As a first year teacher, I woke up on the morning of my first day of school feeling an odd mix of emotions--intense excitement and sheer terror. The thought that kept running through my mind was, “It will just be me in there! It will just be me in there!” This recurring thought has both negative and positive connotations. I’ll start with the negative.
Going through the credentialing program, I was still a student. The very purpose of the student teaching semester is to grow under the watchful eye of a mentor teacher, and my mistakes had minimal repercussions. Even though student teaching was hard work, there was a huge difference between being the student teacher and the teacher. Although I was stepping into a classroom, it wasn’t my classroom, and these were not fully my students. Ultimately, there was an experienced veteran in the room, and I was always aware that if I looked to her for help, she would be there to rescue me.
As a student teacher, I did not have to respond to parent emails, create and implement a behavior management plan, or do report cards. Although I was teaching, I was not yet a teacher. I enjoyed a safety net that would soon disappear. The transition to being a first year teacher meant that I no longer had that person I could look to during a failing lesson. All the pressure, stress, planning, grading, and exhaustion would be mine. However, the successes of 27 unique little human beings would be mine, too.
Here come the positives!
Although the job of a teacher comes with stress, it also comes with a classroom and students to call your own. As a first year teacher, the first day of school is scary, but it is also the most incredible day--the day you get to meet the children who will forever live in your heart. I used to wonder how my teachers could remember my name years after I had left their classrooms. I now understand that they remembered my name because students affect the lives of their teachers just as powerfully as teachers impact the lives of their students. I refer to the students I teach as “my kids,” and even on the most challenging days, I cannot stop talking about them or thinking about them.
Transitioning to a first year teacher requires preparation for days that just go wrong. These difficult days may happen frequently during the first few years. However, there will also be days with the joy of a having a student say, “I love you”, or “You’re the best teacher ever.” You won’t be able to prepare yourself for the pride you will feel when a student has an epiphany because of something you said or an activity you did. You definitely will not be able to anticipate the number of times your students will make you laugh in the middle of class. Your first year of teaching will not be all sunshine and rainbows. It may be much harder than you expect. Please know that those tough days are absolutely worth it.
Tips from a first year teacher:
- Focus your first few weeks of school on rules, procedures, and expectations to develop a firm foundation for the entire year ahead.
- Be as organized as possible as quickly as possible. Have a folder or file for everything, and don’t allow paperwork to pile up.
- Make time for yourself. You will struggle to pull your brain away from your classroom, your students, and your extensive to-do list, but in order to give your best to your students, you must also take care of yourself. Spend time with your loved ones, allow time for hobbies, and get enough sleep.
- Use social media and online sites such as Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers for amazing resources.
- Embrace change. I changed my behavior management plan and rearranged my entire classroom halfway through the year. Change can be good. It means you are growing, learning, and taking risks in order to improve.
- Ask more questions than you can count, and when you get an answer, write it down! Sometimes we’re afraid to ask questions because we don’t want to seem incompetent or bothersome, but you will never learn or discover without asking questions. Don’t be afraid to seek out help.
As I approach the conclusion of my second year as a first grade teacher, I can confidently say that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. During my second year of teaching, I’ve felt more confident, calm, organized, and efficient. I cannot explain how much better I feel. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult, but that’s just the nature of this career. Each year will have different challenges.
Tips from a second year teacher:
- Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. It is still okay to make mistakes, ask questions, and make changes when needed.
- Consider online resources like ClassDojo for behavior management and GoNoodle for fun brain breaks.
- Consider inviting parent volunteers into your classroom.
- Keep lessons and activities for the week organized by day so that you can grab and teach. I use clear plastic drawers labeled Monday-Friday. This system keeps me organized and ready for the week ahead.
- Keep your lesson plan books. They can be helpful resources to guide your year two lesson planning.
- Give yourself kudos and cut yourself a break, especially on those not-so-perfect days.
The transition from student to teacher is not an easy one. You may be exhausted, cranky, and sometimes overwhelmed. You will also smile more than you ever have before because you have a class full of learners that are yours to teach. Teach them math, reading, writing, and other academics, but also teach them to be kind, to never give up, and to love others and themselves. If you do this, you will have successfully made the transition from student to teacher.