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6 Ways to Deal with Your First Year of Teaching

Knowing how to approach your first year as a teacher can be the difference between feeling successful in June and giving up in October.

young teacher

A teacher’s first year is exceptional. Veteran teachers can all recall just how exhausted we were, swamped with expectations and responsibilities. It can feel overwhelming at times, and can cause some to lose confidence in their abilities. But knowing how to approach the year can be the difference between feeling successful in June and giving up in October.

There are a few things new teachers can do before the school year gets into full swing to make their first year the Best Year Ever.

LOOK

Sometimes we’re so focused on what we need to do that we overlook what’s happening around us. Before the school day begins, make time to visit other teachers’ classrooms with permission to see what they’re doing. Notice their bulletin boards, pay attention to their classroom setup, and observe how they keep track of their anecdotal notes. Ask whether they mind if you stop into their classrooms while they’re teaching to get a sense of their classroom management. During team meetings, watch how more experienced teachers work together. Absorb as much visual information as you can during this first year, and take plenty of notes.

LISTEN

When you have the chance to meet with your veteran colleagues, be sure to listen to their suggestions. You may not choose to take their advice, but don’t discount it. Without the context of experience, initially it may not seem valuable. But, given time (and a new group of students), it could end up being the one thing you’ll rely on again and again.

LEARN

You’ve heard it before: “College just didn’t prepare me for this.” As much as we would like to think we’re ready for everything we encounter in teaching, it isn’t realistic. Every school district handles things in their own way. Each school has a demographic unique to its area. Teaching is as much about pedagogical theories as it is about on-the-job training. Every occasion for professional development should be viewed as an opportunity to learn more about how to be the best teacher you can be. Webinars, workshops, conferences, grad school, and even team meetings all have potential for gaining insight you didn’t have before.

REFLECT

With all the time you spend preparing, you will have lessons that will knock your students’ socks off. You’re going to feel pretty proud of yourself—and for good reason. But for every lesson that stands out for its brilliance, there will be another one that simply flops. In both cases, take time to consider what happened and evaluate why. Be honest with yourself. Reflecting on your lessons is an invaluable way to improve professionally.

REACH OUT

Ask questions. Seek guidance. Be humble. Things are not always going to go the way you planned, and you don’t have all the answers (yet). Remember that you’re not alone. Although teaching can feel isolating, your colleagues are your tribe. They will support your efforts to improve your practice, especially if they know you’re sincere. Veteran teachers have an entire career worth of advice, and are happy to share it. Put your trust in them.

RELAX

Take time for yourself. Leave school at a reasonable hour, and enjoy your family time. Weekends should be for creating experiences, not grading stacks of papers. In the last several years, schools have been looking for data to indicate student progress. Teachers feel pressure to provide that data. We need to be creative with the assessments we administer so that we’re not making more work for ourselves. Look closely at your tests and what they measure. Does it really give you the information you’re looking for? Are you using multiple assessments that provide the same data? Would you get the same information whether you gave it every week? Month? Quarter? Progress monitoring is important to measure growth, but not all assessments meet that need. Once you determine the tests that give you the best bang for your buck, plan a quick getaway and treat yourself!

Using these 6 suggestions throughout your first school year will help ensure you will be able to look back, knowing you’ve achieved something many inexperienced teachers aren’t lucky enough to have: a feeling of accomplishment!

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Want to read more from this author? Check out Amy's advice on dealing with difficult parents and what special education teachers wish "regular" education teachers knew.
Author Bio:

Amy McKinney, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher in Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for eleven years, eight of them in special education. Her experience working with students with special needs has helped form her philosophy on teaching and collaborating with her colleagues. Follow her on Instagram: @theuniqueclassroom.

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