The night before my first day as a teacher was one of the most restless nights I’ve ever had. Every question I could have possibly asked myself, I did. Did I prepare enough? Will I at least sound like I know what I’m talking about if I didn’t? Will these kids even care about what I had to say? Will they learn anything? What if I trip in front of them? What if I go blank? Will I still be throwing up tomorrow (side note- I had borderline pneumonia that first week without knowing it and had started throwing up that afternoon as a side effect- best luck ever!) What is the difference between a gerund and a participle? Why did they hire me? What the hell have I gotten myself into? And on, and on, and exhaustingly on. By the time I fell asleep, my alarm was pretty much going off. Thankfully, adrenaline kicked in when I needed it most.
Now, I have to fill you in on something. This is my first time ever teaching. Not like first time teaching and getting paid for it, but literally the very first time. I don’t have a year’s worth of an internship underneath my belt (that’s a long story for another time), so I was diving into the unknown head first with a very limited amount of tools and skills. I’d subbed for two years, which helped out in some classroom areas, and I majored in English, so I felt pretty comfortable with the topic, but my experience stopped there. As the last week of summer rolled in, I sort of felt like I had signed up to perform a Karate demonstration when I had never done Karate in my life. The nerves were ridiculous. But here we are, almost done with the first quarter of the school year, and I’ve managed to stay afloat. Here are the five most crucial lessons I’ve learned so far as a new teacher that interns and people in a similar situation to me can both appreciate.
1) Ask as many questions as possible.
This is a biggie. During one of my education classes this summer, my professor had our class read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. In his book, Mr. Berger points out that toddlers are asking over 300 questions a day. By the time people are teens, that number goes down drastically, with Berger saying “practically none.” Upon reading that, I knew that it was something I would implore all my students to do – to ask questions. Then it clicked that it was something I myself needed to become more comfortable doing – asking questions as often as I needed to.
People aren’t going to just assume you have questions (well they might, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to pepper you with answers when you’re not asking them questions), so you need to ask when you do. Don’t forget, this is a major learning process. I’m probably asking my colleagues over a hundred questions a week still, and guess what? I’m still here; they haven’t murdered me yet for being an annoying pest. So never hesitate to ask a question! It’s how you’re going to learn.
2) Always be over-prepared.
If you’re underprepared, your kids will know and they will take advantage of it. I learned this on the very first day of school. The first three periods of the day were shorted to half-hour lengths, but I’d assumed that the rest of the periods would only be a half-hour as well. WRONG. I scrambled with the two minutes I had left before the next bell rung after realizing my mistake and my seniors wound up having way too much time to play an introduction game after we awkwardly stared at each other for a solid two minutes after going through everything we had to.
Now, I always try and make sure that I have enough material to work with to avoid something like this ever happening again. Having back up work is never a bad idea. Plans can change in the blink of an eye; you just have to work at making sure when you’re caught off guard, you’re ready for it. Your improvising skills will get better and better with time as you go.
3) Work on thickening your skin.
Here’s the thing: kids of all ages will say things sometimes that get to you; it’s just bound to happen. Working with high school kids, I 100% know it will happen. My seniors and I are, at most, only six years apart, which can make things tricky. For one, it makes establishing your role as the authority figure in the room a bit more difficult. They will challenge you, and you have to realize, no matter what, that you are running the show.
You may not be liked by every single student and you have to accept that that’s OK. Students will sometimes say mean things, but you can’t let these things get to you! Not all of them will; in reality, most of them won’t. Some of your students will actually think you’re a pretty cool person. It’s great to have good relationships with your students, but at no time can you ever forget that they’re your students, and you are their teacher first and not their friend.
4) Time management and organization are key.
Look, it’s as simple as this. You need to develop better habits. I’m currently in the process of trying to destroy my inner clutterbug and procrastinator. As a teacher, you will have thousands of papers to keep track of, multiple gradebooks and calendars to be keeping up to date with, months of lesson planning to do, and stacks upon stacks of grading to get done. Seriously, you think you’re caught up on everything and another pile magically appears.
Using your time to its full advantage and developing an organizational process for everything will help you out immensely. If you’re one of those freaks who came out of the womb with a color-coordinated agenda in hand, I hate you. Not really, but what I wouldn’t give to be more like you. Post it notes, color coordinated binders, desk calendars, and a reminder app on your phone are likely to become your new best friends. And seriously, if you want to binge watch Netflix or have a social life, you have to get your work done first. Just do it, no prolonging it, and your schedule will begin to have empty spaces in it for fun stuff again.
5) Know that it’s ok to occasionally not bring that stack of grading home on the weekends.
For the first month of school, I was bringing all my work home, every night. This meant that I was getting home, working for four more hours, and then cycling back through the same routine every day. One day I was talking to another teacher about it when she stopped me by asking “Have you learned that it’s ok not to bring your work home on the weekends sometimes?” In fact, this was something most of the teachers had been holding out on me. You have to let go and give yourself some you time, or you will start to go crazy. Yes, you need to consistently keep up with your weekly planning, but that giant stack of essays? You are allowed to take your time (within reason) to grade those and get them back. Your kids will ask you the day after they turn in a major assignment if you’ve graded it yet, and it’s ok to say no. They will make it waiting a week or two. You have to find your balance.
I know they say you’re learning the fastest you will ever learn when you’re a child due to that whole your brain being like a sponge thing, but I can honestly say I don’t ever remember learning as much as quickly as I have in the past month. Is the learning over? Hell no! I’m expecting that this rapid rate at which I am going will not decline any time soon.
But this is how it is with every job. You get better with time because you are constantly learning. Teaching is quickly proving to be just as fulfilling as everyone says it is, and I’m having a fantastic time, but it’s not short of ups and downs. Each day is a new learning experience, and once you accept that, things will start to become more manageable and enjoyable. I could go on and on, but I’ve got a stack of essays demanding to be read. Best of luck to all the new teachers out there!