Dear First Year Teacher…Me,
Remember when you said you would NEVER step foot into a classroom and teach?
Jokes on you!
Your life is going to be forever changed from this moment on. From the moment you step into that classroom, you are a teacher.
You’ll wake up every morning, tired from lesson planning and preparing materials, but ready to impact the lives of kids who were strangers a few months ago, but those strangers will become your kids. You will fight for them, cry for them, dream of them, and remember them forever. Some will call you mom, and that’s exactly how you’ll feel as you try your best to mold and shape them into the people you believe they can be. They just don’t see it yet.
I want to warn you before you get started.
The Initial Shock
As a first year teacher, your first few months in the classroom will be “survival mode”. You will feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to not just the students but to the world. You’ll realize that in the short time you have with them, you will be an influence on the adults they will become. Kids will test you and the expectations you set. You will feel overwhelmed at the 20+ different personalities and needs in one room, and you’re the only one with the answers. You will wonder if you made a mistake. At times, you will look at the door and think about running.
Lesson plans, observations, walkthroughs, collaborative planning, professional development, small groups, snotty noses, attitudes, parent involvement (and non-involvement) and the list goes on will overwhelm you. There will be times that you wonder back to your days in school and think to yourself, “This must be karma.”
Breathe. Step Back. Gather Yourself.
Which brings me to the second aspect we need to discuss, self-care.
You will want to give it everything you’ve got every day. You’ll feel guilty when you don’t plan like you know you should. Sometimes, you’ll try and take time for yourself, and the responsibility for your students’ learning and lives will creep up on you and cause more guilt, making you feel restless and anxious.
You cannot put that amount of pressure on yourself and accept that amount of responsibility. You will find yourself burned out. The teacher you want to be will slowly disappear, and an angry, dismissive, anxious, and frustrated teacher will appear. In moments when you feel overwhelmed, take a day or two. Finish all your planning and grading before you leave school and have work-free weekends. Take time to work on what makes you happy and fulfills you…and no, I’m not talking about Chipotle and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
The last point I want to talk to you about is comparing yourself.
When you go for professional development, you will meet a few different types of teachers. It is easy to start the comparison process.
You’ll meet the veteran teacher, who has been teaching for 20+ years and knows content like the back of his or her hand. These teachers know all the strategies to use if a student is falling behind or has gaps in their learning. In other words, these teachers will be PERFECT to help you grow in the profession. Ask one of them to be your mentor or express to them when you need help with teaching a certain topic or concept. They are amazing. As a first year teacher, you NEED them in your life.
Another teacher you may meet will be the Pinterest teacher. His or her room will look amazing 99.9% of the time. That .1% will only be the days they’re absent. They will have amazing handwriting, beautiful centers, and room decor that will blow you away every time you walk in…and make you feel like your room sucks. Don’t even go there. You don’t need to have it all together. It’s just your first year. Appreciate their craft, ask for some tips, and if they’re willing, ask for some help on how to spruce up a corner or two in your room.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO THEM!!!
As the years go by, you will start to create your own space and way of doing things, from your teaching techniques to how you set up your classroom. Let’s be realistic. You’re a first-year teacher. Your room will probably look like crap for a few months, and that’s okay. You may have to go back and research a few topics after going over them again and realizing you made a mistake. That’s okay too. Focus on being the best teacher YOU can be, not what you think students want to see.
The last thing, don’t get stuck. Be A Lifelong Learner.
Be A Lifelong Learner
One of the things that happen as a first-year teacher is that you come in confident in what you know, or at least try to act like it. You’ve picked up teaching techniques throughout your training, aced your exams, and your kids seem to be learning and loving you.
This is where you come to a crossroads. At this moment, you can either choose to learn more from other teachers, professional developments and pieces of training, or decide that you know what’s best as a teacher and stop learning. You will think you got it down, and you don’t need help.
Students change. Curriculums change. People create alternative ways of learning for students that work better than what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to learn more. Sometimes professional developments will seem boring and redundant. However, there is always something you can learn or master as a teacher. So don’t sit in the back of meetings and trainings doing everything else but listening and engaging. Pay attention and get in the mindset of being a student. Keep an open mind, an open heart, and an open hand to receive everything available to you, especially when it’s free.
Allyson, teaching will change you. You will look at the world differently. You’ll start to see flaws in our world that you know will negatively affect your kids. It will make you angry. It will make you feel hopeless.
Above all, remember, you’re a part of a strong group of people all over this planet, educators. These people are your tribe. You’ll see them fighting against the injustices you see. Some of them even stepped out of the classroom and into government to help you fight. You aren’t alone in this journey.
So every night, when you’re the only one awake in the house, planning and prepping for tomorrow under a dim office light, take a second and look out the window.
I’m 100% sure you’ll see…you’re not alone.
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