What I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching

jurassic park scene of fighting off dinosaurs and caption reads "how i felt as a teacher for most of my first year of teaching"

First-year teaching is the subject of memes, jokes, and horror stories among the educator workforce–and for good reason. It’s an experience unlike any other: a year of mountainous highs and cavernous lows, blinding reality checks, endless working hours, constant mental and physical exhaustion, and plenty of facepalm moments (I mean, er, learning experiences). It’s ultimately a year of huge growth, and it will come with some growing pains.

So how do you survive it? I gathered some sage advice among veteran teachers, and here’s what they had to say:

being a teacher is easy. it's like riding a bike except the bike is on fire you're on fire everything is on fire and you're on fire

Your Mental Health

  1. Remember… This, too, shall pass. The knowledge and experience you gain in your first year make each subsequent year easier, smoother, and more enjoyable.
  2. Ask for help. This is actually one of my favorite pieces of advice for life in general. Once I learned when, how, and who to ask for help, my life became so much better. Here’s the thing. You’ll likely be assigned a mentor, who may or may not be as helpful as you’d like. You can also “assign” your own: listen to the kids and staff. Who are the best teachers in the school? Find them, observe them, pick their brains. Become their friend.
  3. Set boundaries. This one is echoed among my friends quite often, and it hit very close to home for me. Pull your weight, but don’t be afraid to say, “No” to additional responsibilities. Don’t make yourself available at all hours of the evening. The Teacher’s Lounge has several posts on wellness that you should definitely peruse.
  4. Set short-term goals. What do you absolutely need to get through the next week (plans, materials, copies, keys)? Aim for that. (And sometimes, honestly, you might have to do this day by day.)
  5. Anticipate and embrace the bumps that will come. Laugh at yourself and with your students, and do it often. 
  6. Find your besties. Your work family will be the ones who help you smile through the pain, find laughter in the least expected places, and rejoice alongside you in your wins. They know what you are going through, so let them help carry you to the other side of those difficult days. The bonds you build while sharing funny memes and teacher truths to one another on a chat thread will last a lifetime. (Bonus: Join our Teacher Community on Facebook to connect with educators from all over!)

teacher expects students to laugh at their joke but only gets blank stares

Students & Parents

  1. Be interested in your students. Ultimately, they just want to be seen and known. (Don’t we all?) You may be the only person who gives a student attention on a given day. Let that sink in.
  2. Put yourself in the parents’ shoes. Their goal and your goal are truly the same: to help their child succeed. Here’s a helpful article to bookmark for the inevitable disgruntled parent email.
  3. Admit when you’re wrong. This is excellent modeling for when students make their own mistakes. Kids don’t see that enough. Don’t resort to self-flagellation, but a quick “I’m sorry; I was actually wrong about that” can go a long way.
  4. A game of rock-paper-scissors can settle almost any disagreement among your students.
  5. Be enthusiastic – teaching is a lot like acting, and it’s exhausting because you’re always on. They aren’t kidding when they say, “There’s no tired like first-week-teacher tired.” It takes a while to build up your stamina after those much-needed breaks.
  6. As hard as it can be, don’t let the few difficult (but often loud) students, parents, or colleagues overshadow your positives. Look at the big picture. Pro tip: save encouraging emails (and lesson material you develop for classes) in a safe place to read for when you get a difficult one from a parent. It will help you see yourself more clearly and will give you the boost you need!

Students, if you ever want to know what a teacher's mind feels like, just imagine a web browser with 2,879 tabs open all. the. time.

Practical Advice

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. In many positions, teachers before you have already spent years building curriculum and creating materials for your class; use it! If something isn’t quite your jam, use it to build on, or make a note of it for next year. If you’re stuck without a baseline curriculum, utilize our bounty of Freesources as well as our Teacher Tools, which include ideas for content creation and royalty-free images, music, and audio!
  2. Keep an emergency kit for yourself in the classroom. You’d be surprised at how often you’ll forget to brush your teeth, put on your mascara, or apply deodorant before leaving the house. (Guilty as charged.) You might even want to keep a change of clothes, including undergarments. You just never know.
  3. Befriend the school’s custodian and secretary. They do so much behind-the-scenes work and are often underappreciated.
  4. Use feedback to improve yourself. I used to be terrified of administrator observations, but I learned to actually look forward to them so that I could see myself objectively and make my classroom more productive.

who says teaching is stressful? I'm 39, and I feel great! (it's an elderly lady drinking tea)

Soon, you’ll have your very own advice based on your very own first year. You were built for this, so buckle up, hang on tight, and power through this amazing year!

Teacher pros: What advice would you add? Let us know in the comments!

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