It’s 2014 and I have just taken over a middle school science classroom in October. The class has been without a credentialed teacher because theirs quit in August. The students are wild because they have been without consistent structure and expectations for months. Enter me — a credential student, young, inexperienced and full of potential and hope.
While I would love to share with you that I had a “Stand and Deliver” type impact on my students, that would be a lie. I spent most mornings trying to hype myself up in my car to muster the energy to simply unbuckle my seatbelt. I spend most evenings crying to my mom and husband, feeling helpless in this new position. My first year of teaching was the hardest year of my life.
Fast-forward to 2023, and now I am an experienced teacher who is on a mission to support new teachers as they wade through the muck of the first year in the classroom.
Teaching is a fickle beast. It is sometimes thankless, overwhelming and exhausting. It is also affirming, heart-warming and exciting. These two experiences occur simultaneously, making teaching a job where heart and passion need to be a factor. Once we accept that teaching is not a picture-perfect vocation, real growth can happen. Over the years, I have compiled some tips for new teachers, one I wish someone had shared with me:
- Keep it simple. While your favorite teacher’s social media account may have done a weeklong activity that seems SO CUTE … don’t do that yet. First off, social media is a highlight reel. That influencer did not show the meltdowns, the overwhelming number of questions, and the hours of prep that went into that activity. When you’re a new teacher you need to focus on simple and effective strategies and activities.
- Relationship building needs to be a priority. The late Rita Pierson, an educator known for her inspirational TED talk, put it beautifully: “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” If you haven’t taken the time to know your students (not just surface-level questions) your students will not feel a connection with you. Set time aside each day to connect with your students. A three-minute class discussion about what they did over the weekend can be extremely powerful. Show them silly pictures of your dog, let them share about their favorite dessert or just chat about their favorite movies. When you take the time to build relationships, the students will work harder in your class because they feel that connection.
- Set boundaries. As a new teacher, you’re going to be overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes into your day-to-day. Setting boundaries, just like in any healthy relationship, will help you feel successful and keep those overwhelmed feelings at bay. If you need to grade or create lessons, set a time limit. Change the settings on your phone so that you don’t get email notifications after 5 p.m. Don’t feel obligated to email parents back immediately if they’re messaging you late at night or on the weekends. Teaching is a profession where the masses feel entitled to your time. Set your boundaries, and stick to them.
- Find a mentor. I’m not talking about the same type of mentor you may have had in your teacher preparation program. Find a teacher at your school who is successful, helpful and open to talking with you. Having this person who you can bounce ideas off of is powerful. If there isn’t anyone on campus, turn to social media geared toward teaching. There are amazing groups out there with teachers who are willing to bounce ideas around and lend a virtual helping hand. Teaching is HARD. Having a support person on campus or virtually will make a huge difference in your overall happiness.
- Have fun! Last but not least, have fun! There is a reason you chose teaching, and I’m willing to bet it wasn’t for the fame and money. Be silly with your students, put on fun music when the activity allows, and have those moments of fun with them. Getting outside and chatting with them during lunch will heal any frustration you may have felt earlier. Your students do not need a robot. They need a teacher who cares for them, loves their job and wants them to be successful.
I wish I could go back in time and share these tips with myself, sitting in the car crying every day. Teaching is tough, but it’s also the best career out there. Instead of sitting at a desk all day like some other careers, I get to learn about new trends, listen to good music and have meaningful conversations with amazing students. I get to laugh at their weird jokes, see them grow into young adults and watch as they come out of their metaphorical cocoons. Above all, I get to be a driving force in a student’s day, pushing them to be the best version of themselves. So dear reader, please don’t be afraid of the profession! Embrace the craziness and have fun with it!
Kati Begen is a high school biology educator and credential coach in Fresno. She is currently working on her doctorate in curriculum and assessment at Southern Wesleyan University.
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