Advice to First Year Teachers: Trying to Stay Afloat When Your Life Vest is Damaged

I’ve read all the books you could possibly read about becoming teacher and how to maintain your classroom. I am here to say I found the books useless and now they sit on my bookshelf as decoration. First, I am going to give you a little background about how I became a teacher and then give you my advice for first year teachers. I hope you find this guide useful, my first year teaching was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and three years later I can finally say this job is staring to pay-off, its tough, but its so rewarding. Also, I am a high school world history teacher and my advice and viewpoints maybe very different from a middle or elementary school teacher. I feel like there are so many resources out there for elementary and middle school teachers, while there’s a lack of resources for high school teachers.

I graduated from college in 2011 with my bachelors in History. Unfortunately, I graduated during the economic crisis. A part of me always knew I wanted to teach and in 2011 not a single school was hiring in the tri-county area, so I put that dream on the backburner. I applied to countless jobs and never got a call back, what a blow to my ego. I ended up working at a law office as an administrative assistant, my bosses loved me, but I hated the job. So, in 2013 I decided to pursue my dream to become a teacher, I knew that if I didn’t try it out I would end up regretting my decision down the road.

With no teaching experience I set out and applied to various high schools around my county, over 30, and not a single school called me back. I started to feel defeated, especially with school starting in a few weeks. One fateful day in August, I received a call to interview at a high school, which was the exact location I wanted to work in. My first interview went great and was extremely nerve wracking and a second interview was conducted and I later received a position to teach 9th grade Geography and 10th grade World History. Oh, and I forgot to mention I was offered this job two days before school started. I was thrown into the lion’s den and there was no one to save me.

When I look back my first year teaching was a blur. I don’t know how I was able to tread through the rough waters, but I made it. When the school year ended in June 2014, my emotions were all over the place. I am truly luckily that I ended up at a great school, were I am supported by my colleagues, teaching a subject I love, with great students.

So to my first year teachers, I wish you all the luck in the world, you will need it. There will be days you want to rip your hair out and cry in front of the kids (don’t ever let them see you cry!) There will be days were you want to throw yourself, or a student out the window, please don’t do that! There will be days were your heart will be broken when you find out the unfortunate living situation a student has, or their mom just died and no book can ever prepare you for that. But there are days that are a great, a kid who never turns his homework in, finally turns something in. You receive a card thank you for helping a student, who you had no idea you made an impact on. There will be days were you try not to laugh at the ridiculousness of some students, but laugh , they want you to laugh, they want to know their teacher is human. When you see that light bulb go off in your students head, it’s incredibly rewarding. Teaching is one of the toughest jobs out there, but it is also so rewarding.

Advice:

1.) Go eat lunch in the lunchroom/teacher’s lounge: Every book out there says “Do not eat/hangout in the teacher’s lounge, the negative attitudes will rub off on you” This is BS!!!!! By all means if your lunchroom is hostile then go sit by yourself and eat lunch in your room. My lunchroom is my haven, I go in there for about forty minutes and I laugh my butt off, I am able to forget the stress of the day. Make a rule for the lunchroom, no talking about students; this will help you and your colleagues. Don’t work through lunch (unless you have a certain deadline to meet) enjoy this down time.

2.) Be friends with you colleagues: My colleagues were my lifesavers my first year teaching. They gave my all types of advice, lesson plans, laughs, they mentored me, and when I needed to consul in someone they were there. Most teachers want to help other teachers, and if you alienate your coworkers and one day when you actually need their help, they won’t be there. These teachers are seasoned vets, yes you might know the most recent and effective ways to teach but you cannot act like you know better than your peers. You may have the “classroom knowledge”, but they have the classroom management and experience, and that makes all the difference.

3.) These kids are not your friends: I feel like this one is common sense, but you’d be surprised. Be all means be friendly, have a relationship with your students. Be their mentor, someone they can look up to. Some of these kids come from broken homes and you can set an example for them. Don’t tell them about your personal life. I started teaching when I was 24, and I look very young for my age, these kids wanted to know every single thing they could possibly know. Of course, I told them a few things about myself, but it was appropriate. Your students want to know and feel like you care about them. If the students want a grade change, or something happens in the classroom, they will turn on you. You need to be the authority figure, the one that’s in charge of your classroom. I always tell my students when they say I am their friend “ no, I am not your friend, I am your teacher, and if you were friends with a 24 year old that would be extremely weird.”

4.) You can be nervous but you cannot be scared: Walking into your classroom the first day of school is so nerve-wracking. You wonder can the kids smell your fear. My advice is “fake it till you make it”, I pretended that I had been doing this job for years and it paid off. But you cannot be scared, if a student breaks a rule, you need to make sure there is a consequence and you address the problem. You are the adult in this situation. If kids realize you don’t enforce your rules, they will walk all over you. Kids are smart and they will realize your weaknesses. The best advice is start out firm/strict and then become lax throughout the school year. If you try to be friendly and nice and then become the strict teacher it won’t work out for you. The kids already know how you are.

5.) You must have a healthy way to relieve stress: Whether its running, working out, going for a daily walk, yoga, meditate etc., you have to have an outlet for stress. My first year teaching I was the most stressed out I have ever been in my life. My body just wanted naps. No matter how much I tried to sleep I felt stressed out. One night I had a panic attack because I felt like I didn’t have enough time to accomplish anything (first and last attack). I’d occasionally go to the gym. I never felt like I had enough “me time”, but that’s because I didn’t prioritize my time. Second year of teaching I starting working out, still not consistent. Finally, three years later I have a consistent workout regime, working out and going to yoga, three to four times a week. OMG, it has made the biggest difference and I wish I had done this sooner. The weeks were I try to skip out on my regime I start to feel the stress. In the mornings to help my day go smooth I visualize and tell myself how I want my day to go. It does help and most days this pep talk manifests into a good day. Some days I have a few minutes and I’ll meditate, five- ten minutes tops.

6.) Have fun and try to enjoy yourself: Yes, there are so many things wrong with the education system and I don’t know how they will ever be fixed. But you need to go into work every day and enjoy yourself. You have the potential to be a positive influence in these kid’s lives. Have fun and don’t take everything so seriously. If you can’t do that and you have no patience or you don’t like children, teaching isn’t for you and you need to do these kids a favor and leave the classroom. They need to have teachers that care and want to help them reach their fullest potential, oh

I just want to thank all of you for reading my post. By no means am I an expert in teaching, but if you ever have any questions, please feel free to ask me. When you face those difficult days in the classroom, just remind yourself you are making a difference and that’s why you teach. Oh, and you also teach because we have an amazing schedule and get two and a half months off in the summer!

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4 thoughts on “Advice to First Year Teachers: Trying to Stay Afloat When Your Life Vest is Damaged

  1. Amsterdive says:

    Amazing advice for young teachers! I had a few teaching experiences but i was way younger at the time and it was SCARY! Super useful post, and it is amazing to feel the passion you have for what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Margie says:

    Thank you so much for your honest and PRACTICAL advice. Tomorrow is my first day of school as a first year teacher. Prior to reading this post, I was scared of what tomorrow may bring. However, now I am changing my emotion of fear to hope and nervousness. Thank You once again for the well-written post! I will take your advice to heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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