There's nothing quite like the first days of school during your first year teaching. You've been setting up and decorating your classroom unit it is just perfect. You've spent the summer pouring over resource books, standards, curriculum maps, until that's all you can think about. You've created these amazing activities for your students, that you know they will love. Then it begins. It's not at all what you've expected. You've visualized it hundreds of times in your head and know what should be happening in your classroom, but it's not even close. Maybe half your class has behavior issues or even more than half are severely below grade level. You've probably found a student or two that acts as if they really don't care, or maybe a student who gets worked up over everything. You may have already had your first run in with a parent: you're too easy, you're too hard, you give too much homework, you don't give enough homework, why did you give that grade, why did you discipline my child-you get the picture. There's also a chance that you're feeling a bit overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork you're responsible for. It doesn't just stop at grading papers, there is RTI, EIP, IEP, 504s, discipline logs, parent communication logs, and of course data, data, data. You've probably also had the very best lessons completely fall apart, and you have no idea why. Does any of this sound familiar?
I happened to come across this image of the phases of a first year teacher and felt like it was a great visual representation my feelings my first year teaching.
I'm not going to lie and tell you that it will ever be easy, but you'll definitely find that it does get easier. There is no doubt that my first year teaching was my hardest year. I've written some of my thoughts on how to not just survive, but enjoy your first year teaching. This will be my tenth year, and I still have a lot to learn, so I'm definitely no expert. I've just been fortunate enough to have wonderful role models during my teaching career, and I've learned a lot through my own mistakes.
1. Procedures-The importance of procedures cannot be emphasized enough. My first year teaching I thought that one or two days of going over my classroom procedures would be just right for my fourth graders. WRONG. Classroom procedures such as: how to enter the classroom, sharpening pencils, turning in homework are VERY important and should be taught and practiced. However, they are not enough. You also need to spend several days teaching procedures in your content areas. For example, in reading you'll have to teach: how to choose a book, how to act during independent reading, when should you abandon a book, etc. Every little thing has to be taught and practiced, or you'll spend the entire year correcting behavior rather than teaching. I've found that it takes me a good ten days to teach procedures for reading, writing, and math workshop (each subject has its own set of procedures). If you've seen my First Days of Math Workshop, you know that I break down every little part of math workshop into a series of procedural mini lessons, because that's what makes the year run smoothly.
2. Consistency-This is one of those things that sounds easy, but it's really not. It's important for students to learn at the beginning of the year that you mean what you say. Don't argue with students, don't negotiate, and don't yell or threaten. Simply follow through with your discipline plan. As you write your rules and consequences, be certain that you will be able to enforce your rules and will follow through with all of your consequences. I've also learned not given chance after chance for students to correct their behavior, because students will find just how far they can push until they've reached their limit, and they'll continue to push those boundaries.
3. Confidence-I really do believe students and parents can smell your fear. Even if you have to completely fake it, act as if you've got it all under control. This is one I had to learn the hard way. I quickly found that if students and some parents feel that they can run all over you, they're going to try it. The smallest things such as body language and posture can go a long way, as well your tone when you speak. It's okay to be flexible and willing to listen, but don't constantly second guess every decision you make. You are a professional and expect students and parents to treat you as a professional.
4. Don't Compare-This is so difficult, but try not to compare yourself with other teachers. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like everyone else has it altogether, and you're the only one barely treading water. That's not true. I've yet to meet a teacher who honestly thought they had it all figured out. We all struggle and have those days when we hit our limits and are totally and completely frazzled. Don't worry if someone else always has a cuter bulletin board or amazing work samples in the hallway. That is not what makes an amazing teacher. It's okay to learn from others, but don't try to look at teaching as a competition. Focus on your students and their need. The rest will come.
5. Positivity-Surround yourself with positive coworkers. Do everything you can to stay away from those people who constantly complain and/or gossip. It's incredibly easy to get caught up in the negativity, and it will take away your joy of teaching before you ever realize you've been sucked in.
6. Don't Be Hard on Yourself-You have to give yourself a break. I don't know if it's possible to be an expert in every subject area your first year teaching (or second, or third). Find one particular area you want to excel in and throw yourself into developing your expertise in that area. Each year you can continue to find new ways to improve and excel. Don't be afraid to ask for help either. If you're not sure what to do about a particular skill, ask your teammates or a mentor. I've also found that most bloggers are genuinely nice people who would be happy to offer their advice as well. I know I'm always willing to help in anyway I can, so just shoot me an email.
7. Balance-I think this is the hardest one for most of us, but it is essential. You'll find that teaching completely consumes you. It's what you do all day and think about all night. I sometimes find that all of my conservations and even dreams revolve around school. You have to force yourself to get away from it and take a break. If you're like most teachers, you'll find that you could stay at school three and four extra hours and day and still not catch up on all there is to do. It's simply impossible, because there will always be one more thing. When you reach the point, where you're just going through the motions, take a break. You've got to allow yourself to have some fun and to take an emotional break from the stress. I've found that I'm at my best when I step away and allow myself to recharge and refresh.