10 Things I Wish Somebody had Told Me in My First Year of Teaching
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Today’s topic is especially dear to my heart because we are going to talk about 10 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me in My First Year of Teaching.
However, before we dive in, if you're a new teacher who just graduated from university and you're trying to figure out how to best prepare for your first year of teaching this summer, you are invited to my brand-new, FREE masterclass:
Inside this masterclass, I will walk you through the four most important things you can focus on this summer to truly be ready for your first year of teaching.
If you were just part of my 7-Day-Challenge, then this masterclass will be the perfect next step for you to map out your summer and get you on track for being truly ready for your first year of teaching. So, I really hope you’ll join me for this awesome masterclass!
All right, speaking of being ready for your first year - let's dive in to today's topic... what I really wish somebody would have told me during my first year of teaching:
Ask the Questions You Think Are Stupid - Even When You Don’t Want to Bother Anyone
If you’re anything like me, when I accepted my first teaching position in the spring, I really didn’t want to bother anyone at my school, including my grade level team – especially during the summer when I knew they were all on holidays.
However, because I didn’t ask some important questions, it really hurt me in the end.
If you were just part of my 7-day challenge, inside that challenge, I told my story about how I spent a whole bunch of time during my summer preparing my first language arts unit and NOT consulting with my new grade level team because I didn’t want to bother them with all of my questions.
That story ended with me in tears the day before school started because when I did finally meet with my grade level team, I found out that the school had purchased a brand new language arts curriculum that we were required to use...
My copy was still in the storage room because I hadn’t known to ask about any new curriculum. It was horrible – I ended up having to re-do everything I spent all that time during my summer working on.
So, even if you feel like you don’t want to bother anyone, ask the questions you want to ask or you might REALLY regret it, just like I did.
I wish somebody had told me to feel the fear and ask all the questions anyways.
I wish somebody had pushed me to be bold and to ask for the answers to questions that I didn’t know.
So, I’m really encouraging you to do that now. 💛
This is a Profession Built on Acronyms & Jargon
I wish someone would have told me, in my first year of teaching, that this is a profession built on jargon and acronyms that NOBODY else on the entire Earth who is not in Education would know.
Educators are known for rattling off sentences like, “Hey, did you complete your ABAs for your IEPs? Oh man, I still have to create the ITP for my student with ODD. I’m concerned that we might also be dealing with a AS with this student.”
I mean seriously – who would have any idea of what this person was even saying?
If you understood that, you might be a teacher. And, if you didn’t understand that, you might be a NEW teacher who hasn’t learned all of this specialized language yet (which is completely normal and my point exactly).
The longer I am in this profession, the more I am amazed by how many acronyms we are able to fit into this world as teachers. And, to make things even worse, many of the acronyms are specific to ONLY your school or district or area.
Yet everyone assumes, when you accept your first teaching job, that you know what they’re talking about when nine times out of ten, you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
I see this happen a lot inside our Beginning Teacher Talk Private Facebook group, when a teacher will ask for help or advice about something and NOBODY responds, and they might be wondering why. Usually it’s because nobody has any idea of what they’re even talking about.
It still happens to me and like I said, I’ve been in this game for a LONG time, and it’s going to happen to you – mark my words! When it happens, you can remember this podcast. You’ll be in the middle of your first grade level meeting with your team, or you’ll be at your staff meeting, and somebody will say, “Hey, are you qualified in TESOL?” and you will think to yourself, “What the heck did she even just say? Am I supposed to know what that is?”
The problem, of course, is not that you don’t know what TESOL is – because many people don’t know what that is. The problem is that nobody thinks to tell us just how many acronyms and specialized language we have and use within education – so again, when you hear people using acronyms and you have no idea what they mean, be bold and just ask.
To help you get started, click here to visit a great article that lists some of the most common acronyms in education.
Nurture Relationships with Your School Secretary, Librarian, Custodian, and IT Person
You might not think this is very important – in fact, I had a student last year tell me that they thought this advice that I always give to new teachers was a little over the top.
She didn’t think it was as important as I was making it out to be to really take the time to build and nurture genuine relationships with your school secretary, with your librarian, with your custodian (though she did see the value in getting to know the IT person at your school).
But here’s the thing: Besides being classy and being just what good human beings do – treating everyone in your world with respect and kindness - you’re also going to very quickly see why these relationships are so important once you start teaching.
