set up lab equipment, and you have an inservice meeting to go to, but take 10 minutes and think, write, or talk about your successes and failures each day. Not only will it reduce your stress level, but being honest with yourself about your teaching practice will help you to consistently improve.
7. If it’s not in the best interests of your students, don’t do it. This is the dangerous piece of advice. You are going to be asked to do things that are not in your students’ best interests. You’ll be told to use a particular book, or give a particular test, or that “this is how it’s done here.” Use your professional judgment, and critically evaluate everything you are told to do. If you think it is going to have a negative impact on your students, talk to your administrators. If they won’t budge, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Significant change will never happen as long as teachers agree to maintain the status quo. Be critical, and when you bring up an objection, be prepared to back it up with research and evidence. Remember that you are not just a teacher; you are also an advocate for your students’ needs; you are often the ONLY advocate for your students’ needs. Know what hills you’re willing to die on.
Keep your chin up, let negativity roll off your back, and start teaching. You got this.