So it’s time to put the sunscreen and pool floats away to get ready to head back into the classroom. If you are a new teacher, you are probably teetering back and forth between bursts of excitement and sheer fear…. maybe even a feeling or two of “how am I actually going to teach these kids to read and write?!”
For those of you taking your first kick at the can at teaching this year, don’t you worry! They will learn, you will learn, and everything will be justtttt fine! 🙂
Here are a 10 things I wish someone had told me my first year of teaching.
#1 – You can’t do it all. Choose one area that you want to be really really good at this year. Maybe it is guided reading. Maybe it’s Math. But pick one that will be your baby! Make this area sparkle! Invest your time, energy, blood, sweat and tears into making this what you will be super proud of. Then accept that it is okay to be average in the other areas as you get on your feet. As the seasons change, or maybe even every 2-3 months, add another area of focus. This will keep you fresh, and will help you avoid burning out.
#2 – Ask for a mentor. If this is your first year teaching, or even your first year in a new grade or in a new school, ask your principal to assign you a mentor. Two things will happen as a result. First, you will have access to someone on staff that will (hopefully) be willing to answer the questions you’d rather not ask at a staff meeting, or the ones you are a bit nervous to ask just anyone. Second, your mentor will hopefully value this leadership role, and will be more likely to go out of their way to check in on you to make sure you have and know what you need. From photocopy questions to grading, it won’t hurt to have your go to person to help you stay afloat.
#3 – Say no. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a mega yes man. This is probably a flaw for me, as I usually sign up for too much, and spread myself too thin. I love getting involved in everything… so take it from me and my mistakes. It is okay to say no. You don’t need to sign up for everything. But you should sign up for a few things. Before your first staff meeting, take some time to think about what you can get involved in that will show you are a team player and contributor to your staff… but don’t sink your ship. A good rule of thumb is to choose different clubs/committees or extra curr activities that occur in the beginning, middle and end of the year. This will show that you put in the work without overwhelming yourself. This will also help you to make connections with students in other grades, and it will show your admin team that you are putting in the effort. Don’t feel that you need to sign up for everything, and say no if you get pressured to take on more than you feel comfortable, but do choose a few golden nuggets!
#4 – Don’t complain. There will be lots of opportunity to complain about things that you are unhappy with… but this I know…. complaining will not get you far. Keep your head to the grind, smile, nod your eager little face, and don’t complain. It doesn’t pay. In fact, there will be many complaining worthy times ahead. The thing is, we’ve all been there, and done that. Choose your little crew to talk things out with and to discuss the in and outs of what is going on, but at work, unless you have created and organized what it is that you are unhappy with, zip it, lock it, and put it in your pocket. This will get you far. Promise!
#5 – Be Mega Prepared. This one seems so easy, but is often overlooked. Many times I hear teachers saying “they just won’t listen” or “they are soo wild”. Here’s the thing. I’ve had all kinds of kiddos. The good, the bad…. and the downright ugly. I can tell you from experience, that even when I’ve had a really rough class, the thing that saved me from crawling into a tiny ball and hiding under my desk, is being organized. This past year, I made a template for each of the days (we run on a 1-5 schedule). My team teaching partner and I put it on google docs. Every Friday, before we could leave, we made sure we had at least 3 ( but usually all 5) days for the coming week planned. These plans changed from time to time, but having an organized day plan made in advance made it much easier to use prep times to their maximum. It also helped to keep us on pace with our long range plans (leave me a note in the comment section if you are interested in seeing an example of mine!). Finally, the most beneficial part of this is, that when you are organized and dealing with some big behaviors, you are less rattled, and better able to go with the punches. The effort that you take to get into this routine, will pay you back in peace in the classroom…all week long!
