Teaching is an extremely rewarding career. Think about it. Who else gets to help mold young minds and prepare children for the future more than a teacher? Teaching can also be a difficult career. Many teachers say nothing is harder than that first year of teaching, when you are fresh out of college and completely gung-ho about your first job. First year teachers are often excited and ready for anything. What many do not realize is just how time-consuming and challenging that first year can be. Getting through that first year can either be stressful, or it can be fun. What do you want yours to be?
There are many things that first year teachers can do to make that first year a lot less stressful. And trust me, it will be stressful if you let it. The key is to be prepared before that first day of school even starts. After teaching for almost ten years, I have some tips for those of you who are just starting out:
1. Organize, Organize, Organize: Make sure your classroom is completely organized. Have seating charts prepared, have grade books ready to go, have supplies put away and labeled as to where each goes, have your classroom set up the way you want it. Don’t wait until the day before school starts to do all of this. Start doing it as soon as you are allowed into your classroom. Yes, you may have to do a bit of work throughout the summer, but come that first day of school, nothing feels better than having a nicely organized and prepared room.
2. Start Lesson Plans: Read through each textbook you will be using. Go over district guidelines for what is expected from each grade level. After reading the curriculum, start making lesson plans. Try to plan for at least the first full week of school. Make sure you remember to record in your plans any first week assemblies, etc that may interrupt your day. Brainstorm for future lessons. Think of some fun Get To Know You activities to do with your classroom. If it is successful, remember it for next year. The point here is to be prepared to start teaching the minute school starts. Everything in your class can be a learning experience, if you are prepared.
3. Find a Mentor: If your school doesn’t assign mentors for new teachers, request it from your principal. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, perhaps a more experienced teacher on your team will be willing to help you out and act as a mentor, without carrying the official label. Your mentor should be someone you can turn to with any question, complaint, or concern that you have. This person should be there to help you all year. First year teachers who have a mentor seem to be more relaxed in the classroom, perhaps because he or she knows someone is there to help.
4. Classroom Rules: Post a large sign with your specific classroom rules in a noticeable area of the room. Go over those rules with the students from day one. Have them practice each rule if necessary. Explain the consequences for breaking each rule. I suggest not posting more than ten rules on a sign. Any more can become overwhelming for students. Ten or less is a good number. Remind students of the rules daily, have discussions about them. A well-run classroom is one where rules are enforced, so follow through. Be strict, but fair.
5. Don’t Let it Get to You: One thing teachers need is a thick skin. Any experienced teacher can tell you that kids are not always angels. They will not always follow your rules and quite often, some can become downright rude or unmanageable. Don’t let a name you may be called or negative student get to you. You are going to have those for the entirety of your teaching career. Let it slide off your back. If anything, find the humor in the situation and laugh about it.
6. Utilize Your Prep Time: Many teachers spend his or her prep time relaxing, chatting with other teachers, or perhaps running an errand. It is essential that you use this hour (or less) as a time to correct papers, make copies, redo lesson plans, etc. The more papers you can correct, the fewer you will have to take home that night. Try to get as much paperwork and correcting done during the day; this helps avoid long nights at home correcting papers.
7. Don’t Over-Extend Yourself: When I say this, I mean, don’t let teaching consume you. Don’t stay at school working until late in the evening; don’t bring your work home with you EVERY night. There is such a thing as doing too much. Yes, you are going to have to bring work home with you and yes, there will be nights you will have to stay late. I highly recommend not doing this nightly, or you will be burnt-out before that first year is over. Enjoy your life outside of school. Find a balance. Things will seem a lot less stressful if you can find a balance between your teaching career and your social life, or life in general.
8. Don’t Beat Yourself Up: Don’t worry if a lesson is a flop or doesn’t go off the way you would hope. That happens to any teacher. I had lessons that were successful one year and a total flop the next. Don’t worry about it. You learn as you go, that is the beauty of teaching!
9. Find the Good in All Students: This it a tough one. Most teachers have at least one student each year that they really just don’t like. I found that the more I tried to find the good in that particular student, the less stressful my year was. Just remember that there is always good to be found in every child.
10. Prepare for the Unexpected: Be ready to have a fire drill, a tornado drill, or a school assembly, interrupt your day. This can throw off your lessons for that day. Don’t worry about it. So, your plans may be off by one day, or one of your classes may be ahead of the other because of this interruption. That is okay, it will all catch up in the end, you may just have to do some new planning to fix it.
11. Enjoy Yourself: The best teachers are the teacher’s who are having fun in the classroom. Make your classroom a fun, but educational place. Have fun while you are teaching. If you students can see how much you enjoy teaching them, think about how they will feel! Teaching can be fun! It is up to you to make sure it is!
Your first year of teaching can be exhausting, time-consuming and frustrating. There are so many things you can do if you are a first year teacher to alleviate this stress. Every teacher was a first year teacher once. Many found that first year to be horrible. I believe it is only horrible if you let it be. If you have fun, relax and ask for assistance, your first year of teaching can be quite enjoyable. It can also set you up for many more enjoyable years in the classroom.