I’ve seen and heard a lot of stress from other first year teachers in these first ew months of the school year. Feeling like a failure, feeling overwhelmed, and just not feeling good enough are common occurrences (been there, done that). Thanks to my professional twitter network and the research-informed community, I’ve identified a few ways to make the transition to teacher of record much more manageable without sacrificing my sanity or students’ learning, and I hope that from one new teacher to another, my gain is yours, too.
1. Have firm expectations, reasons for them, and stick to it.
You know the whole “make rules with your kids” thing we talk about in teacher prep? Scratch that. Despite what people will tell you, it’s okay to believe that you’re the teacher and in charge– because you are! Structure is needed to ensure a learning environment and a healthy community. If you have a reason for your rules, the students will understand and adapt. Give kids some credit (and read this from Tom Sherrington on the power of expectations, Eric Kalenze’s book on improving schools from the bottom-up, and Bill Wilkinson’s piece on starting with a new class).
2. Simplify your lessons
Do you have a really awesome activity that has students in groups with little cut up shapes and words that they have to find around the room? Don’t do it.
It’s almost never going to work out the way you want, and will leave you feeling disheveled. Focus on the essentials of literacy (reading, writing, and discussion) and the knowledge you are teaching your students. The learning will be higher quality, students will still be engaged in deep processes of academic discussion, and it’s easier to gauge what students know.
3a. Don’t assign work that you’re not going to grade.
Usually the advice is that you don’t have to grade everything you assign, but if you’re assigning things that don’t need to be graded, that can mean that it’s not a meaningful learning activity. Don’t create unnecessary prep for yourself and busy work for students.
3b. But do incorporate many opportunities for low-stakes writing and revision opportunities.
These can be graded “check, check-plus, and check-minus” and given whole-class feedback for improvement. See this from Andrew Percival about how they transitioned from grading and given written feedback to each individual worksheet to whole-class. (I did and I have my weekends back. So much so that I have time to write this blog).
4. Go home.
In the wise words of Robert Pondiscio (whose tweets auto delete), the lesson plan can wait. It’s better to have a well-rested teacher who can think and function rather than finishing that last specific detail that won’t make that much of a difference.
Further, teacher preparation programs do a horrible job of making us feel like our job is to be both an instructor and a curriculum developer. Neither you nor I are the latter. Use the resources and curriculum like that of Match Charter Public School, Achievement First, Open Up Resources and rely on other teachers.Remember that our job is to teach and tailor instruction to our students. I repeat: do not feel like you have to make everything yourself.
5. Enjoy the first year.
I’m grateful to have received this advice from my virtual mentor Dr. Miah. I’m happier, less grumpy, and more willing to accept the days work as it comes. So my colleagues: each day is a new day. If you happened to have had a bad one, the kids will forget once they look at their instagram and snapchat anyway.
You didn’t ruin anyone’s life.
You have not committed irrevocable damage.
You will have an opportunity to try again.
So take it.