Dear New Teacher,
As you complete your degree, I am sure you are full of excitement and doubt and joy and fear. Teaching is a fulfilling career and I wish you all the best. But please read a few words of wisdom about your chosen field.
Don’t Lose Your Enthusiasm
This can be difficult as the field of education is under attack from all directions. Parents, communities, politicians, business leaders – all angles that think they know the secrets and the pitfalls and how to fix it. The one-size fits all approach doesn’t work in education. Too many variables are at work and only teachers can ever truly understand it.
But you are young and idealistic. You are about to enter this new phase of your life with a bull like momentum that the field needs. This new enthusiasm repeats every single year but that will fade too quickly for many.
Try not to lose it.
Teaching can be joyful and fulfilling. You can begin each day fresh with a positive attitude and end the day knowing that you made a difference. At the end of the year, you may be tired and in need of a break but you can be excited to work and plan over the summer for the next year. Anticipation for each new challenge is one of the most important elements for longevity in this career.
Avoid the negative influences. Ignore the always angry and complaining colleagues. The bitterness will wear you down and change the way you see your career faster than you will realize it is happening and bouncing back from that is beyond hard.
Do not go out of your way to avoid help from those willing but also don’t be a wallflower. Many at the school are there to help and will gladly lend you a hand when necessary. But you can hurt your own momentum if you always appease everyone around you. Stand your ground when necessary but do so with respect. Don’t let your ego get in the way if you need help and ask for it with grace.
Learn from Mistakes
You are going to make A TON of mistakes. You will say or do the wrong thing to your students. You are going to have many lessons that just don’t work well. Every single teacher has forgotten to take attendance. Equipment will be broken, textbooks will be lost, your room will lock and you won’t be able to get back in.
Each mistake has its own level of consequence and some will really cause some trouble. Do not let it intimidate you. Learn from it. After all, this is exactly what you are teaching your students – perseverance. You are better than the mistakes. Eventually, the mistakes will lessen in both frequency and severity. When this happens, you will have a real sense of security in the profession.
Do Not Spend Your Entire Paycheck on Day 1
Until you have taught a day, you have no idea what you need. Not really. Until you have taught a week, you have no idea what kind of teacher you want to be – or need to be.
The point is, don’t spend your entire paycheck on cute rugs and flexible seating and rainbow-colored file folders and paper. Gel pens are cool but you do not need every color available. That amazing tablet with all of the promises of 21st century teaching may enhance what you want to do but you do not know if you are allowed to have it in the classroom.
Buy the essentials – the real essentials. I can guarantee that if you go on a massive shopping spree to Target and Staples, you won’t use half of what you buy. Buy a few basic office supplies. Ask your fellow teachers what they think is essential and then think about it before you buy it.
Not every teacher has the same methods and what works for one will not work for another. Having the perfectly themed Pinterest classroom is not necessary on your first day or in your first year (ever really). You will grow your collection of supplies and decor over your career. Take it easy at first and build over time.
Don’t Stop Learning
Your field is always changing. New research yields new trends and new materials and resources you will need. Don’t get stuck with one way but instead expand your arsenal of tools. Be flexible in what you consider and attempt new things. Don’t disregard something just because it doesn’t fit you. Sometimes there are ways to integrate something new after careful thought and planning.
20, 30, 40, or even 50 years of teaching is a long time to never change how you do it. If we never changed, we’d still be using slates in one room schoolhouses with teachers who had no formal education.
Good luck. Be you. And stand by it.
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