One of my favorite young adult literature authors is Chris Crutcher. Way back when, when I was in college, I went to hear him speak at a book release event.
Something he said has stuck with me in the decade plus since: “Some of the best medicine for a kid is a healthy dose of ‘I am not alone’”.
That phrase has always stuck with me. It’s pretty powerful.
And this concept certainly does not only apply to young adults. Knowing you are not alone in feeling what you may be feeling can change everything.
Apart from motherhood, there have not been many times in my life that I needed a healthy does of “I am not alone” more than I did when I was a first-year teacher.
In fact, one of the things that kept me sane through student teaching and my first year in the classroom were the bi-monthly happy hours I attended with a group I met in college.
During those happy hours, we shared successes, annoyances, we sometimes cried, and by the end of the year, we all knew one another’s problem kiddos by name. This group was my safe space. I could share without judgment, and most importantly, because of this crazy professional journey we all embarked upon together, I knew the group understood what I was feeling.
Now I realize that not everyone has an amazing group of peers to vent to, but from time to time, we all need that healthy dose of “I am not alone”. So, here is a list of ten things every first year teacher thinks at some point during their first year.
“I can’t do this.”
“My first independent placement was in a school for children with multiple disabilities. I walked in so many of my first days thinking, there is no way I can do this. I got into special education to make a difference in the lives of children, but each time a lesson didn’t go as planned or something I attempted wasn’t effective I felt like I was letting them down. A supervisor helped me to see the small victories: a student who used a new sign we had worked on for the first time; a student who smiled when I walked in the room. You are making a difference, but sometimes those differences can be hard to see or not what you expect (especially in the beginning!).” -Danielle, Arizona
My goodness, can teaching be hard. I can’t even count the number of times I thought about just walking out and finding a less demanding career. I am grateful beyond measure that I didn’t choose to do that. My five years in the classroom brought me some of my favorite memories. I could do it. I did do it. And so will you. I just had to take things one day at a time and remember that I didn’t have to be the world’s best teacher straight out of the gate.
“Why does it still take me three hours to write a lesson plan?!”
“In school they taught us to write these detailed, perfectly crafted lesson plans. Then real-life started and creating the world’s most beautiful lesson plans began to take over my life. And then you learn how to plan in the real-world. It’s messy. It’s painful at times (I’m looking at you, fellow type-As). But it’s effective and allows you to have a life outside of your classroom which is a necessity.” -Danielle, Arizona
I had a department chair that loved collecting my lesson plans. Weekly. (Enter eye roll here).
Writing lesson plans was never something I enjoyed. I planned, but it was typically on stickey notes I scratched on the night before.
Lesson plans took me forever to write. It took forever for me to learn the template she asked for, which conveniently, was different from the way I was taught in college.
In the thick of my frustration, there were times I allowed myself to believe that my difficulty in writing these lesson plans meant I was ill-equipt to teach.
Not the case.
Lesson plans just were never my thing. Writing them did eventually get easier, and I know they will for you, too.
“Teachers pay Teachers is a lifesaver.”
“Our school PTO started giving Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards away at staff meetings. I can’t even tell you how excited I get any time I get chosen as a recipient. Best. Gift. Ever!” -Katie, Chandler
What I wouldn’t have given to have this resource during my first year.
There is no shame in buying lessons from Teachers Pay Teachers! Just because you did not create whatever it is you’re teaching does not mean that you should be ashamed in using it.
There are incredible resources on that site. Use them!
Don’t want to pay for lessons? We have some fantastic free lessons about leadership for you to try out with your students.
“Can this parent tell that my voice is shaking?!”
“I will never forget the first phone call I made to a parent. There was a sassy student in my class and I wanted to make sure I handled everything appropriately while staying professional. I definitely had to take a few deep breaths before I picked up the phone.” -Tiffany, 24
I still remember thinking this as I spoke to parents, whether it was on the phone or at back-to-school night.
My goodness… there was nothing that could freak me out quite the way that calling a parent could. What I did that helped to ease that fear was I gave myself practice. If I needed to call home regarding an issue I was having with a student, I would choose two or three other students’ parents to call first.
During these two or three calls, I would compliment the student on something they’d done in class. Having these conversations were always heartening. The parents enjoyed them as much as I did.
By the time I got around to calling home with a not-so-favorable message to convey, I felt warmed up and my anxiety surrounding the call was much less intense.
5. “Am I allowed to sleep during my lunch period?”
“There were a number of times I felt like my eyes literally could not stay open during the day. I thought college was exhausting, and then I began teaching and learned what true exhaustion is.” -Valerie, 25
Do it. Sleep during your lunch period. Lock your door. Turn off the lights. Turn on an alarm (or seven), but SLEEP!
I actually kept a blanket and a pillow in my classroom for the days when I just needed some shut-eye. And yes, I definitely used them.
I always had this fear that someone was going to get angry, or I would get in trouble if I took a nap. Honestly, there were times I would not have survived without a mid-day nap. If you don’t have a meeting, aren’t assigned to a duty, and don’t have students who need to make up a test or quiz, take that nap!
6. “Don’t cry in front of the students, don’t cry in front of the students…”
“Do not cry or show your emotions in front of any special needs child or any child. As hard as it can be, always remember to breathe and also remember that oxygen is your go-to even in the hardest situations. Remember all you did was worth it. It helps me every day.”Mitzi Tempe, AZ
This was one of the greatest pieces of advice I have received from my mentor teacher.
Do. Not. Cry. In. Front. Of. The. Students.
Do not do it. There were countless times I felt that burning in my eyes and was tempted to let the waterworks flow. During my time in education, I’ve shed tears because I was frustrated, angry, hurt, or even just because I felt too tired to function.
I never cried in front of my students.
It’s just one of those things you can never take back. Kids can be cruel. If you choose to cry in front of them, they may begin to aim to get those tears flowing just because they can. This is not a game you want to encourage.
If you feel the urge to let the tears flow, take a drink of water. Go “check emails” for a second. Bend down to tie your shoe. Do something to take your mind off of what you’re so upset about.
If you have a co-teacher and need to excuse yourself for a second, do it. Just don’t come back in the room if your eyes are red. You got this.
We hope this list helps to make you feel not so alone.
Remember, teaching gets easier every year. The first year is rough. The second year is so much better. By the time you get to your third year, you’ll feel like a seasoned pro.
Best of luck, teachers. And thank you for all that you do.