If you’re new around here, hi! I’m Mary Fran and I just crawled through my first year of teaching. I got my first classroom at a MASSIVE public school in Chicago. (In literal Chicago; I’m not one of those people who say they’re from Chicago but they’re really from a suburb a million and half miles away.) I’m 25 years old and have had the CRAZIEST year of my life! 2018-2019 brought me my own classroom, a house with my boyfriend and taking selling my educational resources online to the next level. I would be more than happy to share about all of the things but I want to focus solely on my first year of teaching today.
So first of all, CAN I GET A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR SURVIVING MY FIRST YEAR OF TEACHING?! Holy moly Batman, it was insane. I had really high-highs and extremely low-lows. Now that I am officially face-to-face with the last day of my 2018-2019 school year, I have reflected and solidified 3 pieces of advice for my friends who are going into their first year of teaching:
- Find your “person” (inside and outside of classroom)
- Do things YOUR way
Let’s break that down!
- Find Your “Person” (inside and outside of school)
I literally would not have made it through the year if it weren’t for “my friend across the hall” (if you follow me on Instagram, you know I was in there all the time). I went to her for everything! I honestly don’t know how on Earth she didn’t get sick of me. I went to her with every new idea I had, to ask all the questions and favors, I laughed with her, cried with her (more than I thought I would) and confided in her a lot. It’s really important to find your person inside school because you need someone who goes through the same things you do and totally understands everything you’re thinking, feeling and doing. Your person inside school is going to cheer you on for every good idea you have and give you advice (or more likely give you the “GIRL what are you thinking?!” face) for every bad idea you have. Find this person and hold on to them TIGHT! You need this person because they will understand why you’re over the moon that the boy who normally runs across the room on all fours for every transition, walked into class, sat down and completed ONE sentence all on his own!! They will understand that you totally bombed your mini lesson in front of your administration because another boy was sitting on the rug with his finger up his nose randomly singing Baby Shark verses and it took everything in you not to go off so you “subtly” give him the look of death. This person understands truly how weird the tiny humans you are with 5 days a week are and why it makes you laugh and melt inside. Another thing I noticed about having my “person” at school, it gave me a chance to model friendship for my students. So show random acts of kindness toward your “person” to show your appreciation!
Now, this person has their own “person” and a life of their own. So you need a “person” outside of school. I’m sure you already have one and if you don’t, I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE! It could be your boyfriend, your mom, your best friend… anyone that understands you more as a person, not just a teacher. This person is KEY because they know you inside and outside. They know that you need to come home, feel all the things, let it out and then need a laugh. They understand that when you are overstressed and overwhelmed (which you will be A LOT), they can make dinner or put on your favorite movie, or help grade the papers that you have brought home with you for the 4thday in a row. Take their offer to help whenever you need it. I had a really hard time accepting help at home because I believe I am superhuman and can do 34059 things in a day. But they want you to succeed and to be well- mentally, physically and emotionally! SO TAKE THE HELP AND JUST SAY THANK YOU!
- Do Things YOUR Way
Let me tell you this right out of the gate: they hired YOU for a reason! Your administration wants the change, the new take on things that have been the same for awhile. They want the passion and hunger that you have. Better yet, your students need that passion and hunger! There are always going to be co-workers that tell you “this is how it’s done”. Listen to what they are saying but take everything with a grain of salt. The beauty about teaching is that everyone has their style but everyone has the same goal! So, it’s ok if you steer off the path when it comes to your instruction. Obviously assure that you are doing what your admin expects of you; just make it your own! The more you make it yours, the more powerful your lessons will be. Trust me when I tell you that your students know when you are not being yourself.
So don’t let others change you! Just like we tell our students: always be you! I had to deal with a lot of “you’re doing too much”, “you’re such a Pinterest teacher”, “oh, my students would hate if I did this to my classroom”, “…but we don’t need to do that.”… The list goes on sadly. I just learned to close my door and DO ME!!! I know that my students leave my classroom feeling safe, accepted, inspired and loved. I take the time to make sure my students feel noticed, because I know that they don’t get the attention they deserve at home. I sacrifice my money to buy them books because I know their parents are living paycheck to paycheck and books are considered a luxury. THIS IS NOT YOU BEING EXCESSIVE!! This is you modeling how to be a gracious, giving, and kind person. There is a reason to your madness and do not let anyone make you question your methods. You are amazing and you were given a classroom to change the lives and minds of our youth!
You may think, well obviously I need to breathe. My body does it without thinking. Well, let me tell you my friend, there are many times when it doesn’t feel like your body is doing the one thing it needs to. I volunteered for a survey that asked me to reflect on my first year and I was asked “what would you tell a new teacher coming to teach at your school?” and I knew immediately what I would say…
“It’s going to feel like you’re drowning 99% of the time, but it’s going to be ok.”
It really is going to be a lot. I’m not going to lie. I have heard from many teachers say that it takes 3-5 years to really feel like you have a grasp on everything. The first year is like get a glimpse of everything that you need to get done: making materials, following curriculum, progress monitoring, data collect, IEP meetings, creating classroom culture, finding your classroom management style… The list goes on! Just know that you will have no idea what’s happening about 90% of the time and that’s totally ok. You have put amazing people in your life to help you through it all! Also, you hear everyone say “take your personal and sick days” and I’m here to tell you the same. You are number one priority! If you’re not ok, your kids will not get what they need. Those sick and personal days are there for you to use, not to look at! TAKE CARE OF YOU AND BREATHE!
Well that wraps up my first year of teaching and what advice I would give to myself if I had to do it all over again. Just remember that you are not alone in this. Teaching is INSANE! That’s seriously the best way to describe it. You can do anything you set your mind to. You were born with the gift of teaching. Embrace the unknowing, the chaos, and the mistakes. This planet needs you and YOU GOT THIS!!!
Mary Fran at MyAstroBrightLife