This school year will mark my 16th year in the field of teaching. However, I’m moving up a grade which means lots of changes. I’ve successfully moved my classroom, and now it’s time to start looking at curriculum changes. The last time I taught a few classes of 8th grade ELA the Common Core Standards had not been put into place. These standards have caused a major shift in the world of educating. I’ve paid attention to where my 7th graders needed to go, but now I’ll be teaching them at that place. With different standards come different units and different stories and new colleagues to work with daily. It’s like starting back at year one. Thinking back to my actual first years, which I deemed to be the white-hot coals of hell, there was a lot of transition taking place in my life. New state, new friends, new job, new apartment, new city (a big city for a small town girl), and even though it was a hard year it was a great year, too.
If I could go back in time to tell myself a few things I’ve learned along the way here is what I would want to share:
- Find positive people: Being a teacher is hard work. There always seems to be a lot of work and many situations that we just don’t know how to navigate until they are happening. I’m sure you’ve read all about the teacher’s lounge and the complaining that happens there. Sometimes you will need to vent or talk through a situation without needing to filter because maybe you are a verbal processor. Find someone you can trust to be kind to you, to encourage you. You do not want to find someone who will jump into the pit and make the mud bath deeper. You’ll need to be pulled out of the trench at some point in this first year, and that’s perfectly ok, just be sure you have a friend with a ladder.
- If it doesn’t work admit it and move on: There will be other teachers to support you, give you great ideas, share their best practices. Plus you have all those plans you created in college, right? Yes, and no. Sometimes things look better on paper, or sometimes a person creates a great plan that works for them; it’s ok if it doesn’t work for you. In the world of teaching, we educators understand the meaning of flexibility. Kids are different every year, so what may have worked with one group doesn’t mean it’s going to also work with the next. Don’t waste time on something that isn’t working. Take the time to see what you might be able to tweak, but if that doesn’t help then ditch it and move on to something that will work.
- Beg, borrow and steal: If only social media had been around when I first started teaching! The ideas that are now available are innumerable. Plus, the network of teachers extends well beyond your own district. Talk to the teachers around you to find what works for them, check Pinterest (but don’t get caught up in comparison), start following teacher Instagramers and hashtags (#teachersfollowteachers). You will find what works for you and your class of kids. It may take a few trials, but it will happen.
- DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO VETERAN TEACHERS: We have been at this for a very long time, some of us, and it’s taken that long to actually get there. You don’t graduate college knowing all the things we now know. It took the experience with certain kids and families. It took professional development, or new research and lots of trial and error to make our classrooms run smoothly. You’re coming in with a whole lot of head knowledge, so be sure to soak up the heart knowledge that will help build your career for years to come.
- Finally, don’t try to do it all: Several years into my career I decided Saturdays belonged to me. Since I was single for most of my career I would think nothing of spending time in the classroom grading papers or making new lessons all weekend long. That didn’t make for a very happy social life, and it most certainly did not give me balance. Find your balance! Your career does not define who you are, especially when you serve so many roles in life. Don’t forget to be the other important parts.
This advice is probably great for all of us to be reminded of as the new school year approaches. With high-stakes testing at our heels, it can be a daunting task to feel successful. Remember that we teach kids, not subjects.
What first-year advice do you wish you could have told yourself back then? First-year teachers, share what advice you hear the most, or what’s the most unique tidbit a teacher has shared?