I was 21 years old and had just finished my student teaching experience the Friday before. I was fortunate to have a full weekend to prepare for my first German teaching assignment.
The students had a long-term substitute the last two months and hadn't learned any German. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’ve been able to work in a few different capacities in the education system since then, but my first year teaching experience was memorable.
Here are my top 10 tips for surviving your first year in teaching:
- It's ok to be scared, nervous, anxious and confused. Don't be afraid of what you don't know and aren't sure about. Take everything in stride and accept that you are going to make mistakes. The key is making sure you learn from those mistakes.
- Find time during your off period to go observe other classrooms in your building. Even if the content and/or age group is different, there is still a lot you can learn via simple observation. If possible, see if that teacher would be willing to sit and talk with you about what you saw in the classroom. Even better, invite that teacher to observe your classroom and give feedback.
- Focus on building relationships with your students from day one. Spend the first few weeks learning about your students' lives. The more you learn about your students, the more they will learn about your content.
- Don't worry about discipline and punishing kids; worry about how to provide strong instruction and an engaging classroom environment. Be proactive rather than reactive. A classroom that is engaging with strong instructional practices is a classroom with fewer discipline problems.
- Learn the names and show the utmost respect to every administrative assistant, custodial/maintenance and food service employee in your building. They will help you more than you could ever imagine ... trust me on this.
- Don't be afraid to speak up and share an idea. You bring a new perspective and a fresh set of lenses to the table. Share your thoughts and insights in a collaborative and collegial manner.
- Don't try to do everything on your own. Work with those who have more experience and know the system. Work with your teammates and embrace a collaborative culture; it will help you grow and improve.
- Be careful of the teacher's lounge and watch out for 'that group.' The teacher's lounge can be the type of environment that just beats you down and makes you feel like the world is a terrible place. This is not always the case, but be aware that these black holes do exist. Also, every school has 'the group.' You might not notice the group at first because they are always looking for new members (specifically new teachers). Avoid this group at all costs.
- Have fun on the weekends, but be sure to keep your image clean and professional. More employees get in trouble for the silly and not-so-smart things they do online than for most other reasons. Be safe and have a healthy career/life balance, but don't feel the need to take a picture of every second and then share those pictures with the world.
- Get connected and follow the #ntchat hashtag. There is whole world full of resources and information, so don't feel limited to just the colleagues in your hallway, in your school and in your district. Reach out and take control of your own learning and development.
BONUS! Don’t worry about scarring and damaging your students for life. You are going to make mistakes, and you are going to mess up. But the mistakes you make won’t be so damaging that they scar kids for life. Kids are naturally resilient and have a lot of life still ahead of them, which means your impact is just one of the many contributing factors. When you look back on your first year(s) of teaching, you will wonder how any of those kids survived. They survived because they knew you cared and knew you were trying to help them … not because you never made a mistake.
Good luck future engineers of learning and designers of opportunity!
Justin is currently the Director of Curriculum & Support Services in the Union R-XI School District in Union, Missouri. Prior to that, he was Principal and Assistant Principal at Poplar Bluff Junior High School in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and before that he was a high school German teacher. Justin is very active on Twitter (@justintarte) and is the author of one of the most read education blogs in the world, Life of an Educator (justintarte.com). Justin is excited about integrating technology and social media into the educational setting, while increasing collaboration and transparency among all stakeholders.