With the upcoming school year fast approaching, and the anticipation and excitement that come with each new class, I cannot help but reflect back several years to my first year of teaching. I was much younger, I was scared, and I was excited; I felt completely scattered–not knowing where to start, and I had big dreams of being THAT teacher.
To say I don’t get scared, excited, feel scattered, and wish I could be THAT teacher each new school year, now, would be a lie. I think, to some degree, most teachers feel those same things.
That first year—wow (I sure hope those students are now productive members of society). It was a year I’ll never forget (kinda wish I could forget some of it, though). As I sit and reminisce, I think about some of the things I wish I would’ve known; some of the things I think could’ve helped me, and some of the things that might help a new teacher anticipating their first year. Here is the letter I wish I could’ve given to myself (from my future teacher-self).
As you’re getting ready to start your first year, I know you’re feeling very unsure of a lot of things. You’re excited, but I know you’re feeling like you don’t know where to start, and the most important thing I can tell you right now is to just trust yourself. You’ll be fine; you’ll make it through those first few weeks where you come home overwhelmed and crying about how you don’t want to be a teacher (true).
You know how you always thought you’d make the best teacher? Well, you do, but your definition of “best” and what you’ll learn are two different things. You see, the best teacher views his/her students through the eyes of love. Yes, it is so hard to do for some kids. I mean, really hard. Just always remember, there are no “bad” kids. Give them your best (even when they lock you out of the classroom, give you the finger, and tell you to @$%# off—all in one day). Don’t think of them as the spawn of anything, but rather, that they are small humans looking for acceptance, attention, and, most of all, your love (aren’t we all). Kill them with kindness, and keep your cool. Just really try hard to remember, “Somebody loves them,” and so should you. You’ll learn the best teacher gives their best.
On the days you just sit at your desk after school and wonder, “What just happened?” remember you are good enough. Not all days are like that, but those days will happen, and they do for every teacher. Don’t compare yourself to any other teacher, because sometimes, like social media feeds, classroom teachers may only want you to see their best reel. You may not see the occasional crappy test scores, out of control students, or failed math lessons, but, believe me, those things happen— for all teachers. You are good enough.
As you’re getting ready to start your first school year, please understand that your classroom does not have to be “picture perfect”— despite what you see on Pinterest. Great teaching moments can happen in a classroom where not everything matches with a cute classroom theme. Please don’t stress out and stay up until 1:00 a.m. the day school starts just to make sure your posters and décor are just so.
One thing you really should spend a lot of time on is classroom procedures. They will save your life! Just think about how you want each day to be run, and then think about all the things you’ll need to teach your students to make that happen; everything from how to line up, how to turn in homework, how/when to sharpen pencils, how to change seating, how to do whiteboard response, and on, and on. Tell them, model it, and practice it—over and over again. Procedures cannot be learned in a day, so don’t feel badly if the teacher next door is on her tenth math lesson and you’re still on the first because you spent so much time on getting your essential classroom procedures in place.
One last bit of advice that I can give you is really, “fake it til you make it.” No kidding. You’ve got this! You may not feel you do on most days, but you do. Just take each day as they come, don’t stress about what you feel you should be doing, and trust yourself. You’ll make it even if you do have to fake it some days!