It’s July, and you want to be a teacher. Maybe you have a position, maybe you’re still searching for one. Whatever brought you to this point, you are undoubtedly passionate about getting into your first assignment. You’ve passed the first hurdle, completing your licensing and training requirements, and now it’s time to put up the “Welcome Students” board and execute the lessons you’ve worked so hard to create. Wait, there are a few things they didn’t tell in your training program.
You will need band-aids, lots of lots of band-aids. Don’t run out, you will feel like a failure. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how late you stayed up planning your lesson, how many people you beat out to get your first job. If you don’t carry band-aids, you just don’t know what you’re doing as a teacher.
Celebrate birthdays. It doesn’t matter how old they get, kids love a party (and expect one), and the older they get the more they love party games like pin-the-tail-on the donkey. Pick a plan and stick with it. After elementary school, there is no designated birthday celebration program. You will need to come up with your own if you teach secondary. Decide in the beginning of the year if you will celebrate everyone’s birthday for the month on one day, or each kid’s day with a special token, such as a free hall pass or ring the bell celebration. Try to do fun things that don’t cost a penny. Beginning teachers spend a fortune in their early years. Don’t do that. Money cannot buy success for teachers. You have resources greater than money all around you.
They are all still kids. The oldest, biggest, most adult-looking student in your school district is still a kid who worries what the teacher thinks, is shy to talk to his crush, worries about getting in trouble with his parents and is innocent about the world. They see you as a continuum of all the teachers who were the big people in their lives, who taught them, disciplined them, cared for them and nurtured them. Don’t let them down. Remember they’re kids, even when they look like they’re too cool, because they’re not. They’re kids.
Make them think it was their idea. Adjust your plan if you have to but make them think it was their idea. You are about to embark on the most grueling job on the planet, you will be crunched for time. When you find you have not seen daylight all weekend from correcting and planning, you are seriously ill and you just can’t correct 86 quizzes tomorrow on U.S. History (with one-page essay responses-boy you were adventurous planning that) allow them to think they convinced you to give them another day to study. Warning: don’t ever, ever, ever let them think you are easily sidetracked.
Get their attention. Find out what the attention-getter was in their younger years. There was a clap, or a hand-signal. It’s not silly, it’s useful. Spare your energy and use it or come up with your own.
No head-butts. Do not get into power plays. Say “We can discuss this another time,” and allow the child an opportunity to back down before discussing your point. In power struggles you lose, even if you win. You will exhaust yourself demanding respect. Command it instead.
You don’t exist outside of the classroom. This is a tough one. While you want to connect with kids, you sense that telling them about that awful thing you did in 8th grade may have just weakened your ability to perform your duties. It did. Try to connect with kids in a teacherly fashion. That means you may share yourself and be honest, as long as you are mostly discussing them and what they need. As far as they are concerned, you don’t exist out of the classroom. Your purpose on earth is to teach them and you’re not a real person. Don’t worry, there’s no need to look like a robot. Just be a good example and talk to a counselor if you need to air out your own needs. It’s ok to be interesting, I’d stay away from intriguing.
There’s not enough time. As long as you will be a teacher, you will never have enough time to get it right. You may stay up late, work through the weekend, skip your 20-minute lunch and there will still not be enough time, ever. Get used to that idea and do your best. You will build experience and that takes time. Even when you are experienced, you will still feel stressed that there is not enough time.
Stay out of the teacher’s room. There is a lot of complaining that goes on in there. Stay away from it.
The secretary is running the show. Be nice to the school secretary and maintenance workers. You need them more than anyone and they are running the show. They will be around long after the next few principals come and go. Bring in baked goods for maintenance and bake them yourself.
Grade every week. Before the weekend arrives, enter your grades every week. Make it a priority and do not take on some other task unless that is done. I’ve only known a few teachers to ever do this, and they were among the best teachers. Just do it. Do not drag all of your big tasks into the weekend, altruistically saying to yourself (or others) you will get it done on the weekend. You will want and need rest and you won’t ever get to it. It won’t get done, and you’ll just add to your stress level, returning to work in poor shape on Monday.
Good luck, and enjoy. You’re going to love it!