The other day I was talking to a friend who I have known since the very first day I became a teacher. We were discussing how much has changed, not only in the classroom, but with schools and students in general over the past 15+ years. But as the conversation progressed, we realized that there is SO MUCH that has not changed and probably never will.
Oh what the first year of teaching would have been like had I known what I know now….one can dream of being that confident and successful their first year. Or one can read this article and be given some really great advice from a veteran teacher ;)
Over the years, I have had many teacher friends who left the profession. The most recent two who left this past school year seem to be happy, but both miss something from their teaching days. One misses the critical thinking aspect and the other misses the creativity. The grass is always greener, but I can’t help and think that maybe if these teachers had better support they would’ve stuck it out until they got over the, what I like to call, “the new teacher hump.” There are tons of benefits to being a teacher that have nothing to do with actually teaching….can someone say summers off?! Then there are the benefits that do relate directly to teaching and that is the difference you get to make in children’s lives every single day, the creativity and the problem solving.
The sad reality is that even with all of the benefits, teachers are leaving the profession in droves. They say if you can make it past your 5th year of teaching then you will most likely stay for the long haul.
When I sit back and think about my first few years of teaching, there are a lot of things that I wish I had known. Things that would have helped me to sleep better at night and things that would have made the day to day more bearable. Below is that list curated just for you!
I wish I knew that the teacher’s lounge was not a scary place. When I was in college, I was warned of the teacher’s lounge. I was told that all the teachers do in there is complain and talk bad about students. But making connections with the teachers I work with is what has kept me sane on the days I want to rip my hair out! I don’t necessarily eat in the teacher’s lounge, but (before baby), I would go to happy hours and fun events that were planned by my school. I found that bonding with just a few teachers is awesome. If I am running late one day or need to leave early, the teachers I work with have my back and don’t judge me. And when they are running late, I cover their classes for them. On our birthdays, we do fun surprises for each other and it makes coming to school something to look forward to on the harder days. Making friends with the teachers you work with can have a huge impact on your school year.
I wish I knew that I had authority over the students. This might sound weird because obviously we have authority over children, but my first few years, I was intimidated by the kids. I was in a very chaotic and downright dangerous school my first year, but I was still the adult in the room and I often forgot that fact. The more authority we portray, the more the students are convinced. So, fake it until you make it? That’s what I wish I did my first year. Pretend that they don’t scare you when they defy you. Remind yourself that YOU are in control, not them. The old adage to start off super strict then let the reins go as the year goes on is actually a really great piece of advice. I wish I had known to come up with a solid behavior management plan from the beginning so that I had something to fall back on when things didn’t go the way I planned. Feeling confident in myself or, like I said, faking it until it’s real is something I wish I knew to do when I was new to teaching.
I wish I knew that parents who are disrespectful to me don’t deserve my time or attention. From parents to students, if someone is disrespectful to you then you do not have to engage. I always felt like I had to take people’s crap. When I was yelled at, I thought I had to sit there and listen and try, respectfully, to defend myself or sometimes, I would even just sit there, nod and smile and wait for the harassment to end. This is simply not acceptable and should not be tolerated. Now, if a parent sends a completely rude and degrading email, I don’t respond. If a parent begins to yell at me then I politely end the conversation and ask them to reschedule at a time when they are ready to talk. Have a plan in place for how you will react to a parent you suspect might come to you in a harsh manner. I have even role played my responses with family members and that helped a lot!
I wish I knew that when I was absent the kids missed me. Sometimes it’s hard. We get bogged down, we have not only a room full of children to take care of everyday, but our own lives to live with our own problems to deal with that have nothing to do with teaching. It’s easy to get to a place where you feel like nothing you’re doing makes a difference and taking a few days off for mental health is good, but don’t forget that when you’re gone, your students really do miss you.
I wish I knew that reading picture books to kids at any age is beneficial. I love to read and I especially love reading to my students. There are so many great picture books that can relate to the learning done in the classroom and just because you are teaching 5th grade or 8th grade or even high school, it doesn’t mean that you can’t read picture books to them. The engagement I’ve seen when I read picture books is always so high. Students of older grades won’t read a picture book on their own and so when I read it to them, they remember how much they love them. Whenever you can find a way to tie in a picture book to a lesson, I say go for it!
I wish I knew that it is okay (and frankly, important) to tell kids when they are wrong. I remember when I first started teaching. I would feel bad telling students they were wrong when answering a question. I am embarrassed to say this, but I would even go along with some crazy predictions they made about the books we were reading or agree with answers I knew were wrong and wait until a student who said the correct answer spoke and repeat what that student said to the class hoping that the wrong answers would be forgotten. I have since learned that it does no one any good to pretend a student is correct or ignore them when they are wrong. It’s important to let students know, in a kind way, when they are wrong. If you feel bad about hurting their feelings, then find ways to do it where the student’s feelings are considered. Sometimes I will use words like, “Not quite, but you’re getting there” or “Almost!” or “Hmmm I don’t think so, but maybe if…”
I wish I knew to print out the emails that parents sent giving me kudos. Because some teachers are often changing schools or districts, our emails get disabled and then we cannot get to the emails we saved on that account. Even if you don’t plan on leaving a district, it’s a good idea to print out the nice emails so you can refer back to them on a tough day or look back and remember students from years ago. I eventually purchased a cute box from the craft store and made that my special place to collect and keep notes from parents and students.
Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer