Saturday, July 23, 2016

Things I Wish I Knew As a First Year Teacher

I am about to embark on my third year of teaching, and it is weird to say that because I feel like I just finished up my senior year at Butler, time sure does fly when you're having fun. I think back about the past two years being in the classroom and they have been wonderful, I love what I do with all of my heart, but sadly not everything was fun. I have learned more than I could've ever imagined in two school years, and I feel like I am in a place where I need to reach out to those "newbies", the ones who are currently stressing out about their empty classroom and are second guessing every decision about where to put what poster and how to arrange the desks.

I was just there. It feels like yesterday I was meeting my first group of kids, scared more than they were. I am no where near an expert about being a new teacher, but I experienced it, and that's what you have to do as a newbie, experience it. I have a list of six things I wish I would've been told, or known before that first day. I want to preface this by saying these are my opinions, and I know some people will disagree, but I hope they help calm some nerves of those new teachers, who just need a little reassurance.

1. You won't be perfect.

Teachers are normally Type A all the way, so not having everything perfect is not okay. Going into my first year of teaching, I thought I had to know everything right from the start and every lesson, bulletin board, and classroom set up had to be perfect. I sat and watched all these other more experienced teachers in my building have all their stuff together with ease. On the inside, I was dying because I wanted all of my stuff to be perfect and I wanted it to be easy.

Perfection doesn't happen when you are working with 25 kids, but it can bring so much more. A lesson might not go as perfectly as you envisioned, but your kids might have taken it to a completely new level you were't expecting. Embrace the imperfections, you never know what they might bring to your classroom.

2. Ask for help.

I don't know about you, but I am the type of person who wants to figure it out for herself (Miss Independent right here). I need to be at rock bottom, or super confused to ask for help. This is a huge flaw of mine. Asking for help does not mean you are not a good teacher. Believe me when I say this, you'll feel like you know nothing during your first year of teaching, and it is okay. I always saw asking my principal, literacy and math specialists, and team members for help as a sign of weakness. I could not have been more wrong. 

The difference between my first and second years of teaching were drastically different because of one small thing, I asked for help. During my first year, when I should've been asking questions, I was trying to figure it out for myself and drowning. My second year, I started the year off asking for help from the experts, and I grew so much as an educator because of it. If you are confused, need a good idea, or stubborn (like me) go ask, don't worry about feeling dumb, you're future self will thank you.

3. It is going to be okay.

WARNING! There are going to be times during every year where you feel like you might crack or cry, and that is okay. Everything will be okay. At the end of the day, after taking your kids to their busses, and you realize you forgot to send home a paper from the office, you didn't get to that one part of the lesson, your classroom is a mess, or your kids were off that day, always knows it is going to be okay. Tomorrow is a new day for a reason. 

My first year, I had a rough class that no college education class was going to prepare me for. As I sat at my desk after school, I would constantly feel like I was drowning and failing at everything. I was lucky to have a group of new teachers at my school who bonded right away and who are now best friends. I was told everyday that, "Meredith, it's going to be okay." It was hard for me to believe, and still is sometimes. But trust me, it will be, it will all be okay, just keep swimming...

4. It won't be easy, but...

You know the end of this saying, it'll be worth it. Education is not an easy profession. I am assuming you didn't get into teaching because of the 8-5 job. Our job goes way beyond the 8-5, we have all the standard teaching things like grading, lesson planning, and meetings, but there is so much more. We worry about our kids, I always asked myself what I could do to make their lives easier, especially knowing some of their home lives. 

You will feel like there is no end in sight, but everything you do will be worth it. It will be worth it when that kid has a lightbulb moment, or when the "behavior kid" you were warned about has a fantastic year. When things feel tough and you feel in a rut, have your class into your room for lunch, play some popular music, sing at the top of your lungs (I would recommend "Hello" by Adele), and just hang out with them because those are the moments that truly make all the late nights and early mornings worth it. Seeing your kids smiling and laughing makes it all worth it.

5. They will teach you something.

This is the thing that shocked me the most about becoming a teacher, how much your students will teach you. I thought I was going to be the one doing all the teaching, boy did I get that all wrong. I have learned so much from my students, and what I have learned, I have needed. I teach in a school that has 17+ different languages spoke at home that are not English. I went to what I thought was a high school with a diverse population, so I went in thinking I came from a diverse school, I understand cultural differences. What I have learned, and continue to learn, is how amazing culture is. I have learned more about different cultures in the past two year than I ever thought I knew.

I could go on and on about what I have learned from each one of my students, but I would be here all day, and you wouldn't want to read that, so here's just one. There is something I learned this past year that will forever change how I teach. I had a student last year who genuinely loves life. He is never in a bad mood, and made me smile all the time. When things were stressful and I was filling out data sheets that never seemed to in, he would come into my class in the morning beaming from ear to ear and say some joke, and instantly change my mood. He taught me how to just be happy, life won't aways be easy, but it is so much more fun when you are happy.

My advice to the newbies, don't miss these moments, even some of your toughest kids will teach you something. Spend time reflecting on what each and every one of your students taught you, and if you dare, tell that student before the end of the year and wait for their will be priceless.

You must read Kim Bearden's book Crash Course: The Lessons My Students Taught Me.

6. Enjoy every moment with your kids.

Time flies. Some parts of school will drag, especially when you are waiting for spring break and winter seems to never end, (I'm from Indiana, you never know what the weather will be.) My last piece of advice to you is to truly enjoy the time you have with your kids. The small laughs you have in small group because a boy stands up from the small group table and shimmies while saying "hula-hula" because he thinks a Hawaiian shirt is a coconut bra, or playing 4-square at recess and being dethroned, or hugging a child because they have so much going on at home they can no longer take it. The time we are given with our kids is special, cherish every second of it. Each one of your students will touch your heart in their own special way.

So there they are, my 6 things I wish I would've known before my first year of teaching. I want you to know that I am only in year 3, I have so much more to learn. I am by no means an expert teacher, but I have lived the first year, and my hope is that you can leave with some reassurance that you're not the only one feeling how your feeling. I hope you have a wonderful first year, and keep smiling!

Experienced teachers, comment below with some other things you wish you would've known!

Wishing you the best of luck this year,

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  1. Fabulous post! I am going to share it with my senior intern!

  2. Great post! This will help many first year teachers! I completely agree with all 6 of your tips- especially number 1. Teachers do tend to be perfectionists, so it's important to remember and know it'll be ok if things don't go perfectly.
    Team J's Second Grade Fun

  3. Great advice! Now more than ever new teachers need to know these things. Teacher retention is so important!

  4. Good ideas to remember! We definitely don't learn this in our teacher ed courses!