There is nothing on earth like first-year teacher tired. Well, maybe new mom tired. They both left me asleep on my floor (hardwood) in front of the fireplace many times. Both left me passed out asleep on books. Both left me so tired I didn’t know what I was doing half of the time. However, when I was a new mom, I did get help from great friends and family. It didn’t change the fact that I was always needed by my new baby, but it left me feeling like I had great support.
Sadly, when I was a first year teacher, I didn’t feel like I had much support. Everyone was busy. The other young new teachers were trying to deal with their own lessons, copies, behavior, conferences, and the million other things teachers have to deal with. The older experienced teachers, who would have been a wealth of knowledge, had often forgotten just how hard it was to be a new teacher. I felt like I had nowhere to turn and no one to ask what I should be doing. At 3:00, I would often sit and stare at my desk, so completely overwhelmed that I didn’t know where to start. I think I felt that way for two solid years. So, to help the overwhelmed new teachers, here are some things I learned along the way.
Here are a few things I wish I had known as a first year teacher.
1. Don’t try to do it all RIGHT NOW!!!
It is okay if you wait one day to grade that quiz. Yes, timely feedback is wonderful, effective, and important, but so is a great lesson from a well-rested teacher the day after a quiz. If you need an extra day to grade that quiz so that you can be in good shape to teach the next day, take it!
2. Stay out of the teacher’s lounge (unless it is filled with positive teachers).
I found that everyone was sitting around complaining about this person or that, and it just made me feel negative. It is also easy to get yourself in the habit of talking negatively, and that doesn’t help anyone.
3. Don’t waste your planning time!
It is very easy to socialize, and you’ll find your precious planning hour (or 45 minutes!) is gone. After we spend all day with children, sometimes we crave an adult conversation, and that is okay. However, it should wait until you’ve accomplished some things off of your list. Shut your door, lock it if you must, and get to work.
4. Make a list.
The first thing I do every morning when I get to work is make a list. I don’t get a plan until the end of the day, and I have had that schedule for 5 years. It is great, but as I often come up with ideas while driving to work, I don’t want to forget them by the afternoon. Also, 100 young people pass through my room every single day, and by the time I am alone, I don’t remember half of what I need to accomplish during my plan.
5. Find your most productive time.
If you work well in the morning, can you go to work early? I can’t, because I have a family, but I get up at 5:00 and work at home before they are up. This may seem extreme to those of you who aren’t morning people, so if you are a night owl, can you plan to do some work from 9:00-10:00? Finding a good solid hour, sometimes away from school, can really help you knock out some tasks.
6. Volunteer at school activities when you can.
It is fun, gives you a great way to meet kids, positive colleagues, and make some extra money (sometimes). I was so broke during my first few years, and that extra bit of money each week allowed me to treat myself to coffee or an adult drink once in a while.
7. Your kids don’t expect you to be perfect.
My former students still contact me all of the time, and it is not to talk about that day where I broke my pencil holder (which was so cute!) because I was nervous and knocked it off of the table. It is also not to tell me about the day I stapled all of the copies upside down because I didn’t know that it mattered which way I put the copies in the machine. They especially don’t message me to talk about the time I fell down the bleacher stairs, accidentally threw a marker, or missed my chair when going to sit once during their test. (I definitely lack grace at times…) Nope! They call and write to tell me that I made them feel like they mattered. I tried to make class fun. That I talked to them when they needed it and stayed after school when they didn’t understand.
8. Organize your room on Friday!
This might be the most important, and the thing I still force myself to do. Friday afternoon comes and all you want to do is get out and enjoy your life, right? Take 15 minutes to organize your desk, tidy your bookshelf or throw out some old papers that you don’t need. I promise it will make Monday feel a little better, and we all need this, don’t we?
9. Find a trusty colleague and ask them to observe you.
It feels weird, and you will be nervous, but that person should not be there to judge you. Find an area you want to work on (classroom management, maybe?) and ask him/her to see how you do. A trusted colleague who is not actually evaluating you can give you a ton of great advice. If you’re brave, ask them to record you. I personally can’t watch my recorded lessons, because the sound of my own voice freaks me out, but even on silent, it’s easy to watch mannerisms, wait time, or if you stand in the same spot way too much.
10. Have fun with your kids!
February and April are always the hardest for me. We get no breaks, the weather can be crazy, and with tests, snow days, pictures, field trips, and other unforeseen events, your schedule gets disrupted all the time! Find time to play games a bit more in class. I promise that they will still learn (maybe even more) and the pressure is off of you.