I was extremely nervous for my first day of school and felt totally under qualified and under prepared. I had nightmares about that first day. These kids were going to be 100% my responsibility! Was I ready? Turns out I wasn’t and at the same time I was. I had no idea what I would be going through the next 9 months but I had been properly prepared to survive it! Here are a few things I learned during my 1st year teaching.
You Will Have Good Days & HORRIBLE Days
Teaching is kind of like riding a roller coaster. Some days your students are angels, your lesson plans go well, you remembered to pack a lunch, and you think your students actually listened to what you were trying to teach. Then….there are days where you want to crawl under your desk and hide until 3:00pm and it’s only 8:15am. Your students have destroyed your room while you were out on bus duty, two of them keep fighting, your lesson got interrupted by an impromptu fire drill where you lost one of your students, and then you get a call after school that one of your students never made it home…and it’s Halloween. PERFECT! (Thor decided to get off the bus at a friend’s house instead of his own.) Just be ready to handle to the roller coaster. The good days will outweigh the bad and hopefully you have a bucket of ice cream waiting for you at home to make the bad days not so bad!
You Will Be stretched
I think my first year of teaching was one of the most difficult/rewarding times of my life. Every day seemed to bring new challenges and opportunities for growth (like how I phrased that like it’s a good thing) ;). I never imagined I would have a first grader punch me in the stomach while pregnant, or need to bring the reading rate of a student up from 2 wpm to 60 to meet the benchmark, or that our first common core math test would end in 1/2 of the class in tears. YES, all of those things are true! But I will tell you that the student that punched me is the one I ended up missing the most, the struggling student’s reading rate did make it to 60 wpm by the end of the year, and we didn’t have any more tears in my classroom after that horrendous test! Things will work out but be prepared to be stretched.
Teaching Isn’t Always About Teaching
I don’t think I was prepared for the weight of the responsibility that comes with being a 1st grade (or any grade really) teacher. These kiddos were incredibly dependent on me. I needed to make sure they had a good breakfast, they had their coats on for recess, that they ate lunch, that they had friends at recess and weren’t being bullied, and that they got on the right bus or into the right car after school!
I wasn’t a parent at the time but these students became my children for 8 hours of the day. I loved them like they were my own. I would have done anything for them. One student in particular had to brave horrendous circumstances at home. Mom was in jail, the man he was staying with who he thought was his dad was actually his uncle and dad hadn’t been seen or heard from since birth. He lived in a trailer and wore the same outfit every day and hadn’t brushed his teeth in YEARS. I wanted to adopt this boy and help him have the life he deserved. But a wise college professor taught me that there will always be students you want to take home and save them from their reality. You can’t do it for all of them. You can only try to make their 8 hours a day with you one’s where they feel safe and loved. I became that boy’s biggest advocate. Learning his letters and numbers were NOT the priority with him. He had major behavioral problems but I knew that it wasn’t his fault. I would bring him breakfast every day and he would come into my classroom to eat it before school started, then I would have him brush his teeth with a toothbrush I bought him. How could I expect him to behave or learn when his basic needs weren’t being met? No it wasn’t my job to do that but it was the right thing to do. Turns out that once his basic needs were met he proved to be one of the smartest students in class.
Communication is Key
I was very intimidated by parents when I first started teaching. Did they hate me? View me as under qualified? Wish their child had been placed in a different classroom because I was new? All of these questions ran through my mind. When we had back to school night I was a mess. ALL of my student’s parents were going to be looking to me to tell them how I was going to take care of their children and help them learn what they needed to in order to advance to 2nd grade. I decided the one thing that would make them feel like I was going to do okay at my job was to let them know I would work hard for each one of them and I was going to have an open door policy. I gave them my cell number and email. I know some teachers don’t like that but I was ok with it. I sent out weekly newsletters to remind parents of activities, assignments, and let them know what we had been learning in class that week. By the end of the year I had parents telling me how much their child loved me and how grateful they were. I think the only reason that happened was because I was open and communicated with them whenever there was a problem. Yes, there were parents who didn’t and may not have cared for me. But knowing that some of them did appreciate the hard work was amazing!
Co-Workers are one of your BEST Resources
Starting the year is overwhelming. What should your schedule be like? What kind of curriculum will you be using? Where should you get your supplies? Field trips? Classroom rules? The questions that need to be answered are endless! I had amazing co-workers that were so willing to help me! One in particular saved me. She took me under her wing and would bring over fun activities that she was doing and shared with me all year-long! When I was sick she would prep for my sub and I would do the same for her. I would cry on her shoulder on the days where I felt defeated and she would encourage and uplift me so that I could come back the next day ready to try again! Hopefully you can find someone like that at your school, because I honestly don’t know if I would have survived that year without her!
If you take anything away from this let it be that teaching is much harder than the world depicts it to be. But you are stronger than you think and you will be great at it if you love the children and work hard to give them your best! If you are starting your first year soon good luck to you! If you just finished your first year you probably have some great stories of your own to tell!