Dear First Year Teacher Stacy,
Congratulations on your first English teaching job in public school! You are going to have some tough times ahead of you, but they will help you grow in to a great teacher. I’m writing to you from year six, and I can promise you that you will love your job soon. Here’s some advice about a few things I have learned along the way. I hope it helps you through the rough spots that you will inevitably face.
1. Don’t try to be the coolest teacher. Be the best teacher.
In your first year, you will struggle a bit to find the balance of being a good teacher and being well liked by students. At first, you care a little too much about being well liked and not enough about being effective. You spend a little too much time off topic and not enough time focusing on developing skills. It is more important for a teacher to have students respect than their favor. You need to try and find a balance between fun and effectiveness. Students will respect you for creating a solid rapport within a challenging class. Students will enjoy your class because you are a great teacher. They will enjoy your activities and lessons. They will laugh with you and learn with you if they can respect you.
2. You can never regain control once it is lost.
It is essential for you to start the year on a good foot. You should work hard at the start of the year to teach your students the policies and procedures you want them to know. This is when you establish the accepted behavior of the class. Your first year at JMHS started in a whirlwind. You were hired on Thursday and you started the following Tuesday. It took you some time to get on your feet and running, and it showed. You didn’t take the time to set proper policies and procedures because you weren’t sure how things were done at your new school. Once you were comfortable, you struggled to regain control of the class and hold them accountable. In the future, set the standard for acceptable behavior and classroom rules from the start. As a veteran, I now start the year on a strict note and I tend to loosen up as the semester goes on. If you have the opportunity to start at a new school, be confident that you know the right way to run your class, even if you may not be comfortable with the school’s way of doing things yet.
3. Follow your heart, your gut, your brain, or any other vital organ giving you messages.
Your first year Your first few years at John Marshall were rough emotionally. You knew what you should be doing for your students, but that wasn’t always the norm for the other teachers in your department. When you tried to innovate, they talked about you and ridiculed you. So you stopped. You adopted their old school ways of doing things and your student engagement dropped. You student discipline problems skyrocketed, and you hated your job. You put what you believed was right on the back burner and you did what everyone else was doing. It took you a few years to realize the disservice you were doing for your students. Around year four you will throw caution to the wind and do what you have known was right all along. Do it sooner. Follow your heart and connect with your students in the way you know is right.
4. Consider what the best teachers would think.
My decision to do what was right instead of what was normal came after reading What Great Teachers do Differently. The book encourages teachers to consider what the best teachers in the building would think of your words, actions, lessons, and behaviors. This was groundbreaking for me. What would Mrs. Kuskey think if she walked into my room right now? What would Mrs. Dewitt think of this email I’m about to send? What would Mr. Little or Mrs. Joseph think of the way you’re teaching this story? Would Mr. Swiger think this PBL was a waste of essential class time or would he believe you were growing students’ problem solving and cognitive thinking abilities? When I thought of these teachers in comparison to myself, I realized I needed a change. From your first year on, consider what the best teachers would think of the happenings in your classroom. Elevate yourself to their high standards.
5. Hold students to higher standards.
First year was rough, and understandably you struggled to find a balance between what your students could do and what you expected them to do. When students didn’t meet your expectations right away, you lowered them to try and help students succeed. You didn’t realize it at the time, but you were really not helping them at all. Students will test you to see what they can get away with. Naturally, most won’t do more than they have to due to the lack of intrinsic motivation in a traditional classroom. Set your expectations high and stick to them. Then find ways to motivate your students to meet the goals. You figure this out pretty quickly, but it’s worth the mention.
6. Stay away from the drama.
Dr. Camden taught you to stay out of the teacher’s lounge, and you follow her directions. But there are plenty of other hubs for negativity in a school too. Really, you need to approach your day with a mentality which keeps you free from the negative undertone which ripples through schools. When people complain, try and offer a solution. Understand that it is easier for some people to see the bad then to fix the problems. Do what you can to help, but don’t be part of the problem. You have a powerful voice that you can use to move the school forward in a positive way. Around year 5 you embrace your voice and work hard to stay away from the negativity (The No Complaining Rule was the game changer for this mentality). Do it sooner. You, and only you, control your happiness. If you want to love your job, make it happen. Kids feed from your energy, make sure what you’re putting out into the world is positive.
7. Read, Grow, Learn
You don’t know it all. You don’t even know most of it. Continue your education on your own. Your school before JM would send you anywhere you wanted to go for professional development. Marshall County has a ton more teachers than Abraxas had, and they cannot offer you the possibilities of attending any and every training you want to attend. But in today’s day and age, you can do it alone. Get online, read, and connect with educators all over the world. Use Twitter, read studies on motivation, and continue to take classes. There is so much more you can learn and do. You don’t need county funds or CE days to learn.
8. Be Crazy
Let your students see your silliness. In a few years, Dave Burgess will write Teach Like a Pirate and it will describe the teacher you have always wanted to be. Lose the fear; Embrace the crazy. Wear costumes, speak in accents, decorate your room, teach creativity, and let your passion show.
First year me, you’re going to make it through the rough times. There will be lots of smiles, laughs, and a few tears. You will grow into a strong and confident teacher. You will connect with hundreds of kids and you will change lives. Some days are hard, but looking back I can honestly say that they were all worth it.