8 Things I Would Tell Myself as a First Year Teacher

I have a theory that everyone’s first year of teaching sucks.  Mine really wasn’t THAT bad but there are so many things I wish I could tell my first-year-teacher self.

1st day as an adultFirst day of inservice-2006

1.) You’re not in college anymore.

After three days of new teacher orientation, I had to drive back to my university to take my last final.  The next week was inservice and I got my diploma the Friday before the first day of school.  Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of transition time between student and teacher.

New Teacher Cara: you can’t say words like “sucks” and “pissed.”  It may have been appropriate when you were around others of your age but it is not appropriate in a room full of children.  I know you don’t mean to say it but you need to have better control over what words come out of your mouth.  I know you still feel like a kid but you’re the adult in the room now.  You need to set the example.  Also, be on time.  You can’t sleep through rehearsal or class when you’re the teacher.  Others are depending on you.

2.) You’re not the shiz either.

Yes, you just graduated and have all this knowledge.  Guess what! There are plenty of others who know so much more than you.  Confidence is great but don’t reinvent the wheel or, worse, think you invented it in the first place and look like a fool.  Teaching is so much more than just sharing the wealth of information you just learned yourself.  Get over yourself and take advantage of what others with more experience can offer.

3.) You’re not perfect but don’t let that get you down.

One minute, you think you’re the best thing to happen to education ever.  The next, you’re crying on your mother’s bed wondering how you’re going to do this another 179 days let alone the next 30 years.  Mistakes are going to happen.  This is a learning process for you too.  Don’t let your mistakes get you down.  Use them as an opportunity to learn and grow.

4.) Negative feedback is an opportunity to improve.

You can’t always see yourself objectively.  Because you’re not perfect (see above), mistakes will happen and some will be big enough that you are called out on them.  Don’t get upset or defensive.  Man up, and use the situation to grow into a better teacher.

5.) You can’t please everyone.

One teacher wanted me to focus solely on patriotic music.  Another teacher wanted to give me her lesson plans so I could teach her students songs that would correlate to her lessons.  I still get these questions and inquiries now.  Stand firm in what you know is right.  “I’m sorry, I have standards and a curriculum I have to follow but I will see what I can do.”  Some teachers, parents, children will not like you.  I know you want everyone to like you but it’s not going to happen.  The sooner you realize this, the easier your life will be. (Note: still working on this one!)

6.) You’re their teacher; not their friend.

Like I said above, you’re the adult in the room now.  Act like it.  I know you’re only 22 and that doesn’t seem too far off from your oldest students but you need to be the leader.  You’re not one of them anymore and that’s okay.  Welcome to Grown-Up Land!

7.) Dress professionally but comfortably.

Your job requires you to dance around and sit on the floor criss-cross apple sauce.  You may think those heels look so awesome but they are murdering your feet.  I know the comfortable shoes are not as attractive but get over it.  You want to be able to walk when you’re old, don’t you?  Also, don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses of fashion at school.  That’s not you.  You’re not that girl.  I give you permission to be comfortable and happy.

8.) Plan, plan, plan

Some teachers have the opposite problem that you have.  They over-plan and it takes over their lives.  That won’t happen for you for a couple years (ha!) Anyway, I know you think you can “wing it” but you’re doing a disservice to your students.  I know you don’t know all this stuff (because you didn’t take those education courses and are going in blind) but that is even more reason to plan ahead instead of trying to find your butt with both hands every day. (nice image, I know).

Good luck New Teacher Cara!  I wish I could tell you it’s going to be okay but you have to learn that (and all these) for yourself.  There is trouble ahead but there are blessings too.

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3 thoughts on “8 Things I Would Tell Myself as a First Year Teacher

  1. I’m still working on #5 too. Though, the longer I teach, the easier it gets. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting more stubborn as I age or if it’s because people are liking me more 😉

  2. That first year IS hard. I took a job 2 1/2 hours away from home my first year and had no one to come home to. It was a very hard year. Luckily, it does get better each year. I would also tell my first year teacher self to go to as many professional development workshops as possible. I also wish I had started my Kodaly training right away when I graduated, but I just didn’t have the money and had to wait a year. AH, to have known then what I know now.

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