The first time that you have a parent show up unannounced at the office who your secretary knows can cause problems for you, she will simply take a message and tell them that you will call them when you get an opportunity (rather than giving them a pass to go straight to your room). Your relationship with your school secretary really matters in those moments, and you will want to bring her flowers to thank her. 🌸
When you are frantically trying to put together your next language arts unit and your amazing librarian who has now become your friend says to you, “Oh don’t worry, I’ve got this – I have some time. I’ll pull all the best books I can find for you on that topic.” You will seriously want to kiss the ground that she walks on. 💛
The first time a child projectile vomits in the middle of a lesson or someone pees their pants, you will be so grateful that your custodian is more than happy to prioritize you above all else they have going on and take care of that child – and that mess – quickly – you won’t have to ask why that relationship is important. 🎁
Finally – I think it’s pretty obvious why your IT support person is going to be someone who you will want to cozy up to, especially when you’re ready to start your observation lesson and your screen suddenly goes static.
These are all things I think so many new teachers wish they had known in their first year of teaching – so please keep these things in mind as you prepare for your year.
You Will Likely Lose Your Voice
I wish somebody would have warned me about this, because you just don’t realize how important it is to have tea and an electric kettle tucked away in your teaching station.
Be sure to find out if your school allows this before you go ahead and invest in one – but having an electric kettle and hot tea on hand for those afternoons when your throat is so sore simply because you’ve never done this much talking every day.
I honestly think the reason that so many teachers are known for developing an addiction to coffee is in part because we are using our voices all day, every day, and the only hot beverage we have quick and immediate access to as we run to the office to do a quick photocopy on our five-minute recess break is to refill our coffee mug – which of course, you will only get to enjoy three sips of, if you’re lucky, and then learn to trick yourself into enjoying room-temperature coffee that somebody ends up sneezing in if you aren’t careful.
But anyways - you will likely lose your voice in your first few weeks of school, so keep hot tea and lozenges on hand for when your voice gets sore.
Also, I wish somebody would have told me… related to the caffeine pick-me-up,
You Will Gain an Entirely New Appreciation for Quick, High Energy Snacks
I wish somebody would have told me how tired I would be – not because I am doing anything wrong or because my kids are misbehaving or anything out of the ordinary. I just wish somebody had told me about the sheer amount of sustained energy that teaching 25 or more little people every single day, all day, requires.
I mean, think about it. So many stay-at-home moms joke that they are ready for a glass of wine by 3:00 in the afternoon, and most of the time, they are only caring for 2 or 3 children. You have 25 of them, and all of them have needs and challenges and stories that you absolutely MUST hear, first thing in the morning, after every single recess, and before they go home each day.
So, I wish somebody would have told me how much you are going to appreciate quick, energy snacks throughout the day when you feel your energy dip. I’m not talking about sugar, even though I know that’s our immediate temptation when we’re tired – but that just gives you a quick spike in energy, followed by an even deeper sense of exhaustion.
Instead, I’m talking about energy foods like dried fruit or maybe some trail mix, some nuts, a handful of almonds – something with some protein in individualized portions that you can keep in your filing cabinet for when you need some quick energy or a little pick-me-up.
Teaching is a marathon every single day, and if you aren’t prepared to take care of yourself, you are going to go downhill fast and likely get sick.
Keep an Extra Sweater, Rain Boots, & an Umbrella at School
I wish somebody had told me to keep a warm, neutral-colored sweater at school and leave it there so I always have one whenever the school temperature fluctuates, and to keep a pair of rain boots and an umbrella at school for when it rained and I was on outdoor supervision at recess.
The good news that this only has to happen once for you to never let it happen again, but if you’ve ever been assigned to recess duty when it’s raining and you have to be out there, it can be miserable – so, take it from me, don’t let this happen to you. Especially because you really don’t want to get sick and then have to prepare for a sub (which we'll talk about next).
To help you prepare your own Teacher Self-Care kit for your first classroom, I’ve created a simple, one page Teacher Self Care Checklist that you can just download and print. Grab your free copy of my Teacher Self-Care Checklist by clicking here!
Create Sub Plans Before You Get Sick
I really wish somebody had told me to do this during the summer months when I had some extra time, when I was healthy and when I could actually think straight.
Instead, I found myself having to create sub plans FROM SCRATCH with a 100 degree fever and feeling like I was going to pass out at any minute.
