As a first year teacher, I made more than my share of mistakes. I think we all do. These mistakes lead first year teachers to stress and more anxiety when really most teachers are feeling the same way.
In this post, I will be writing about some of what I consider my biggest mistakes from my first year in the classroom along with advice on what I would do differently. My hope is that by sharing my mistakes I can save you some grief.
Waiting To Be Told What To Do
When I first arrived on campus I had a plan, but that plan was highly idealistic and it soon became painfully clear that it was not going to work.
When I met with my grade level team I sat quietly and listened. I am not really sure why this was my approach as I had NEVER been this way before in my life. There is no shortage of ideas in my head, but I was afraid my ideas weren’t good enough.
I sat there and took copious notes about what they were doing and planned to turn around and do the same thing. The only problem is their plan didn’t take into account my personal style or my students’ needs.
This meant when I went to use these plans it felt like I was trying to present on someone else’s project. It felt stilted and wrong.
Now, I am NOT saying you should ignore what your team has to offer, because that would also be a mistake. What I am saying is to take the time to digest the information and sort out what will work in your classroom and what you need to tweak to be more meaningful and engaging for your students.
Don’t be afraid to ask your team for help with this either. In all likelihood, team planning is the “bare bones” of your lesson planning and most teachers will take what is shared and work it to fit the needs of each individual classroom.
Signing Up for ALL the Things
Naturally, I want to lend a helping hand to everything and anyone I can. This has served me well throughout life and allowed me many opportunities to get to know people and be involved in activities I wouldn’t have otherwise.
As a first year teacher though, it was kind of my downfall. I became the “Yes” person, and I said yes to anything and everything I was asked to do. I did an after-school club, and tutoring, and extra committees. You name it, I was in. This was all on top of grad school.
Was I crazy? Absolutely!
Did I love it? Most of the time, but when I didn’t I was on the edge of a breakdown.
Instead of saying yes to everything, consider what will have the biggest impact on your students’ success that year and start there. If after a little while you feel ready to take on something else, go for it!
By easing yourself into multiple responsibilities you will know when your plate is full instead of trying to pull back while things are falling all around you.
I wrote a whole blog post about how to say no, it is that important.
Not Developing a Personal Routine
I was a first year teacher when I was an extremely healthy 22 year old. My body could handle a lot, but I threw even more at it. I rarely slept enough. I ate junk that was readily available. Nor did I work out a single time the whole first semester.
This was new to me. I had always been really active and enjoyed cooking so generally had fairly healthy food around.
My mistake was not developing a routine.
Fortunately, I had a kind teammate and friend who helped me to hit the reset button over winter break. She shared with me how she meal prepped a couple of meals each Sunday to eat throughout the week as well as a schedule for hitting the gym and getting to bed on time.
I am not going to say it all went fine and dandy from there, but it certainly got a whole lot better.
Instead of trying to figure it out as you go set up a self-care routine before the school year begins,
or as soon as you can once the year has started.
- Collect some quick and easy recipes you can prep over the weekend and eat off all week
- Make sure to have healthy snacks like fruit, veggies, nuts, and cheese available for a quick grab and go meal
- Find a physical activity you enjoy and stick with it
- Walking or jogging or YouTube workout videos are totally free and can have a big impact
- Set a bedtime and try to stick to it
- Turning off all screens for an hour or so before you go to bed makes the transition easier
Communicating with My Students’ Families From Day One
The absolute largest mistake I made as a first year teacher was not being open and communicating freely with my students’ families. I should have been doing this from the beginning of the school year.
I felt it was my personal responsibility to make sure each and every student got what they needed from me in the classroom.
It never even occurred to me that I was one part of the team supporting our students. Another REALLY BIG part of that team was their families. It wasn’t until conference time, more than two months into the school year, that it even hit me that families wanted to support their students as well and I was blindsided when many, many of them asked me what they could be doing at home to help.
I was flabbergasted. I really had no idea. In retrospect, this was really dense of me, but I really didn’t.
After speaking with my mentor we brainstormed ways to get parents in the classroom to volunteer as well as ways for parents to help at home. Families wanted to be a part of the classroom and I had closed them out.
Unfortunately, I still hadn’t learned enough to share all the information about a student with their family. At the end of the year, I had to have really tough conversations. These should have happened MUCH earlier in the year. Had I have began an open line of communication about student progress from the beginning of the year this would have still been hard, but it wouldn’t have been unexpected.
Instead, begin the year by being as inclusive as possible with families. Invite them into the classroom and share their students’ progress, successes, and challenges all year long.
There Will ALWAYS Be Mistakes
Now that I have shared my mistakes with you I am sure you will learn from them and not do the same. This doesn’t mean there won’t be mistakes of your own though.
The important thing is to do your best. Ask for help. Right any wrongs you may do to yourself, your team, your students, or others.
Teaching is hard. There is no doubt about that, but you can do it!
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