Welcome to your first year as a teacher!
This is your year to shine :)
I decided to survey my fellow colleagues and teachers to provide a simple list of ways to survive as a graduate teacher. I have to say, the feedback and advice was overwhelming! I have condensed it down a bit as you will of course learn so much along the way from your mentor and buddies.
So here are twelve tips on how to get through your first year as a teacher.
1. Don't overcommit
Simple to say, but so difficult to do. This is the first tip and the most important one out of the list. It is your first year at a new school. You are most likely on a contract position and have stated in your interview that you are an enthusiastic and passionate teacher who throws themselves into all that the school has to offer.
You believe you have one year to make an impression and joining the musical, participating in all the camps, running an excursion and incursion, taking on an unofficial leadership role is the way to stand out. True, you will now be able to flesh out your KSC in more detail, but there is a risk: you will burn yourself out.
Keep within your comfort zone. If you have never even performed in a musical, don't put your hand up to direct it! If you want to help out, do ticket sales or refreshments on the night. Shadow someone running an incursion and offer to do the forms for the activity. Of course, still have them checked by the office staff and Daily Organiser to ensure that it is correct and following procedure. Spend your energy on your students, curriculum and getting to know the school. You can say no.
2. From the beginning be firm, fair and consistent
During a lecture at University, the professor said 'Don't smile until Easter' like Ms Trunchbull here. I disagree. You should of course smile and be friendly to the students but you need to set clear boundaries, rules and follow through immediately. This sets the expectations for the year. You can always relax a bit as the year continues, however you will struggle to take the reins back if you started soft.
3. Look after yourself first
Yes, we are in a profession where it takes more effort to take a sick day than it is to just come into work. You will always convince yourself that you must be there to run this activity, to meet with that parent, to mark that piece of work. However, the activity will still run if you are not there (maybe not as great but it still can work), the parent can be rescheduled or sent an email instead, and that student's work deserves more of your brainpower than you can give it whilst experiencing brain fog from the flu.
Eat healthy-even better, try to eat your lunch at lunchtime! Drink lots of water-not just coffee. Have a hobby beyond school and dedicate time for it even during report-writing season. See your family and friends regularly.
They say 'Happy wife=happy life'. I feel the same is for teachers- 'Happy teacher=happy students'.
4. Don't take things personally
Most of the student's misbehaviour is not directed at you personally. They have things going on in their lives that you might not be aware of. They may have not eaten breakfast, slept on the wrong side of the bed, stayed up all night playing video games...who knows? Just continue to be patient, firm and fair. Do not hold a grudge. Each day is a new day-the slate is wiped clean.
5. Reflect on the positives
You will have those days where you just want to curl up with a bottle of wine or whisky and watch Netflix. You will also have those days where it is lucky you do boxing after school! There will also be so many amazing and special moments that you don't want to forget. The students are the reason why you love your job. So make sure you spend time writing and reflecting on all those little and big moments in your first year. My Teaching Journal was made for teachers, by teachers. This journal will follow your entire teaching journey and aid mindfulness as you colour in the beautiful hand-drawn images.
6. Be adaptable: Always have a backup plan
Don't rely on technology! Make sure you always have a printed version of the textbook/resource/workbook/lesson plan just in case things go wrong. It is also very handy having a photo of the information as well. (Invest in the cloud or a good HD too.)
When the lesson doesn't progress the way you want it to, you can always stop the activity and change it up. Sometimes students get absorbed in an activity or topic for longer than you planned. Or they ask interesting questions which takes the topic in a different direction. That is ok too! They are still learning, probably even more so as they are intrigued and have control of where the topic is going.
7. Don't be a 'know it all'
The simple fact is: you don't know it all. It is your year to show what you have learnt but also it is ok to admit to the students that you don't have the answers to everything. Instead, you will find it out together. Explain that you are a life-long learner, they will appreciate this and it means far less stress on your end.
8. Befriend the support staff
Basically everyone at the school will help you in some way. You may be lucky to have a teacher's aide that will be popping in to your classrooms. They are a godsend! The IT guys are fantastic as your computer/ipad/projector or interactive whiteboard will fail at some point and they will save your bacon. You owe them chocolates at the end of the year! The cleaners will ensure that when you stay late you won't set off the alarms or they will let you in if you are super early. The office ladies and men are so extremely helpful; really, they run the school! Taking the time to learn names, smile and say thank you will go a long way.
9. Don't visit any stationery store without a set budget!
Perhaps this should be tip #1! Do not enter Kmart after payday! Or basically any store that contains stationery, small items that would be good for gifts, stickers and books. Stick to a budget. Keep receipts (can't claim chocolates though) and have a game plan. Otherwise you will end up walking out of Kmart with a giant blow-up flamingo as your new 'reading nook' chair and have spent far more than $2 at the local Reject Shop! I was also recommended to invest in a decent laminator.
10. Teaching is about excellence, not perfection
It is a marathon, not a race. You are not creating single lesson plans anymore, or short units to dazzle your supervisor and the students. Every lesson is not a unique, stand-alone topic that must have a plenary, short ICT activity, time for writing and then a closer. There are topics that go on for lessons where you can say 'continue on with yesterday's work'. Use these lessons to think ahead as soon enough you will be marking that main assessment piece which will take time. You will have lessons where you can roll out a task that doesn't require a lot of involvement or direction. Enjoy it!
As long as you are trying your best to help the students achieve their best, then you are doing a fantastic job.
11. Make two positive phone calls for every negative one
You would be surprised how effective this is at making you feel better after a negative phone call. Especially if you do this for a parent who normally receives phone calls regarding behavioural issues. It is also great at giving those students who sit in the middle with things like their behaviour and results-if they have improved on a set goal they had or did something well in class, they deserve a phone call too as they can be missed along the way.
12. Learn to prioritise
You will be told that everything MUST be done almost immediately. They will always say that. Talk to your mentor and figure out which tasks are really important and which ones are more flexible. It is not the end of the world if something is late.
So they are the main tips to keep in mind when beginning your first year as a teacher. If you do what you love, use humour and try your best, then you are going to have a wonderful year.
If you have any more tips to share, please comment below. Have a fantastic year and be sure to revisit these tips or write them down on your desk so that you keep things in perspective.
See our previous blog for 5 Essential items for a Graduate Teacher
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First published in 2018 EternalMemoriesAU