Every time I meet a teacher in their first few years of teaching, my heart goes out to them! Nothing can prepare you for that first year when you feel like you will never remember all the things you are supposed to do…
If I could go back and speak to my young, eager, new-teacher self, here is what I would say:
1. It does get better. The first year of teaching is so hard, you don’t even know how hard it is until you are out of it! The learning curve is almost vertical, you don’t know where anything is, what anything means, you feel like you are chasing your tail all the time, there are never enough hours in the day and you feel like you are not teaching your students anything.
2. You will never get it all done. Teaching is like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge; by the time you get it all done, it is time to start again! Learn to prioritise tasks so that the student learning is always at the fore front. Admin tasks will always get done and if you can find more efficient ways to complete them you will have more time for teaching e.g. roll marking can be done by the students themselves, or quickly by you while they are getting down to work or as incorporate it into lessons to get to know your students better. For more efficient ways to mark student work see here.
3. You don’t have to have all the answers. Teachers often feel like it is hard to say ‘I don’t know’ to students because they don’t want to lose face. If you are to build a supportive classroom where students feel that it is ok to take risks and make mistakes, you need to lead by example. Show them that it is not the content that is valued but knowing how to find the answers and critically analyse information.
It is also okay to ask for help from colleagues. You may not feel comfortable doing this, especially when you first start teaching and if you are not permanent. You may feel as though you are in a perpetual job interview. It is okay not to know everything and to ask for help. Most experienced teachers will understand and will help if they are asked, but they are not mind readers! They will assume you are okay unless you say otherwise. Asking for help is not a weakness, it’s smart!
4. You need a mentor. Find an experienced teacher who is aligned with your values with whom you can talk, and who can give you advice without judgement, on an ongoing basis. Teaching can be a very isolated profession and you will struggle along on your own if you don’t have a sounding board. You need time with your class to figure things out and to try all the exciting strategies you have been learning about, and it is great to have someone who can give you feedback and make helpful suggestions.
5. The kids will remember how you made them feel. I still run into students from my first years of teaching and they don’t remember my disorganisation, or my floundering with programming or how I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing. They remember the fun we had and that I cared about them and was genuinely happy to see them every day. They learnt to love school because of the relationships we built and the way I made them feel :)