If you’re new to the profession of teaching, your first year on the job will have its ups and downs. This will be true whether you are a career-changer or a new graduate who’s new to the professional world. Here are some tips for wading through these exciting waters, both in school and in your life outside of the classroom.
- Find support, and utilize it.
As a first-year teacher, you’re hopefully feeling pretty enthusiastic about launching your career and finally doing what you’ve been training to do for years. That’s great. However, don’t think that this enthusiasm, passion, and drive makes you immune to burn-out.
It’s not bad teachers who burn out — in fact, it’s probably just the opposite. Around half of all beginning teachers leave the profession before they’ve hit the five-year mark. This turnover exists for a variety of reasons. But, if you’d like to stay on the job for the long haul, find a good mentor. They will help you understand your students and your role as an educator a little better. Teaching is hard, so having a little support and benefiting from the wisdom of others is really important.
- Be yourself.
One thing to know about kids of any age is that they respond really well to authenticity. If you’re trying too hard to say exactly the right thing, they’re going to pick up on that and respond in kind by being less than their authentic selves. However, if you allow yourself to smile, laugh, and say, “I don’t know” once in a while, your students will feel like they can trust you. Better yet, they’ll feel like they can be themselves. Trust your training, and allow it to guide and support your work. But, don’t cling to it or be too exacting about your interactions with students. Find a way to relax into it, and just be you.
- Classroom behavior management is key.
Students’ behavior inside your classroom will likely make or break you as a teacher. When it’s going well — when kids are happy, working together, trying their best, and having fun — you feel like you’re dancing across clouds. When they are unruly, rude, cruel to one another or to you, or just generally miserable, you’ll likely feel downright awful. So, focus on getting this aspect of your classroom together, and other parts of your job (like, say, actually teaching curriculum) will more easily fall into place. Teacher training programs could be better about preparing new teachers for this aspect of the job, but either way it’s something teachers have to work toward as individuals. Everyone has to find the strategy and the style that suits them. So, review your training, lean on your mentors, and do some soul searching, and then make honing your classroom behavior management skills your number one priority.
- Aspire toward balance.
Finding true work-life balance might be difficult during your first year of teaching, or maybe even for the first couple of years. You’re new, so you have a lot of work to do. Things might lighten up around year three, but they also might not. (As you stay with a school, you acquire more responsibilities, even if it just means becoming an informal mentor to new teachers, like the ones you’re leaning on now.) So, be sure to make finding work-life balance a priority right from the start. You might not always get there, but at least pledge to keep this idea on your radar during your first year of teaching. If you try to change later, and make it a priority when it never has been before, you’ll find that transition pretty difficult if not impossible.
- When in doubt, remember you’re meant to inspire.
There will be tough moments during your first year as a teacher, but try not to lose heart. Remember, you aren’t just teaching subjects, you’re teaching people. When things aren’t going well, when one or all of your students are having a bad day (and making your job mighty difficult as a result) try everything you can to not let them get the better of you. Avoid negativity in all its forms, from impulsive outbursts to hand-wringing.
Students can sense when you’re starting to lose faith — and again, they’ll respond by doing the same. So, don’t. Instead, remember during these difficult moments that your job is to be inspiring. How can you take this moment in stride and be cool about it? How can you turn this into a learning opportunity? How can you somehow transmute this into a positive thing? When in doubt, take a deep breath, take a beat, and be the inspiring leader you were trained and hired to be.
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