The Woes of a First Year Teacher

The group of students my school has gained this year has proved to be rather challenging. Parent phone calls started getting made by day 4. On the end of day 6, our resident first year teacher was at wit’s end. A colleague and I found ourselves in his room after school as he expressed his exasperation.

“For about 30 minutes after school, I just turned off the lights and it worked. People walked through but people got it. ‘He’s not trying to talk right now.'”

My colleague and I both found ourselves offering condolences.

“Your first year is always hard,” I said.
“Yeah, did I tell you that one day I crawled under my desk during passing period, curled up in the fetal position and cried?” my colleague offered.

Even as this was occurring, I knew it wasn’t helpful. Being told that someone else once felt your pain does not fix the current situation you are living in. So it made me wonder… what would help a new teacher?

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photo obtained from Pixabay, free for use.

We all know that part of the first year is struggling. It can often feel like you’re at the eye of a hurricane, everything spinning madly out of control around you.

Posts, videos, and books with tips for new teachers are easy to find. Like this article from Edutopia with tidbits of advice like “building relationships” and “blog with students”. And this collaborative post from the NEA with veteran teachers sharing advice based on their experiences.

With all of the posts floating around out there, I’ve yet to see anything with advice for veteran teachers about what they can do to help new teachers in their building. What would truly make the experience better for students? Below, I’ve compiled a few ideas of ways you might be able to make a new teacher’s year better.

  1. Help them solve problems instead of leaving them to drown.

This is easier said than done. It is more easily done in a middle school setting, when teaming and scheduling options are available but not limitless. However, finding ways to find solutions to problems or move especially difficult students around so that they aren’t together could alleviate some of a new teacher’s stress.

      2. Make sure to share your struggles.

It is easy as a new teacher to feel like you are stranded in the middle of the ocean, fighting to stay above water alone while everyone else seems to be happily floating along and enjoying themselves. Sharing your challenges with new teachers helps them to see that it isn’t just them, that even veteran teachers struggle to figure out kids, or lose their cool, or have to give in and send a kid out of the room. Knowing that this is part of teaching and not just part of being new will help alleviate some of the stress.

      3. Continue offering help, even if the new teacher isn’t taking it.

It can be scary to take someone up on their help. It can feel like admitting defeat, or like your ability to do your job will be called into question if you take any help offered to you. Continuing to offer help gives the new teacher the reassurance that someone is there if they do want help, and they may come to you eventually, or they may not come to you at all, but continuing to offer help defines you as a safe space should the new teacher choose to utilize you.

 4. Stress the importance of putting the work down sometimes

Many times as a first year teacher, I found myself devoting all of my time outside of school to school. It felt like the work kept going. and going. and going. As teachers, the work truly could be endless if we let it be. This feeling of needing to perpetually be preparing for school is a quick way to burn out. Taking time for yourself is maybe the most important trick to having a fulfilling career. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to merely tell new teachers to take time for themselves. This can feel patronizing and like it’s being said because you can see that they’re exhausted. Instead, this needs to be modeled for them. Saying things like “Last night I didn’t grade anything. I sat on my couch and watched TV and everything is fine,” is much more useful. New teacher’s will see that their veteran colleagues are doing this and realize it’s okay for them to do it too.

And teachers, new and veteran alike, if you need a little fire back in your soul, this poem is for you:

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