There’s nothing quite like being a teacher. Your teacher training courses, your Praxis exam studies and your field experiences help prepare you to teach. But none of these things, not even your four months of student teaching, quite capture “the real thing” in all of its glory.
Your first year of teaching will be full of surprises. The experiences you have will be intense and formative, in ways that are both joyous and stressful. Most career teachers (myself included) remember their first twelve months as a school teacher as one of the most formative times in their careers… and in their lives. In this post, we’ll look at five things you can do to make the most of your wonderful, sometimes crazy start in your exciting new career.
1. Keep a sense of humor
In my first year as a teacher, I had to break up fist fights right in my class. I once had a six-year-old spit on me while swearing at me like a sailor. And on two occasions, I was pressed into service shooing stray animals out of the school because the janitor couldn’t be found quickly enough and animal control wouldn’t take the call.
School doesn’t just prepare students for daily life. It is daily life. And this means you will face hassles and tasks that don’t necessarily feel “professional.” If you take yourself too seriously as a professional, you’ll get needlessly unhappy with life’s little surprises, as they occur on the school grounds. And you won’t be the “daily life coach” you can and should be for your students. So be prepared to face unexpected challenges with a smile…or at least be able to look back on these things and laugh shortly after the fact.
2. Be emotionally strong
An occasional physical fight or stray rat in the classroom shouldn’t put much of an emotional dent in you—kids will be kids and rats will be rats. But some parts of everyday life are much darker, in a way you simply can’t prepare for in any teaching class.
Some parents are alarmingly abusive or neglectful. You may see evidence of mistreatment in your students. Sometimes you’ll have to work with the authorities to protect the children in your classroom. Other times, you may not have enough evidence or legal leverage to immediately help a child who is being hurt.
And even children with nice parents can be a source of emotional turmoil. It’s hard to watch kids get sick, or injured, or upset even if their pain is due to accidents and chance. Additionally, sometimes the nicest parents can be the most cuttingly critical of teachers. Good parents what the best for their children, and they are often harsh critics of teachers, especially new ones.
3. Learn from your mistakes
Neither your professors nor the more experienced colleagues you work with in your first year will be able to teach you everything. There are so many different aspects of good teaching practice that it’s near-impossible for anyone to explain all of them to you. Fortunately, the “right” thing to do in a teaching situation becomes very obvious the moment you make a big mistake. When a lesson doesn’t go as you planned, when students aren’t helped in the way they should be, take a good look at what went wrong and what you could have done differently.
With this attentive and conscientious approach to the many mistakes you’ll make, you’ll never make the same mistake twice. And you’ll iron out a LOT of the kinks in your teaching style by the end of your first year.
4. Get to know your co-workers
Teaching children is hard work, and it’s important work. It truly is a mission, and it’s a mission that has a wonderful impact on society. Education is at the core of who we all become and what we’re able to do as individuals and as citizens.
This mission is even more exciting and fun when you know your teammates and feel a camaraderie with them as you work toward your common noble goal. So get to know your fellow teachers. Take opportunities to socialize with them. Treat the principal as your team leader and not just your boss. Get acquainted with the non-teaching staff too—the teacher’s aides, school secretaries, janitors, and other non-licensed school personnel. All of these people can be fun comrades and potential allies in your quest to bring learning to the masses and survive the first year of your career.
5. Get to know the parents
No matter how good of a teacher you are, you students’ worlds revolve around their parents. There’s no substitute for family, and there’s no substitute for getting to know the moms and dads that your students go home to.
Parents also give you window into the whole community your school serves. Your schoolkids’ parents come from all walks of life and serve their communities themselves, in many different ways. Knowing these parents allows you to understand not only who your students are, but also where they come from, and how you as a teacher fit into their community. This knowledge is indispensable, both in your first year of teaching and beyond.