This is almost like a letter to a younger me, but First Year Teacher – this is for YOU. You may be fresh out of undergrad, or maybe you transitioned from a different career with the goal of stepping in front of your own classroom someday. Either way, the name written proudly on this year’s planner is YOURS, and here you are embracing your first year of teaching. There are endless things to consider as an educator, but I have pared it down to three must-dos for year #1.
First Year Teacher Must-Do #1: Find an Ally
Robert John Meehan says it best: “The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration, our growth is limited to our own perspectives.”
So you have accepted your first classroom teaching position. Congratulations! The years and expense of training and testing to become a teacher will finally start to pay off (both personally and financially)! You have signed the contract – now what? FIND AN ALLY. Meet with your grade level or department, or ask your principal to point you towards a more experienced teacher who is willing to take you under his/her wing.
You need a go-to person who is willing to answer your questions, show you the ins and outs of the building (this is where you get coffee, if you kick the printer right here- it will start working again, you can wear jeans on these days, this is who to ask for “xy and z”, you get the point.)
Also, you need a teacher who will give you a high five when you try something new in the classroom and it actually works! First year teachers also need a teacher you can go to, shut the door, and cry after a long day. You need a teacher who will start cutting on the other side of your laminating project and meet you in the middle. You need a partner, a teammate, a confidante, a support system. If you don’t naturally settle into a relationship with an ally like your lead teacher or the teacher next door, don’t be afraid to ask your principal to guide you towards a support system.
Teaching is a challenge and you need someone to share your successes and challenges and to mentor you as you develop as an educator. Added bonus – your students will see your interactions with other teachers and there is a correlation with strong teacher to teacher relationships and student engagement.
Must-Do #2: Develop Systems
Develop a system for everything. This ranges from the most simple system – i.e. where will students stack their tissue boxes on the first day of school, and includes the vital systems: classroom management, behavior, collecting homework, how to line up, etc. Now … you don’t have to re-create the wheel or write your own book on the subject (Harry Wong already did that for you ?) but you do need to choose a system for everything and COMMIT.
You will need a procedure for everything, and you will need procedures for things you had never even imagined. (What will you do when the kids’ socks are wet after recess on a cold day? I have never read that one in a book!) Let me clarify – commit to systems and routines as long as they are effective! Allow yourself to grow and react to the specific needs in your classroom. If you need to update or adapt a system, teach your class how you would like them to do something and then uphold the new system consistently.
First Year Teacher Must-Do #3: Allow Yourself to Grow
You know what they say about babies – they grow and develop the most rapidly in their early years. Look, you don’t know everything about everything! You may have attended the most prestigious educational program, but the most cutting edge technology can’t replace years of experience. Be open-minded and coachable. Try new things.
Observe other teachers in other grades and even other buildings! Read blogs, read books, attend professional development. Ask for constructive feedback from your administration. Absorb your evaluations and feedback with an open mind and heart and try to implement recommendations you have been given. Give yourself room to GROW and BLOSSOM, especially in your first year.
You may have noticed that this blog is directed towards you, dear First Year Teacher. You will be sharing your classroom with 15 kids, 40 kids, maybe even 100 kids every day. Remember why YOU have chosen this profession, and why this profession chose you. You will experience highs and lows and so will your students.
Think about this quote by Eknath Easwaran: “When we are putting others first, we cannot but feel at peace with ourselves.” Remember – your first year of teaching is as much about your deserving students as it is about you. Your first year will not always be peaceful. At the end of the day and year, you will feel at peace if you put your students first.