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7 Things Learned as A First Year Teacher

Kelisha King  |  July 20, 2021
The first year of teaching is hard for anyone. It’s a new experience with new opportunities and unknowns, and we do what we can to make the best of it. We’re prepared in school, but there are some experiences you just can’t prepare for. Here are some things I learned my first year of teaching.
  1. Plan ahead.
As soon as you can get your hands on curriculum, start thinking about how you want to use it. I wish I would have prepared more so I would have walked into my first year a little more ready. Start thinking about lessons and activities. I use Teachers Pay Teachers, and it’s really helped get me through planning.

Remember that the more you work with curriculum, the better you will get with it. I’m an overthinker, so it’s nice to be prepared on a Sunday and know that I’m in a good place to start my week.
  1. Don’t be afraid of failure.
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

When I was in college, it was etched into my brain that I was going to fail during my first year. I lived with the fear of not doing well until I realized I was doing just fine. When I had my observations, it hit home for me that I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought.

You don’t need to be afraid of failing. Be passionate and do what you’re here to do – teach. Don’t worry about failing or not, because at the end of the day, you’re going to see how well you’re doing in your students.
  1. Go with the flow.
While it may sound contradicting to “plan ahead”, it’s good to be nimble. You can have a detailed plan for what you want to do, and it may not happen. I’ve had days where I only get through half of my lesson plan. Sometimes things happen, and you can’t spend time being angry or upset – just go with it.

Sometimes my students will get a concept right away and we can move on quicker, but other times it doesn’t go as well, and we need to go over it again or readdress it the next day. If they don’t grasp something, it’s okay! Do what you need to do to make sure they understand.
  1. Build classroom community and culture.
The Teacher’s Lounge podcast talks a lot about creating relationships with students and having a good classroom culture where students are engaged. My advice is to build and earn their trust. If students don’t trust you, they won’t feel comfortable talking to you. I’ve built a culture of trust with my students and now they tell me everything under the sun. They tell me what’s happening in their day or what’s going on at home. This way, they feel good about coming to me when they need help or don’t understand a concept.
  1. Don’t be afraid to laugh!
It’s so important to laugh with your students. Sometimes there are moments when my class is just able to laugh, or they want to tell jokes. It’s okay to spend time on this to build class culture. They enjoy sharing what’s going on with them. Sometimes I spend a little too much time on this side of it but letting them relax and put their guards down is so important.

Balancing having a good time and getting to curriculum can be a challenge at first, especially when you’re having fun. If you spend 30 minutes getting to know your students, give yourself grace in knowing that you haven’t lost a whole day. You still have time to get to your lessons. You’ll find a balance when you get used to it.
  1. Self-care.
I was a first-year teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic, so I learned a thing or two about self-care as a new teacher. I’m still working on this process for myself, but I began limiting the days I worked after school when I started feeling burnt out. My brain was tired. Not everything has to go home with you – it’s okay to leave certain things for tomorrow.
 
I had an “I have to get everything done right now” mindset at first, but balance is vital. My grandma was a teacher for 40 years, and my mother has been a teacher for 25 years, and they both show me the importance of balance. Work-life balance is a challenge, but it is worth focusing on. Knowing when to disconnect is key in avoiding burnout. Do what works for you. Each teacher’s version of balance is unique to them.
  1. You’ll learn every year.
Don’t forget that you have an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher every year. You may not be perfect your first year, but who is? You’ll learn yourself as a teacher, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll learn a ton along the way. Give yourself grace, and you’ll do great!