Ten Tips for the First Year Teacher

I am finishing up my official first year of teaching with Ten Lessons for the First Year Teacher. I have been jotting down quick notes throughout the year reflecting on my experience and most of them still struck me re-reading them now. For the ones that didn't, that led to Lesson 10. 

For me, one way was making my lunch on Sunday night for the whole week ahead. It took me 25 minutes tops, rather than 15 minutes x 5 (a savings of fifty minutes ... What! Can you say ignore your first alarm? I mean get to work earlier...). 
Another way was to organize my outfits for the week Sunday night. I would spend about a half hour Sunday night planning my outfits in my notes app. Then I would find all the clothes for each outfit, put each outfit in a small bag, and then put all five bags into one large bag. I have a lot of clothes and organizing them well is not a strength of mine. Which meant before I started to do this, I was spending about 30 minutes each morning throwing my clothes around. Super stressful and it literally left me in tears some mornings. That was when (about mid March - I wish I had started earlier!) I made the change to planning my outfits out ahead of time. Super easy to do, and I started to actually wear more than my same five bottoms and ten tops.

My lessons were kind of free form in the sense that I had a curriculum and standards the students had to master by the end of the year, but there was no prescribed program. Which I loved but it also meant I was writing a lot of lessons from scratch. What I found handy was creating a calendar for the year and having at least three weeks ahead written in - even if I didn't have the actual lessons written yet! It helped me with my focus for my current lesson because I knew where I was headed and when it came time to actually write the lesson, it was so much easier because the ideas had already been mulling around in my head for a while.

Best tip on this list I can give you. If you are struggling with a specific behavior problem or confusion over the curriculum, don't be afraid to ask - in your school and district, there are a plethora of teachers who have worked with similar behavior problems, with specific students, with teaching the curriculum. Rather than raging in frustration over a problem you don't see a solution to, ask these experts - they will be more than willing to help! People I found especially helpful this year are the school psychologist (I now know how to react when a student says something I think is shocking!), the librarian who had been teaching the subject for many years, the teacher who used to have my position, the classroom teachers and my mentor. 

There comes a time when you just need to stop writing lessons and sleep or else you won't be any good at teaching the lessons you're working so hard at!

 Find a passion that has NOTHING to do with school and make time for it.
That passion will offer a break and a chance to mentally recharge your battery. For me it's running - and I highly recommend some sort of physical exercise - it's the best stress buster!

I know it's hard to fit in meetings on top of teaching but a committee in an area you are interested in can increase your knowledge in the area, allow you to see behind the scenes, and give you a chance to work with colleagues in a way that isn't necessarily totally teaching focused. I joined the PBIS Committee and the Tech Committee - both which I find invaluable in my own learning and being able to contribute to the school. 

There will be comments you wish you hadn't said, instructions you wish you had tweaked, things on your to do list you still need to do - that's okay. That's what tomorrow is for. Tonight is for sleeping.

Whether that means you make sure to eat your lunch with other teachers (and don't work through it) or whether it's setting a time each day for when you're going to leave (being part-time this was something I had to do) make sure you set boundaries for where teaching ends and your life begins. This has helped me create time for other things I love including running, reading a good book and spending time with family and friends. 

Know that you won't be perfect in all areas immediately. I know we all WANT to be but as long you are being reflective and making a plan then following that plan using baby steps - you will get to where you want to go! I promise! This realization came to me about mid way through the year when I felt overwhelmed by certain parts of my job. I thought 'I'll never get to the level I want to be at!' Then I thought about how I was approaching my classroom management - I didn't expect my students to immediately behave. I knew it was a process and with some students and some classes it was a slower process than with others. Realizing this helped put into perspective the area I was feeling insecure about. Yes, I wasn't where I wanted to be. But importantly I knew where I wanted to go. I had a destination. As long as I kept my destination in mind and took the steps I could each day and each week gradually I would get there. 

Those things you're so upset about that keep you up at night? You'll forget them. Wait a month or three months and you won't even remember what you were upset about. For example, that vague "certain parts of my job" in Tip 9? I have no clue what I'm talking about. I would guess classroom management but then in the next sentence I talk about classroom management so that must not be it! Seriously, you'll remember big things and importantly the skills you gained by how you react to situations but all those little worries? De nada. 

And I'm going to end with a secret: You get to a point in the year where things start to click together and flow. You have your routines, you know your students, and you start to feel more confident. Yes, there are still days when you'll be really stressed or days where you feel emotionally drained at the end of the them. But they start to be farther apart and you get better at handling them when they happen. A big key is Tip #2, prevention. What can I do ahead of time to make sure everything in my control is ready to go? What can I do to make sure I am ready for a certain student? What can I do to tweak each lesson to really meet each classes needs?

As a specials teacher, my biggest sense of excitement by the end of the year was realizing that the class I struggled SO MUCH with each time they came to specials in the beginning of the year, I enjoyed teaching by years end: I knew their abilities, their interests, their behaviors, and I was able to meet them where they were. Then they in turn met me where I was.

What advice would you give a first year teacher?

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