The sweat still begins to form along the sides of my face when local stores begin putting out back-to-school supplies, even though I retired four years ago. And I can readily recall the dreams I would have the week before students started school. (Or should I call them nightmares?) I would dream of not being able to remember any of my students’ names or having a class I couldn’t control. Thankfully, none of those dreams ever came to fruition, but I do still wonder why my school-related dreams at the start of a new school year never resulted in waking up to feelings of euphoria. Those panic-attack-causing dreams and summer coming to a screeching halt didn’t thrill me, but I have to admit that thinking about my students and what they would learn throughout the school year did.
When I think back to my first year of teaching, I realize a simple Survival Guide would have been nice. With that in mind, here is my New Teachers’ Survival Guide for all of you embarking on your first year of one of the hardest, but most important, jobs…teaching!
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. Between the countless acronyms associated with education and the long list of forms that have to be turned in to different staff members, questions flooding your brain may cause intense brain fog. Clear it up by asking all of the questions you have. A campus mentor should have been assigned to you, but don’t be afraid to ask anyone on campus for help. Asking questions will prevent unnecessary first-year anxiety.
2. Manage Your Classroom. The first two years of retirement, I worked as a field supervisor for a local alternative certification program. When I experienced their Classroom Management course for new teachers, I felt a sense of envy. If only I had known all of this when I started teaching! If, beginning day one of instruction, you have procedures in place that are consistently utilized, the need for “discipline” will be drastically reduced. (If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend The Classroom Management Book by Harry K. Wong, Rosemary T. Wong, Sarah F. Jondahl, and Oretha F. Ferguson.) Giving respect and expecting it in return is the keystone of classroom management.
3. Professionals Meet Deadlines. Always. A planner may be your best friend, keeping track of all of your deadlines, meetings, and duties. Let your students know you use a planner, modeling the behavior that will help them tremendously, too.
4. Build Relationships. Your school custodians, librarians, secretaries, counselors, nurses, and cafeteria workers are a wealth of information and will rescue you from more conundrums than you can imagine. Introduce yourself. Learn their names. Thank them.
5. Text Responsibly. This isn’t only applicable when you’re driving. Texting has resulted in an untold number of teachers being suspended/fired in recent years. Students are not your colleagues or your friends. If you coach or sponsor an organization that requires you to communicate with students, send group texts, only when necessary, and keep them professional. And in keeping with the “Text Responsibly” survival skill, unless it is an absolute necessity, don’t text during class time. Doing so diminishes your role-model status and is simply unprofessional.
6. Your Students Deserve Bell-to-Bell Instruction. One of the most overwhelming things about teaching is knowing you are responsible for the education of every student sitting in your classroom. “Bell-to-Bell” isn’t just educationese. Begin instruction when the “starting bell” rings and keep it going until the “ending bell.” If you teach middle or high school, wrap it up no sooner than five minutes before the bell to allow students time to gather their things and get to their next class on time.
7. Professional Behavior Matters. You are the most important role model in your classroom and on your campus. Cursing at or in front of your students is inappropriate. Follow the school and district rules, even when you don’t agree with them. You may think it’s no big deal if a student arrives 1-2 minutes late to class; however, if your school has a tardy policy, follow it. A school campus is at its best when all employees are consistently on the same page when it comes to living by established rules. (If there is a rule you find ludicrous, work with administration to change it. In the meantime, follow it.)
8. Reach for the Stars. Maintaining high standards can be a real challenge in some schools today, but don’t let that distract you from your goals. Students aren’t turning homework in? Don’t stop giving it. You’re being asked to change a legitimate grade? Stick to your ethics. You are being told you must give a “minimum grade,” regardless of what the student earned? Know that Texas law (the Truth-in-Grading law, authored by Texas Sen. Jane Nelson, a former teacher) prevents a teacher from being required to give students a minimum grade. It’s been upheld in court. We must raise our children to meet the high expectations we have set rather than lowering our expectations and teaching them they are incapable of reaching for the stars.
9. Make Time for YOU. There will be plenty of days when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and maybe even on the verge of running away. Breathe. While teaching is your job, hopefully even your passion, avoid making it your life. Work out. Watch your favorite show on Netflix. Spend time talking and laughing with family members and friends. Meditate. Your sanity is critical to your survival.
10. Have Fun! Allow your students to see your authentic personality and get to know them, too. It’s possible to laugh while you’re learning. Go to your students’ athletic and fine arts events. Keep track of their birthdays and recognize them. (And don’t forget the summer birthdays!) Participate in school pep rallies and go to school carnivals and dances. Get together with your colleagues. While you will have an insane number of deadlines to meet, rules to follow, and stars to reach, teaching can be fun…if you allow it to be.
Have a fabulous year. Thank you for choosing to teach!
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.