#6 – Structure. Structure. Structure. Listen. We all want our kiddos to like us. And trust me, they will love you. But they will love you the most, if you offer them routine, structure and a predictable schedule that they can learn and follow ASAP. My rule of thumb is to be sure about the expectations that I have in the classroom. We always start off with a classroom contract the first day. I avoid the “DON’T DO …” rules, and rather keep them positive. So, for example, instead of writing “don’t run” you’d write “always walk”. It is friendly, but still clear, and carries positivity. Create the classroom contract as a class, and then refer to it often during the first month. Here is a link to a free resource by Growing Kinders that I use every year. It is AWESOME and teaches the kiddos what types of behaviors are acceptable/unacceptable. Link here. I also return my students to their seats half way through lining up by the door at least 3-5 times during the first week. Half way through lining up, I stop them, remind them that we can line up quietly and without fooling around and try again. It’s amazing what stopping, restarting, and redirecting will do. They totally can do this! Fact!
#7 – Communicate with Parents ASAP. Yes, you are going to get one or two little ones that will need communication with home about some continuous issues that will arise in the classroom. In order to ensure that parents value what you are saying, and buy in to what you are asking them to help with, you have to start off on the right foot. By calling in the first couple of days to share something you love about their child, or to tell them something their child did that was “AWESOME”, you build a relationship with them. Take a second to make 3-4 quick calls a day during the first days of school. Does it take a bit of time? Yep. Will it save you hours in return throughout the year? Also yes. Think of ways to build that relationship with families right off the hop. Notes in agendas, emails, SeeSaw pictures. Whatever it takes, do it. Your parents will appreciate it, and it will create the classroom community that you are hoping for!
#8 – Self Care – Before you can care for others, you have to take care of yourself. I am a firm believer in the importance of self-care. Yes, I had a rice crispy square for breakfast this morning and my coffee never left the Keurig machine, but I do recognize the importance in stopping to make sure that YOU are OKAY. Teaching is a consuming profession. There will be days you go so hard that you eat your lunch standing as you open a Yop for one student and tie the shoe of another student, at the same time. But remember this. . . there will always be more work to be done. Nobody will applaud you for walking so fast to get more of your stuff done. Pick your pace, take your recess breaks (or lunch breaks) or whatever break you create for yourself, and take a minute. In the fast paced world of teaching, it is easy to put everyone and everything first, in front of yourself, but think of what the stewardess tells adults on a plane. Teachers, just like adults on a plane, need to put on their own oxygen masks first. Without doing this, our ability to help others becomes less and less possible as time passes on. Pedis, wine nights, pick your poison… but take care of YOU! Why? Because, you matter!
#9 – Have a little fun. Allow yourself and your class, to have a little bit of fun! Don’t get me wrong, learning is the goal. BUT, without a little fun thrown into the mix, it’s a lot harder to get to the learning. My motto is to work hard and play harder. When it is time to play, or to have a little fun, make sure you are engaged in this enjoyable time with your students. This is your opportunity to bond with them, to get to know them, to make connections and learn the stuff off the grid. Yes, you will need boundaries set for what flies during this time and what doesn’t, but it is important stuff too! Maybe it is playing silent ball at the end of the first day, or Free Choice Friday in gym class. Whatever it may end up being, use this time to connect and form these relationships with your littles!
#10 – Forgive yourself. My first day of teaching, little Katie walked into my class with her mom. I was so dang nervous that when Katie asked me my name, I responded “Danielle”. Uh nope. Wrong answer. I was so nervous that morning. It was only the beginning of many mistakes to come. Fortunately for me, I am able to have a good laugh at myself now and again. Grant yourself mistakes. Look back on them, recognize them, and accept that you will never be the only one making them. Laugh if you can. Cry if you must, but realize that you learn through mistakes. Not only that, but letting students see you make mistakes, helps them to feel comfortable to take risks too. This is after all, how we live and learn!
I hope you’ve taken at least one little ah ha moment away from this! Hopefully you are heading into the classroom recharged, relaxed, and ready to rock this!
I’d love to hear your comments on areas you’re wondering about, or things you’d like covered in this blog! Thank you for stopping by for a read! I hope you come back soon!