Dear first year teacher,
The Summer Before
Congratulations on getting your first teaching job. You have worked so hard to get to this moment, so make sure you take a minute to celebrate before the nerves set in. It feels like your whole life has been leading you up to this point. Even if it might not be the perfect job, maybe you hoped for a different grade level, or you’re in a district you didn’t love. That’s okay. Sometimes you will be surprised by what you enjoy. Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself. You have done it.
Now, the real work begins. You might think the hardest decision is how to decorate your classroom, but trust me when I say that couldn’t matter less. Choose a simple color scheme or theme and stick to it. Don’t spend a ton of money, especially on decorations. Save your money for the stuff that will help them learn. Although it is fun to have a pinterest-perfect classroom, it won’t improve your students learning.
Your time this summer will be better used reading books about classroom management, figuring out unit plans, and starting to design or explore your new curriculum. Take free teacher PD about everything under the sun, and soak it all up. You won’t remember all of it, but the more tricks you can add to your teacher bag the better. Although nothing can truly prepare you for what’s to come, spend all your free time and excitement learning as much as you can.
Starting Your First Year
No matter how many times you dream and plan (or even script) out your first day, something will undoubtedly go off your plan. And yes, it is okay to script out your first day (just don’t read from it okay?) Students will probably be pretty quiet (they’re nervous too!) so don’t let the awkward silence freak you out. Plan a ton of extra stuff to do, because things always go faster than you think. The last thing you want is to be out of things to do on the very first day. Remember to breathe. Although your first day will probably feel endless, you can do this. It will get easier.
Try your hardest to learn and remember student’s names. The faster you can call them by name, the faster you can build relationships, and keep them in line! Students will start testing you from day one, and having a name to call is a lot more effective than “hey you! stop!” Make sure to tell them who you are too. They are certainly curious, and probably a little bit uncertain about you. They might have trust issues if previous teachers have treated them poorly or left them. All you can do is keep showing up every day with a smile.
The first few weeks, you will have all your excitement and energy to pull you along. Make sure you rest and take of yourself though too. Don’t just come home and work and lesson plan every day. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to take care of you. You will probably get a cold (or 10) anyway, but wearing yourself out will make it worse. Your students would rather wait a few days to have a graded paper back than have a teacher who is grumpy and sick all the time from lack of sleep.
P.S. Be nice to everyone! From janitors, to cafeteria workers, to your principal and other teachers, you need people on your side. Even better, find a mentor or at least another teacher who you can share stories and laugh with. Laughter is often the best way to keep from crying.
Related: How to Get Involved at Your New Job
October, November, and December will probably be tough months for you. You will finally be in a groove, but it feels like every staff meeting just adds more work, students are in full on crazy mode, and the school year isn’t even half way over. If you are thinking about quitting during this time, do yourself a favor and hold on. Once you reach winter break, the school year suddenly seems much shorter. If you need to, take a mental health day. If you feel yourself snapping at kids, or dreaming up different ways to get out of coming to work, take a day off. You might be surprised how much of a difference a 24 hour reset can have.
Or maybe you are feeling just fine, or you started feeling like this in September. Although many people claim to know, there is no “formula” for how first year teachers feel. People burn out at different times, people have different motivations. Just know that you are strong, and you have what it takes to succeed.
Or maybe you aren’t feeling burned out. Maybe you’re feeling guilty. You haven’t been teaching the way you wanted to. Your last test results came back lower than you hoped. Students weren’t learning at the pace you thought they would. Stop tearing yourself down. If you are showing up every day and doing the best you can, the rest will follow. You are not a bad teacher, you are learning. It can be easy to feel guilt and despair when your classroom ends up looking very different than what you had dreamed when you were in school. Don’t beat yourself up.
Oh first year teacher, you have done it. You’ve reached the end of the school year. You probably felt like this day would never come, but it did. Now you just have to get through the last month of testing, and then it is time for another summer. You’re likely already planning what you will do differently next year, reflecting on what you can improve. That can be an amazing way to improve your practice.
But please, please, do not just look at what you did wrong. Also take a moment and recognize all that you did right. Celebrate the student who you thought would always hate you who now comes to see you every day after school. Remember the topic that you thought they would never learn? Celebrate that you finally taught them how to conquer it. Celebrate the memories and relationships you have built. Most of all, celebrate the fact that you did something many first year teachers don’t. You finished!
Once you have cleared your walls and emptied the lockers, it’s time to say goodbye to your first year. Thank it for all it has taught you, and then move on. You freaking did it! Now it’s time to spend a summer taking care of you, planning for the next year, and once again, learning.
* Hello friends, and thanks for reading this letter to a first year teacher. I am about 2 days away from my last day as a first year teacher, and I wanted to write the letter I wish I had read the summer before I started. This advice comes straight from my heart as a soon to be finished first year, and I hope it helps you as you tackle the hardest year of your life. Congrats first year teacher, you’ve got this. *