5 Surprising Things About My First Year of Teaching

Teaching is a difficult career, to say the least. It is a job fraught with educational standards, varied learning types, behavioral reports, time management, disgruntled parents and students, exhaustion, performance standards and many other balls to juggle in the ever present struggle of being a successful educator. It seems more and more that teachers are given many extra hats to wear, and thus the training and education to become an educator can be very daunting. If I had one major take-away in my undergrad, it was this; Your first year of being a Teacher will be absolute hell, and most people can’t hack it and switch career paths because of it.

From the minute I understood that point, it made me extremely nervous. I didn’t want to blow up on some student due to stress and exhaustion. I didn’t want to fail in the career I had worked so hard to attain. I am a Minnesota Educator, which means there are some extra hoops to hop before being licensed and employed. That made the stress all the more extreme. Even though the Communication and Literature (English for the layman) licensure tests weren’t terribly difficult, I worried about my units and lesson plans not coming across effectively. What if I wasn’t knowledgeable enough?

Well if you’re reading this then you’re probably sitting in the same seat that I was a year ago. Excited and frightened. You’ve finished college, you’ve got yourself a job, and if you’re like me, you’ll spent an entire summer in panic, not knowing if you’ll be prepared for the perils of the first year of the education career. First I want to tell you to take a deep breath, and then read the 5 surprising things I found out about my first year as an educator.

1. I’m not exhausted and/or edgy all the time

Well, that’s not entirely true. I won’t lie to you, the first few weeks are exhausting. Getting up to pace, setting norms, organizing your classroom and locating the nearest bathroom are all important. Some days you may stay past the regular contract time, but it will pay off (unfortunately not in money, am i right?). Once you get your routine and begin to hit your stride, you will actually find your free time. It’s all about time management. Make sure you prioritize relaxation. It seems silly to have to mention that, but seriously, sometimes you need to put down the grading and get some fresh air. You’ll thank yourself later. If you’re not convinced, ask some of the veteran teachers if they always get their grading done on time. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the stories you hear. You’re not the first educator to want to put down the books and get your mind off of school for a while. At least know that I’m right there with you. Put your feet up whenever you can. You’re responsible enough to know when.

2. The staff is there to help you succeed

This point has a lot to do with the school you work at. For the most part, you’re fellow staff members, and especially your department will be supportive. You’re all in the same boat after all. You’re all trying to mold the minds of our future generation while keeping your sanity at the same time (which might be impossible for some). Ask veteran staff members about their Best and Worst teaching memories to date. You might find some solace in knowing that even the most iron-clad teachers have had their “interesting” moments. As far as I’m concerned your first year is about making mistakes and correcting those mistakes. Do not let the fear of failure stop you from being the awesome educator inside. It might take an everyday pep-talk to get back on that horse, just remember your fellow teachers have been there, and they’re ready to help, at least in some capacity.

3. Student confrontations are not so bad, if your mentality isn’t

One thing I constantly worried about going into the teaching world, is student to teacher confrontation. I’ll be honest, it takes some getting used to (see my point earlier about setting up norms and getting up to pace). Making sure you run the class and not your students can be tricky as a first year teacher. You need a little bit of grit to work with to begin, but you can hone that skill over time. Many of my students have revealed to me now, that it is common practice among the student body to “test” the new teachers. Now, don’t be alarmed, they’re not going to run you out of the school with your hair frazzled like Doc Brown, but, they will see where your limits lay, and you need to be prepared.  

My advice to you is keep a level head. ALWAYS remember, these kids are going through one of the most tender periods of their lives. Not only do they have to deal with parents, the school, peer-pressure and a litany of other pubescent horror, but they just want to be heard and understood (at least as much as we can understand as adults). They won’t push you any farther than you let them, and just like in any wolf pack, you need to have a firm but fair hold on the power in the room. In fact, if you can find the magic balance of friendship and order, you will give them a profound sense of self-worth. Once my students found my boundaries, we almost became closer. They came to know me as a teacher who really cares for them, but also won’t take any sass either.

4. Don’t have the Unit or Lesson fully planned? Don’t worry

Teachers are among the most cunning and clever thieves of any career. That being said, we do it in a clear elegance and reference. The thing is, most of the material you will be teaching has been taught for years. If not most of it, all of it. Feel free to ask other instructors what they have used and if they have any units you can try. The trick is, you will have to modify it anyway to fit your learners so at the end of the day it’s more mimicking than copying. Other teachers are usually very happy to share materials (and in a lot of cases they will share materials that were shared with them when they were first starting out). As educators we know how much it is to include EVERYTHING into lesson planning. Honestly, if you tried to fit all that planning in every night you’d drive yourself insane.

Also, you should know by now that being a teacher means being flexible. You’re going to have to constantly modify and rework lessons. So if you start a unit without a clear picture of how it ends, don’t worry. In your first year of teaching, you are trying everything for the first time. As a very wise teacher once said to me, “As a first year teacher, have the next day planned at the bare minimum, and you’ll be good.” I’ve followed this advice to a tee. Don’t overwork yourself planning detailed lessons a month in advance. Those plans are likely to change in an instant, so don’t kill yourself over the minutiae. Make time for yourself and just plan ahead in the short term. You’ll thank yourself in the long-term.

5. The reward.

There are a lot of careers where you have to ask yourself what it is you are actually doing for a community. Some people don’t care and that’s fine, but you’re a teacher, so you obviously care about helping people. There is no better satisfaction than sitting down at the end of a day of teaching, and realizing how important and rewarding your career is. You literally teach the youth of the nation, and no matter what ANYONE says, it's incredibly important. Sure you might be more prone to sickness, you consistently have to chase children around, you come home over-stimulated with glue in your hair, but it is all worth it. It’s worth it for the little moments when a student lets you know how important you are to them. It’s worth it when you really help a kid understand a tough concept that they never thought they’d understand. It’s worth it when you connect with a student over something minor like music tastes or like minded humor. And it’s especially worth it when you realize that you matter, not only to a whole lot of people, but to the world. We will always need teachers, and you picked a noble profession.