8 Things That I Would Tell Myself as a First-Year Teacher

It has been 18 years since I started my first year of teaching. That year was full of ups and downs, but luckily, I made it through. There are so many things that I wish I would have known or understood back then. But, hey, hindsight is 20/20. Since my reflections are no good to me know, I decided to do something positive with them. I thought it would be useful to pen an article about the 8 things that I would tell myself as a first-year teacher. Nothing fancy, just the honest to God truth. Well, here goes nothing. I hope this blesses millions of first-year teachers through the years.

  1. It gets better. I won’t lie, in many ways, I felt inadequate as a first-year teacher. I was well trained, but the student population that I encountered while in college was nothing like the one that experienced as a first-year teacher. Teaching in a high poverty school district was challenging to say the least. I didn’t think I would make it to the end of the year. And yes, things got much better. By year three, I was a pro.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect. As a first-year teacher, I was extremely hard on myself. I blamed myself when students failed or if I didn’t perform a duty perfectly. I wanted to be the perfect professional, and I had no idea that failure was just part of the process towards success. It took me until year two to figure this out. I gave my all to the profession, and I always tried my best, and it was always enough.
  3. Learn the culture. Every school has its one culture, which dictates how it operates. You have to know who the gossipers are, who the principal’s pets are, etc. You also have to know what the rules are, written or unwritten. It is tantamount to playing politics, and to keep your head above water. You have to know that in every environment on earth, there is a tacit game being played for power, and influence.
  4. Be humble. Teaching is a collaborative effort, so to be effective, you need to rely on others. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything, and you don’t need any help. Listen to the advice of more experienced teachers. Borrow their ideas, and give them credit for it. Be the ultimate team player. In the end, it will make you a better teacher, and save you a lot of grief down the road.
  5. You have one job to do. I know that teachers wear a lot of hats, but at the end of the day, you only have one job. That job is to help students grow, academically, socially, and emotionally. Everything you do should be focused on accomplishing this goal. Seems like common sense, but it is easy to get sidetracked by things that don’t matter in the end.
  6. Don’t hold grudges. As a first year teacher, you may find yourself being the scapegoat. For example, parents may attribute their child’s underachievement to the fact that you are fresh out of college and weaponize this fact to undermine your authority. You may also find yourself being asked to do the lion share of grunt work by veteran teachers and also administrators. They don’t mean to take advantage of you, they just think that since you are young, and may not have a family yet, you have time to take on extra duties.
  7. Listen to your mentor. Well, I didn’t have a problem with this one, but I will discuss it anyway. If your district is an effective one, they will assign a veteran teacher to serve as your mentor. This mentor will show you the ropes and help you to navigate through the maze of teaching. As long as they are competent, listen to their advice, and do as they do. It will help you stay upright until it is time to take the training wheels off.
  8. Be proactive. As a teacher, you need to be proactive, not reactive to problems and issues. At the first sign of a possible problem, nip it in the bud before it festers and becomes an even bigger problem. For example, if a child starts displaying negative behaviors, don’t ignore them, thinking that it was a fluke. No, you need to treat it seriously, and address it accordingly.

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