New Teacher Help: Realistic Expectations

Welcome to teaching! Whether you majored in education and did student teaching or signed up for an alternative certification program, you’re about to step into your very own classroom for the first time. You’re probably reading this article because you’re nervous (or outright terrified) and looking for some tips.

First things first.

Your first year will be like taking a drink through a fire hose, a bewildering array of curriculum, dress code, fire drills, data analysis, state standards, testing days, pep rallies, 504s, IEPs, BIPs, TELPAS, lesson plans, grading, electronic grade books, attendance codes, parent contacts, and intervention logs. You’ll need caffeine. Lots of caffeine.

But I promise that it will be okay. Millions of other teachers have acclimated, and so will you. It’s kind of like learning how to drive. Remember how in the beginning you had to consciously think about so many different things? Checking your rearview mirror, side mirrors, blind spots, speed, wondering whether you were actually in the center of your lane, trying to figure out the right time to begin slowing down for a stop sign or red light, merging onto the freeway, changing lanes . . . it’s a wonder you didn’t die in your first year of driving, right? But now driving on auto-pilot is a thing. You can get all the way home from work or school and realize that you weren’t really paying that much attention because your mind was on other things. Somehow you have internalized all of those driving functions that used to take up so much alert processing power that you really shouldn’t have even had the car radio on.

Likewise, all those million details of teaching will become internalized so that, well, you’ll still have to think about them, but it’ll become familiar and manageable.

So here’s my advice to you for your first year:

  • Do your best, but don’t expect yourself to win Teacher of the Year because you did All The Things and did them perfectly – it’s no good putting that kind of pressure on yourself.
  • Focus on teaching your students something while keeping them from climbing the rafters.
  • Forge a relationship with them so that you can become a positive influence on their lives.
  • Keep up with the administrivia well enough not to get into trouble.
  • Pick one or two things you want to do really well and focus on excelling in those areas.

Here’s a final thought for you. The year Freedom Writers came out, our principal reserved a theater and took the entire faculty to see it. It was quite stirring. But I’ll never forget the conversation a couple of my colleagues had afterward. One of them had read up on the teacher, Erin Gruwell, on whom the movie was based. It turns out that she only stayed in the high school classroom for four years. Yes, she made a phenomenal impact on those students and went on to influence many other teachers and students through the movie and through her Freedom Writers Foundation. But she wasn’t necessarily a model for the person who intends to stay in the classroom long-term. Neither was Jaime Escalante from Stand and Deliver – he overworked himself into a heart attack, after all. Both are inspirations. But as one of my colleagues said, “I really want to see a movie about that 30-year veteran who has inspired students but also maintained a good work-life balance.”

Bottom line: Year One is just Year One. You have time to learn and perfect your craft. I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t look back and wince, wondering whether we should contact all those Year One students and apologize profusely. As long as you have compassion for your students and make some kind of positive impact on them, you will be a success.

Good luck! Keep an eye out for more New Teacher Help articles!

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