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Some of the biggest challenges that come with being a first year teacher are mental challenges. It’s that feeling that you aren’t good enough and that you aren’t cut out for this profession. It’s what you say to yourself when you’re in the midst of all the overwhelm that can do the most damage. This is what leads to so many teachers leaving the profession prematurely.
As you know, I’ve dedicated this entire podcast to all the things that I wish teachers learned in University. In episode 143, The Phases of First Year Teaching, I discussed the six phases that first year teachers go through. I really think that these phases should be one of the core things that we learn about in University. If it was taught, then teachers could be more prepared for the psychological challenges that come with teaching.
The different phases of a first year teacher’s experience can dramatically impact how you’re feeling about your position and your ability to be a teacher. The first three of the phases begin with anticipation, then survival, and then disillusionment. Disillusionment occurs around the months of November and December. It’s during this phase that you may realize things aren’t going the way you thought they would go. You begin to question your commitment to the profession and your overall competence.
During this disillusionment phase, you’re likely going through parent teacher conferences, evaluations from administrators, and maybe even complaints from parents. The teacher down the hall seems to have it all together, but you feel like you’re drinking out of a fire hose. It is a lot to handle at once. It’s the perfect storm for you to question whether or not you belong in this career at all.
So, how do you navigate this phase successfully? How do you get some relief that you can continue? It begins with acknowledging that you are in this phase of the year and realizing that you aren’t alone. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to question what to do about it. Whatever circumstances you are faced with in your classroom right now is your reality. What you say to yourself about these circumstances is what makes all the difference in the world.
It’s very possible that your expectations may be wildly out of alignment with reality. We always expect ourselves to be so much further than where we are. The distance between reality and what you imagined is where the struggle is. But that distance and that struggle is the result of unrealistic expectations. It is self-imposed. You cannot expect your behavior management or your reading groups to be running as smoothly as a teacher with twenty years of experience. I learned this lesson when I was in the classroom, and similarly I’ve learned the same lesson as a business owner.
I have learned that the act of comparing myself to others, or asking myself to perform at a level that is unrealistic or impossible for where I am in my journey, is an expression of a lack of self love. The same is true for you as a new teacher. I’m asking you to make a commitment to show compassion to yourself and to celebrate the amazing things that are happening. When we’re so focused on what’s ahead, we miss the magic of this moment.
I promise that the rejuvenation phase is coming. But for now, acknowledge and celebrate how far you’ve come since you started the school year. Oh, and please go home and get some sleep. You will feel like a new person when you do. You’re going to be just fine.
I hope this information is helpful as you prepare for your first, second, or third year of teaching. Until next time, remember, just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's 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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