Dear New Teacher,

Dear New Teacher,

Hi, I’m Tracy.

I was once where you are: happy to be in a job, but exhausted from the first week and already feeling behind.

And sadly, not much has changed in 18 years. My room wasn’t as ready as I wanted it.  I didn’t get to read or plan as much as I would have liked to. But there wasn’t enough time, there never is, and I have finally, after 18 years, realized you have to let that stress go.  If you don’t, it will eat at you.

There are some things that I have learned over the years that have made my professional life better.  And if it please my readers (all four of you), I’d like to share some tidbits.

First, find a good mentor. If you’re lucky your school system’s new teacher induction program will find you one.  If you aren’t, ask three people for recommendations:  the media specialist, your AP, and your department chair.  Best two out of three wins.  I was lucky in that my first few years were spent with the amazing Rachel; we were fast friends, and she had a few years classroom experience in her pocket.  If it weren’t for her, I’m not sure what I’d be doing right now, but it darn sure wouldn’t be teaching.

Then, get more sleep. It’s a cliche, but it’s a seriously accurate one.  You can only run on coffee and energy drinks for so long before the bags under your eyes start shopping for luggage, and you are getting snippy even with your best students.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people.

Order a yearbook.

Let your students take the lead on some things. Contrary to all the media gripes, students in general like to be trusted to do things, even if it is just dusting the bookshelves, and emptying the recycling. Assign volunteers to help in your classroom–passing out graded work or handouts, making flash card sets on Quizlet (one of my all-time favorite apps), or spot cleaning the area where the hole-puncher played snowstorm again.

If you read no other book about education, read “The First Days of School.”  It is the single best classroom management book ever. Period.  I’m serious.  Go get it.  It’s important enough that my district gives copies of it to new teachers.  And for a district to part with money for nearly 400 copies of anything, you know it’s got to be good.

Drink water.  Really, really ice cold water.  It’s refreshing, and it’s good for you.

Don’t be afraid to play music in the classroom.  Pandora has become one of my favorite websites.  The Piano Guys channel, with Lindsey Sterling added in, is great classroom background music.  Not quite classical, and just funky enough to keep the kids awake.

Keep it simple.  In decorating, projects, expectations, lesson plans, documentation…  It doesn’t have to be museum quality to keep your classroom going.  It does need to be thoughtful and age-appropriate, but if all you have time and money for is cleaning it, then go with clean.  You can’t go wrong with that.

Always keep a folder with a review packet or a set of articles on the same issue from different perspectives, copied and ready for the whole class.  Just in case you need a back up plan.

When all else fails, look to Pinterest for a journal prompt, or a grouping activity.  I’m convinced there has to be a way to get professional development for time spent on Pinterest, but no one I know has figured it out yet.

At the end of the year, have your students make scrap book pages. The years I haven’t squeezed this in, I have regretted.  Make them use their full name on it, so you can say you knew them when.

Ask for help when you need it.  It’s not embarrassing, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do.  I still need help, and I’ve gotten better at asking for it when I need to.

And that rule about not smiling?  Forget it.  Smile with, and at, your students.  It counts for something.

Here’s how I know.

Every night before bed, my five year-old, N. asks hopefully, “Do we get to go to school tomorrow, Mama?” And when the answer is affirmative, she does a fist pump with an excited, “Yesssss!”  I know it’s in part because every teacher I’ve met there smiles at their kids.  Even the ones they don’t teach. You have to work for N. to like you, and even more so to keep her attention.  Once she’s smiled at you, you’re in.  And for her to be so excited about school, it’s made a huge impression on her. So smile if your personality allows.

As long as you can stay one step ahead of the students, you’ll be ok.

And on the days you aren’t, you’ll improvise.

Finally, look back to your favorite teachers, and choose one.  Remember those “WWJD?” bracelets that used to be so popular?  Insert one of your favorite classroom teachers in there, and ask what that teacher would do.

Hang in there, Newbs.  It might not always be awesome, but you can almost always make it good.

Sincerely,

tracy

PS: Breathe.

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