The Ups and Downs of the First Year
Advice for New Teachers from Stephanie Griffith, Library Media Specialist
Feelings of excitement and nervousness are what I remember best the days before I walked into my first classroom of my teaching career. I had dreams of imparting great knowledge to my students and sharing wisdom of lessons learned. Some of my hopes were actualized, but there was so much I didn’t know. Here is my top ten list of what I wish I would have known my first year of teaching.
- Not all students want to learn.
I had just finished my college degree, and I was surrounded by academics — people who wanted to learn and who worked hard for their goals. I went into the classroom thinking every student desired to learn like my peers, but I had a couple of students in every class who were difficult to reach. That realization was hard for me. I simply had to do what I could to reach them; I changed tactics; I modified lessons; I talked to them, and attempted to connect to them on an individual basis. Be prepared to adapt.
2. You will have to make sacrifices.
Students need fairly immediate feedback on their work, and, as an English teacher, that often meant that I would have to be creative on when and where I graded papers. I would take papers with me and comment on papers while we waited for a table in restaurants. Not only did I sacrifice my time, but I also sacrificed my sleep. I spent many nights my first year mulling over lesson plans, approaches, and how to reach students. Your sacrifices may not look like mine did, but you will sacrifice something this first year. Over the years, you will learn how to manage all of those aspects of teaching better. That just happens.
3. Figure out how to make the students work!
Without a doubt, I worked harder than my students that first year. I thought I was making them work, but I wasn’t. Often, I just created more work for myself. Eventually, I realized the value of creating opportunities for my students to work together and make their own meaning out of texts instead of me telling them. Education has changed a lot since I began 24 years ago. When I began, all of our projects were done with butcher paper, poster board and markers. Today, with so much technology readily available at schools, I would encourage you to reach out to your Library Media Specialist. He or she can help you integrate technology in a meaningful way in your classroom. The students will be engaged and you will, hopefully, have created less work for yourself!
4. Even though I had earned my college degree, that didn’t mean that my learning was done. I needed to continue learning and growing.
One tool that has helped me grow is Twitter; I join in on Twitter chats and sometimes just lurk (follow the chat but don’t comment). By joining Twitter chats related to your content area, you can gain so much knowledge, tips, and tricks that will enhance your teaching and professional growth. Twitter chats are truly invaluable. Another way to continue to grow is to seek out conferences and PD opportunities that will help you grow and sharpen your skills. My current role in the school is a Library Media Specialist. Recently, I went to a public library in our area to learn what resources they were offering in their Makerspace. Garnering new, fresh ideas and perspectives will energize you and that energy will flow into your classroom and impact your students.
5. Listen to the experienced teachers.
When you join a school staff, lean on the experienced teachers. My first year, several teachers in the English department shared lessons and tips and tricks with me. Those gestures were priceless. They empowered me. I learned from them. Reach out to others; don’t reside on island. I assure you they will enjoy assisting you. You can learn so much from their years of experience.
6. Get to know the custodians; they are a HUGE source of help!!
The custodians are some of the most wonderful, hard-working people in the building. Get to know them; I assure you they will take care of you.
7. Don’t make rash decisions.
As a first year teacher, I have to admit that I lost my cool at times and made some hasty decisions. Be patient. You will regret emotional decisions, and being impatient with kids undermines so much of what you desire to accomplish in the classroom. When you observe students misbehaving or engaging in behavior you find less than desirable, always try at the beginning to ask them, “What are you doing?” Giving them the opportunity to explain what they are doing will prevent you from drawing incorrect conclusions.
8. Organization is vital!
I am not a confrontational person, and the way I kept my classroom under control was by being organized. Plan for more than you think you can get done and always have an alternative plan in your back pocket. Plan B is key when you have activity that involves technology.
9. Teaching was as rewarding I was led to believe in my college classes.
You are going to have difficult or challenging days as a first year teacher. You may have days you leave in tears or leave angry, yet I promise you that you will have good days. You became a teacher for those good days! You are going to make a difference in students’ lives. You may not realize the impact of your kind words, second chances, short conversations in the hall, smiles, laughter, knowing glances will have on students. You chose this career to make a difference in young people’s lives and you will.
10. Have fun!
Finally, remember to have fun. I think one of the best assets a teacher can possess is self-deprecating humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself. Let the students see that you are human. Through your humor, the students will see you as an authentic person and the relationships you establish will make you successful in the classroom. If students know you care about them, they will work for you.
Hopefully, these tips will help you have a successful first year of teaching. Always remember, you are not alone. Someone, somewhere has experienced your frustration and disappointment. Focus on the positive; don’t dwell on the negative.
You’ve got this!!!
Stephanie Griffith has been a Library Media Specialist for 19 years. She has been in her current position at Highlands Middle School for 7 years. Before earning her degree as Library Media Specialist, she taught high school English. In addition to her work, Stephanie enjoys being with her family, reading, running, doing CrossFit, and hanging with her two dogs.
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.