Beware the Ides of March: An Open Letter to New Teachers
For the past decade or so, I’ve been supervising all of the student teachers in my building, as well as working with first year teachers in my county and department. My own learning during this process has been invaluable. One of the many lessons I’ve learned, however, is that October and March are two of the hardest months of teaching.
New teachers and student teachers, I see you. I see you coming to school early with your tired faces and shuffling feet. I see you at your desk eating a lunch of whatever is in your refrigerator because you can’t seem to find time to get to the grocery store. I see you at the end of the day lugging your teacher tote bags full of papers to grade. I see you feeling behind and overwhelmed. I see you wanting to give up. I see you. I’d like to offer you a few pieces of advice.
- Don’t grade everything. Students come to us with a wide-range of abilities, but our goal as teachers is the same for every student: meet them where they are and help them get better. Exploring a topic, taking risks within the safety of our classrooms, and a willingness, an acceptance, of failure are essential components of learning. Gallagher and Kittle tell us in 180 Daysthat “[g]rading increases the fear of failure and an increased fear of failure reduces the willingness to take chances” (p. 10).
Assessment is an ongoing part of the learning process and that feedback can occur in a variety of ways that allows for real-time reteaching in a student’s learning. Not only does choosing not to grade everything benefit your students, it can also alleviate some of the pressures on a teacher as well, freeing up some of our limited time to prepare high quality lessons and research new teaching methods to reach our most challenging learners. Not everything produced by our students needs to be reduced to a point value.
- Ask for help. Teaching can be a very isolating profession. Even though there can be a sense of liberation that occurs with the autonomy of having your ownclassroom, there is also a sense of being alone on an island, only instead of hungry sharks swimming in the waters, it’s children who all desperately need your attention with something. Teachers can feel as if we need to be everything to everyone and when we cannot, we feel like failures. I’m going to say it again for the people in the back: ask for help!
Our schools are full of people who can help us: administrators, counselors, special educators, librarians, master teachers, etc. Identify your tribe, your group who will listen, offer suggestions, share resources, and support you in your choices. Surround yourself with the people who love the work they are doing and ask them to help you get what they have.
- Practice self-care. Get your nails done, eat chocolate, get a massage, watch a ballgame, read a good book, or take a nap; do whatever you do to pamper yourself. Teachers spend all day caring for students and it can be exhausting. We share in their joys and triumphs; their successes are our Conversely, we share in their struggles and traumas; their wounds are our wounds. You have to care for yourself before you can effectively care for others.
- Establish your priorities. For me, I need to leave on Friday with the next week’s plans written, copies made, and everything laid out in my classroom for Monday. It makes the weekend and the start of the next week much less stressful! This allows me to spend the weekend being present with my family.
- Just say no. First year teachers can sometimes be asked to take on jobs everyone else no longer wants to do. Class/club sponsor, yearbook advisor, coach, fund raiser, and many, many more titles can be yours! All of these extracurricular roles are vitally important to our schools and out students, but they can be overwhelming for a new teacher. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Think of it as prioritizing your responsibilities. Think of it as practicing self-care. Think of it as a way to ask for help. Think of it however you need, but be okay with saying “no.”
Every teacher in every school was once a first-year teacher. We all survived, and so will you. It gets better, I promise! The work we do in our public schools is incredibly hard, but incredibly important. Trust me, it’s worth it.