The first year in any new job is an interesting time: excitement mixed with fear, joy at finally getting to do what you want to do and anxiety about messing it all up.
For brand-new teachers, add to that the fact that judgment of your job performance comes largely via the faces, voices, and grades of your students. Whether this thought exhilarates or terrifies you depends on how well prepared you are to enter the classroom as a teacher for the first time.
No matter how well prepared you are academically, the first year is very likely to be overwhelming. But it is survivable, for sure. Follow these six suggestions for making it through your first year as a teacher.
1. Get to know your colleagues
You are surrounded by experts; why not seek their wisdom? The teachers, administrators, and other staff at your new school may have years or even decades on you at school or in the profession. They know the ins and outs of the process of teaching, the school, and the district. Other teachers can act as mentors, either officially or unofficially, as can administrators. These colleagues can help with things such as advice about lesson planning and discipline, managing how you relate to students, and participating in after school activities.
2. Get to know your students
To be most effective as a teacher, you’ll need to build relationships with your students. That means learning about their lives and supporting them in their academic journey. Attending after-school events like plays and athletic games can be a great way to get to know your students and demonstrate your interest in their lives. But be careful about how to you do so. You can’t attend every event for every student, and you don’t want to send the wrong message.
Remember too as you build these relationships that your role is not be their friend. You need to be mindful about personal details you share with students. This includes not connecting with students on social media platforms. In fact, it’s best to make your social media profiles private so students cannot follow you or track your activities.
3. Plan, plan, plan
To harken back to your student-teaching days: plan your lessons, your classroom routine, and how you will discipline your students. Even if you are using a prepared curriculum, you need to be familiar with what you are going to teach and how you will present your lessons. In your first year, this will take longer than probably any other time in your career, because you won’t know yet what works well and what doesn’t. So make sure to have a backup plan, with extra activities in the event you finish something faster than expected or a particular lesson just really isn’t resonating with your students.
When it comes to disciplining students, think about your approach and make your expectations and intentions clear to students from the start. What activities will prompt a consequence and what is the consequence? What activities will be rewarded and how? What types of behavior will cause you to send a student to the principal’s office? And so on.
4. Prepare for ups and downs
There are different stages of the school year, and this will prompt a range of emotions, especially during your first year. Early on you may feel excited and challenged by the new environment. But it is typical for new teachers to start to feel overwhelmed a couple of months into the school year. In addition to teaching, lesson planning, and grading assignments, there will be school activities, parent conferences, faculty meetings, training sessions, and other activities that you are expected to prepare for and participate in.
As you approach the first winter break, don’t be surprised if you find yourself questioning your decision to teach. It’s part of the adjustment period. By the time you reach the second half of the school year, you will feel more settled, you’ll know better what to expect, and you’ll remember why you wanted to become a teacher in the first place.
5. Take care of yourself
As you deal with the ups and downs of your new career, learn school policies and procedures, and deal with students who challenge you in ways you never anticipated, do not forget to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. You need to stay healthy for your own sake, as well as that of your students.
So eat right, get a good night’s sleep each night, and exercise to keep yourself in shape. To keep yourself in good shape emotionally, find a hobby or activity outside of school and look to friends and family for emotional support. Also, pace yourself at work. You don’t have to volunteer for every activity or work late every night.
6. Remember it’s a learning experience
You will fail at something, no doubt. Because everyone fails at something when they start a new job (and sometimes even after they’ve been there for a while). There will be a student you don’t reach but feel like you should have been able to. There will be days that, despite your planning, you run out of activities and you have to deal with bored and suddenly very energetic students. There will be days you bring too much of your personal life into the classroom. Expect that you will fail. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Learn from the mistake and move on.
On the flip side, remember that celebrating success is part of learning too. So don’t only pay attention when you make a mistake. Celebrate when you do something well, like when you make it through a particularly difficult lesson, find a way to reach a student with emotional problems, or actually get home by dinnertime for a whole week.
Lastly, remember that no matter how much you plan your lessons and classroom time, how late you stay at school, how perfectly you build relationships with students and colleagues, or how many student activities you attend every week, you can’t do it all. Even the teachers who look like they can aren’t really doing it all.
So follow these steps, be open to the highs and lows of the experience, and remember to relax every once in a while. And you can expect to end your first year of teaching excited about starting your second year.