Trust me, I’ve been there, and it is not a fun experience.
There are so many great options for you to choose from on Teachers Pay Teachers, with sub plan options that have already been created by other awesome teachers who have been in this position and now can save you from experiencing the same thing.
I really wish someone had told me to go ahead and invest in teacher-created sub plans before my first year of teaching.
Create a Classroom Management Binder
Related to this, I wish I had known to create a classroom management binder before my first year of teaching. Now granted, we had done this as an assignment in university, but it wasn’t real. It wasn’t something I was actually going to use in my classroom, and that’s mostly because I wasn’t quite sure HOW I could use it.
So when I suggest that you create a classroom management binder, I mean put together, all in one place, your written class rules, all of your routines, and your class jobs, so that you can leave this on your desk when you have a sub.
That way, whenever you create sub plans, you can just refer to each of your classroom routines in your binder rather than having to write them out every single time.
Now, if you decide to become a R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy Member, I walk you through how to create a crystal clear classroom management plan and binder.
I give you all of the editable templates so that you can use all of these resources in your first weeks of school to set your year up for success in terms of classroom management. I’ll be opening the doors to the Academy again in mid-June, so if you want to get on the waitlist, click here and I will reach out very soon to tell you more about how you can enroll!
There is Nothing More Important than That First Week
If I had a dime for how many new teachers have written to me, completely panicked because they didn’t do what they needed to do during the first few weeks of school to establish clear routines in their classroom.
Now, it was several weeks into the school year, and they were freaking out because their classroom and their students were completely out of control and wouldn’t listen to them.
So often, when teachers reach out at this point, they are afraid that they are at a point of no return – in fact, I’ve had teachers say that “I guess I’ll just have to live with this for this year because I didn’t do it right from the beginning.”
And while it’s true that it’s a lot harder to reign kids in once you need to re-establish how things will work inside your classroom, it isn’t impossible – you just have to know what to do.
By the way, if this sounds familiar to you - if you're a new teacher and you feel like your classroom management has gotten out of control - you might want to check out my Chaos to Confidence Classroom Management System:
I wish someone would have walked me through exactly how to be successful that first week. How to decide and get clear on my classroom routines, and then how to actually teach those routines to my students. What is that first hour – that first morning – supposed to look like? What is supposed to happen?
That’s EXACTLY what I teach you inside my R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy.
I walk you through, step-by-step, what that first morning looks like and feels like, which routines to teach each day, what to review and how often to review it, while giving you awesome, classroom-tested first week of school activities to help you to create an amazing classroom community.
What Students Remember Most is How You Make them Feel
I know that as new teachers, we can get pretty caught up in how our classrooms look. We want our classrooms to be super cute and I get it. It's also really fun to do and I LOVE to decorate my classroom. But here's the thing -
My past students, in all my years of teaching, never ONCE have they come back years later and told me that I made an incredible impact on their life because I had a super cute flamingo-themed classroom. Right? Nobody does that!
No. Instead, what they remember is that day when they had a really hard time understanding that math concept and you took the extra time to walk them through it, one more time, until their eyes lit up and you both experienced that incredible moment.
What they remember is that you had that amazing treasure map and treasure chest in your classroom, filled with scrolls of stories about your adventures around the world to inspire them and remind them that they can do and be anything their hearts desire.
What they remember is that time they were getting bullied at recess, and you took the time to really listen and understand what was going on, that you monitored the situation and made sure that they felt safe.
That’s what your job is – to help your students know that you genuinely care, that they are important to you, and that they matter.
I wish somebody had told me that you’ll never be so tired, and you’ll never experience such highs or have more fun than you will this year.
You’re in for the ride of your life, so hold on and decide right now to enjoy the ride.
Now the thing is, although nobody told me all of this stuff before my first year, I’m here, hosting this podcast and serving you so that you don’t have to feel like you are going through any of this on your own.
Again, to help you feel prepared for your first year, I want to invite you into my brand new, FREE masterclass, “4 Secrets to Success in Your First Year of Teaching.”
Inside this masterclass, I will walk you through the most important things you can focus on this summer to truly be ready for your first year of teaching. Click here to register and reserve your seat!
All right, I hope this was helpful for you, and I really hope to see you on the masterclass – it’s going to be SO good - to walk you through exactly what you can do this summer to prepare for your first year of teaching.
I hope you have a fabulous week, and until next time, remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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