As a beginning teacher, I would like to offer advice for other new teachers and for veteran teachers alike. The past year and a half has been a rollercoaster for me and I have learned quite a bit through my challenges. I have narrowed my thoughts down to five statements that I hope can help soon to be teachers and remind current teachers of what they learned in their first year.
#1 Accept the joyful moments as they arrive. The teaching profession can have many challenges, but the opportunity to laugh and smile presents itself many times throughout the day, especially while teaching 6th grade. Make sure you don’t miss those opportunities. It is very easy to become distracted by the stressors and miss an opportunity to just enjoy the moment. This has been a challenge for me. I often have to remind myself of what is truly important and try not to let challenges affect my classroom demeanor. A good laugh is often all you need to turn your own day around. Seldom do we realize that it is exactly what our students need as well. They need to see that we are happy, we are passionate about what we teach, and we are human. Do not be afraid to laugh and make your students laugh. Be receptive of your students’ jokes and joyful moments. Your students will love you for it.
#2 You are going to need help; ask for it! As a first year teacher, I knew that I would be working with a team of 6th grade teachers, a mentor, the administrators, and the support staff. What I did not expect is how much support they would provide throughout the school year. I feared that I would be "on my own" to face my challenges my first year of teaching, but that was not the case. It took time for me to become comfortable enough to seek out help, but upon doing so I learned that I work with an amazing group of people who love to help. I never expected that I would like having visitors in my classroom, but I do. Last year, I had three students with autism in one of my classes. This was something I did not feel prepared for, but our autism coordinator came into my room almost every day to check on the students and ask me if there was anything she could do to help. During my first year, I was nervous about having a collaborative partner. I feared that I was not going to be good enough or that we would not work well together. I now love my collaborative partner. I love that we have are able to co-teach and that she can help add things to lessons in order to best support our students. As a beginning teacher in Hanover County, you are assigned a mentor that helps you throughout the school year. Our math specialist was my mentor for my first year and I cannot thank her enough for the amount of support she provided and still provides. She often came in and helped me teach lessons. She understood and supported me whenever I decided to edit my lessons 30 minutes before class started. My family has also been extremely supportive. No one complained when I asked my dad and brother to help me cut out laminated cards during my brother’s birthday dinner. My husband reads out grades so I can quickly record them in my grade book and he helps me sort through the piles of papers I constantly bring home. I never expected that I would receive so much advice, reassurance, and support from my personal family and my work family. When teaching in Hanover County, you are definitely never alone. There will be a community of people supporting you whenever you need it; you just have to ask.
#3 You’ll create to-do lists and probably never finish them… and that is okay. Oddly enough, this was one of the things I frequently struggled with as a new teacher. For the first time in my life I was creating a new to-do list before completing the previous one. In teaching, you are never done with all of your work. Your lessons and materials are constantly changing because there is always room for improvement. There are always emails that need to be sent, papers that need to be graded, and lessons that need to be revised. As soon as you complete one task there will be three more added to your plate. Over the past year I have had to learn to accept that I will never be “done” and I have had to learn to prioritize items. My recommendation is to create to-do lists that include some items that you have already done, just so you can cross them off.
#4 Make time for yourself and friends. In teaching, you are never alone. There are always students around; even when you are out in the community outside the school building. Most of our time is spent with our students, which is why it is important to remember to connect with other teachers. Being new to a school and the teaching profession is especially intimidating. Over the past year and a half, I have been fortunate to be surrounded with the best support system I could have ever asked for. The teachers I work with are some of the funniest and most real people I have ever encountered. It is often difficult to find time to connect with other teachers, but it is extremely worth it when you do. In addition to connecting with other teachers, make sure you make time for yourself. Whether it be yoga, reading, or Netflix; you must remember to do something that you love. Find something that allows your mind to escape from all your worries.
#5 Be patient with your students and yourself. Show your students how much you care by being patient with them when they are having a rough day. You never know what your students may be experiencing outside of the classroom. A seemingly trivial item to you may mean the world to them. Listen to their stories and allow for them to share their sorrows. This is vital for building a positive relationship with students. Building a good report with students will allow for other aspects of teaching, such as classroom management, to go more smoothly. Be patient with your students and they will, hopefully, be patient with you. Being patient with myself is something I have struggled with as a new teacher. Naturally, I want everything to be perfect and I am often too hard on myself when things do not go as planned. I am learning to accept the things that are out of my control and focus on the things that I can control or improve. My colleagues remind me that I am doing the best I can. We all are.
As a new or veteran teacher you face many challenges. I have learned as much from actually teaching my students as I learned in school to be a teacher. Try to approach every obstacle with an open mind and you will continue to learn and improve as you go. Constantly improving and changing assures that we are inspired to do the best for our students.