A Teacher's First Year: Support, Reflection and Deep Breaths
So many people go into teaching (or talk about teaching) as a glamorous job or how we are "glorified baby-sitters." If you are one of these people, oh boy, are you in the wrong profession. Teaching is hard. It is a constant learning curve. It is rewarding. It is frustrating. It is exciting. Each day can be filled numerous different emotions and a whole other set the next day! As a first year teacher, your passion, eagerness and excitement throws you into this amazing career path with really no idea of what to expect. You have studied pedagogy, teaching philosophies, techniques, assisted in classrooms and have prepared as much as you can. Even with all of this, you never truly know the lifestyle of teaching until you experience it.
Right after graduation, I decided to kick start my career full blast into having my own classroom in the UK. I was a brand new teacher starting in a new curriculum, a new country and in a challenging school as the cherry on top. It was a scary and risky move, but I wouldn't change it for the world. I got to be a part of an amazing staff, learn some tricks of the trade, gain so much confidence in my profession and also traveled to 19 countries! It was an amazing whirlwind that flew by so fast.
First things first: you are not alone. You have to rely on the support from your colleagues, family and friends. It is okay to have a mental breakdown every now and again! Your colleagues have been there before, so most will surely be able to offer some advice, resources or even an ear to listen. You don't have a bank of resources yet, so no matter where you are, you are going to be putting in time. That doesn't mean ALL your time. Ask your colleagues for old resources, ideas, websites or strategies and chances are they will help. Once you get home and you've had one of those days you bring your work home, rely on your family and friends. They are there to support you no matter what. Even though they might not understand the stress, they can also be a shoulder to lean on. Don't forget to use your support network to highlight the good as well! You will have days where you feel like the best teacher in the world - so be proud, and let them know. Social media is also a fantastic way to connect with other teachers to ask for advice or to simply post a rant. Join some teacher groups and who knows, a stranger somewhere might just say exactly what you needed to hear. The praise and support you receive is crucial in your first year (and every year after as well!).
Secondly, it is important to reflect on yourself and your teaching - the good, the bad and the ugly. No matter if you have been teaching for one day or 30 years, you should always be reflecting. Education is a revolving door of strategies, philosophies and what is the latest "best practice." What is best practice for your first period class may cause your third period class to become a class of terrors. It is all about finding what works best for you and your students. That one horrible lesson might ruin your day, but it won't ruin your career. Take everything with a grain of salt because after all, Rome wasn't built in a day! It takes time. Think back, reflect and change your method. I knew a teacher once who wrote in her journal each night and used her writing as a way to reflect on the teaching day. I imagine looking back on those first year notes will bring on some laughs down the road! Taking the time to understand your changing strategies and philosophy on teaching will help your life, your teaching and your sanity.
Last but not least, I strongly advise you to stop and smell the roses once in a while. Your first year of teaching will be hard work, but don't forget about the fun! I remember about 3 weeks into my teaching, sitting on my couch with my laptop on my coffee table, hunched over and surround by books, papers and tissues. I realized that I had literally spent so much time trying to perfect lessons (that sometimes didn't even turn out) that I had not even eaten dinner that night. I would go to school, and come home to work. My back was sore from hunching over (don't do this!) and I was exhausted. I finally realized that I needed a system - not to organize my work, but to organize ME. From that point on, I stayed after school until my work was done, I used my prep time for planning and I kept my home time for me. Granted, sometimes there were exceptions to this rule, but I tried very hard to keep that routine. Once I took those deep breaths, I felt much better and found my groove. Make the time to read your non-teaching related book, watch TV, and go for a walk or to do whatever makes you happy. Whether you think you have time or not, make time. You will be more focused, happy and your students will thank you.
Overall, your first year of teaching will be hard work, but you will also have those first "teacher-moments" that you will never forget. Through the good and the bad, always remember your passion for the job. Remember that one student who turned our day around. Remember the people that surrounded you and got you through. Think about all those students and how far they have come - they are your reward. Remember that once you have completed that year, you will look back with amazement and excitement at what comes next!