‘First Year Teacher’ has been a strange title to hold this year. While I mostly forgot about it at work, it was at grad school and district-wide events that it really shined as an exceptionally weird thing.
At grad school, surrounded by student teachers who I overwhelmingly liked but didn’t have a ton of time to connect with, I was sometimes ignored, something applauded, and sometimes confronted with hostility. To be honest I didn’t like any of those responses and regretted every time I brought up my teaching practice as a present avenue and not a future one.
When interacting with other teachers at professional developments and state exam grading I was mostly looked at with surprise and reminiscence, as though the very thought of it being my first year brought every teacher back to theirs.
It’s strange now that after this first year being such a big deal, none of my coming years will ever mean so much in name, to me or anyone else. Only a little over two weeks out from the end of the school year and I’m still trying to gain some perspective. Mostly I just feel a little bored, a little stressed (finishing my MA), and I
really kind of miss my students.
All that said, I did manage to learn a hand full of important lessons in as a first year teacher.
1. The People Around You Matter
I got insanely lucky with colleagues. I’ve heard the horror stories of apathetic and angry teachers, veterans who don’t care and newbies who think they run the world. I got so lucky with my school family – they are kind and smart and, above all, they care about the kids. Every time I was upset, I had emotional and practical support.
I also made my own support outside of school, leaning on friends and fellow teachers when times were tough. Having a support system, particularly one made up of other people in education is key to survival.
2. Students are like Family.
You won’t always like them, sometimes you want to throw them out a window and, but you will still love them.
Throughout the year, when I was unsure about an action I’d taken or something I’d said, I asked myself if the root of it was love. If the answer was no, I needed to apologize.
3. Apologies Hold Huge Power
No one apologizes to kids, especially not adults. Even when they’re wrong, terribly wrong, adults rarely apologize. Early in October I snapped at a kid, it was a passing moment in a bad day, but it wasn’t fair.
I thought about it a lot that night and the next day I pulled her aside when I saw her at lunch and said “hey, I’m really sorry I snapped at you yesterday, that wasn’t fair and you didn’t deserve that.” The look on her face was comically confused and unsure and then she broke into a smile, told me it was ok, and hugged me.
When you’re wrong, apologize.
4. Self Care
All of the self care. In the beginning of the year, I constantly felt overwhelmed by the amount I needed to prepare and learn and grow and more then once I found myself at school way too late. I brought work home and I was killing my self to finish everything.
I was blessed with an amazing co-teacher who really kept me honest about self care and cracked down on this. He told me to go home, he helped me finish things, he simplified my to do list, he reminded me that the first year is not about being the best it’s about survival.
Sometimes it won’t get done but you’ll have taken a long bath and gotten some rest so that you can keep loving the kids and being a good teacher.
5. Take a Day Off
This goes with number four, but needed it’s own section. You get sick and personal days. Use them. Not excessively, but use them.
Coming to school if you’re too sick, too distracted by something outside of school, or too wrecked to do a good job will only hurt the kids. Take a day, get your head and your body right and never feel bad about it.
6. Nothing Will Ever be Fully Prepared
No, shut up, no it won’t, just stop. Just when you think you’ve created the perfect lesson and sink hours into making it just right, the whole plan will get thrown by a student question or a broken Smart Board (in May when the tech budget is gone for the year) or a fire drill.
I stopped putting hours into lessons because it only led to disappointment. Plan, absolutely plan and be creative and create cool lessons but don’t plan so long and so hard that you’ll be heartbroken when the plan inevitably gets derailed.
Teachers, aspiring teachers, retired teachers, parents, students, and anyone else; I’d love to know your thoughts and any big lessons you’ve learned lately in the comments!
Best of luck.