September is here – bus drivers are practicing their runs, kids are excitedly buying their supplies, teachers are setting up their classrooms, yet here I am freaking out! How can I possibly keep calm when it is my first year of teaching? I have to attend training sessions, create lesson plans, learn new online programs, familiarize myself with new school rules and technology, set up a classroom, the list goes on and on. I have often thought, where can I find advice for a new teacher to help navigate this completely overwhelming time?
Let me be honest with you, I am the type who makes a big deal over anything only because I refuse to give anything less than my best effort. You know us teachers, so Type A, am I right? I’m here to show that I am living proof of taking the anxiety scale down a notch because I attended my district’s orientation for new hires. Truthfully, I can finally breathe again. Here are some things that helped me and hopefully they will add some calm back into your life as well.
- Make sure your first week plans are set in stone and be familiar with your curriculum.
If you know your first week of school plans and have them completed before the first day, you are already on the right track. This is an opportune time to get to know your students, so you can personalize their lessons and gear them towards their interests. It is also important to look up your district’s curriculum and navigate the site so you are familiar with their methods of operation. If you’re lucky, you might even realize some components you need to teach may just be buried in your Google drive from previous years – yes, no better feeling when you can use your work again! Oh, and don’t skip the workshops led by supervisors and colleagues that explain how to use the curriculum to guide you.
Need first week ideas? Create your own “Resume” for your students to fill in about themselves. Alternatively, “I Wish My Teacher Knew” activities are always great. Or, for a fun spin, “I Want to Know _________ About My Teacher:” you answer a question that your kids want to know! For some more get-to-know-you games, check out this link:
- Are you in a technology-forward district like me, but not familiar with the
platforms? Start small.
Not familiar with these technological updates? No problem! Most likely, districts provide PD workshops for their programs tools they have in their district. Take advantage of these great opportunities and attend. Not only will this help you improve your tech-skills, it will be an awesome way to meet new people who may be worth keeping close at hand. I am in a district that is “future-ready,” so we have a plethora of resources online accessible at our fingertips, which I was not used to from prior districts. I am starting with a Google Classroom, Remind, and the BEST resource for a science teacher – STEMscopes. If your district equips you with this site, DO NOT pass it up! If you use Google, try out Google Keep – I am a big fan of post-its, but not when I lose them. On this extension, you can post notes right into your Google Drive and set reminders: it’s a game changer! Don’t be afraid to ask around for help, whether it is from your mentor, an “EdTech,” or even just your neighbor one door down.
Here are a few (pricey) resources you should pilot if your district supplies you with them:
- It is OK to fail. Take risks, lots of them. Use your resources to improve your mistakes.
“Fail” was never a word in my vocabulary; it just wasn’t acceptable. I rarely received anything lower than a B – at my worst (again, Type A here, always destined to be a teacher!). However, I’ve learned failing is potentially rewarding…wait what? Yes, if you fail, that means you tried and you can only get better from there. We have to teach our students that it is okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to give up. At my orientation, I learned that administration wants to see new teachers take risks: invite the principal into your room when you are piloting a program, attend the workshop at which you don’t know anyone, try the lesson you’re afraid to try. What is the worst that will happen? It won’t work? Good thing is, if you surround yourself with positive people, your resources will not let you down. Keep trying, exit your comfort zone, and collaborate.
If you find yourself scared to try something new, read this article – it is empowering. Embrace your failures, they make you stronger!
- If there is one thing you choose to “take lightly,” PLEASE don’t let it be School Safety.
You can never be too safe, especially when you are protecting the most precious commodity – children. Parents send their kids to school each day and expect for them to return home. Please, do your part and keep your classroom safe. For new teachers like me who are unfamiliar with new protocol, check procedures not once, not twice, but until it is engraved in your memory. Talk to your school security officer, scan the hallways, listen closely to the students, keep a “Go Bag” in your room complete with assigned materials from your school. This can also include: class lists for attendance and items such as crackers or hard candies for students with health issues (be conscious of personal student information). You can never be too prepared, so please, if I ask one thing of you, make sure you Lock. Your. Door. If you think something won’t or can’t happen to you, the only one you are kidding is yourself.
If you do not have a “Go Bag” in your room, here’s how to make one!
- Lastly, be the advocate your students need.
Remember why you chose this field? Yes, there’s paperwork, evaluations, and a lot of stress (especially as a first year teacher!). However, how many careers can offer as much reward as ours does? Be a leader, be the “champion” your students so desperately need. I recently read a book that my district sent to me, “Culturize,” by Jimmy Casas. I strongly encourage novice and veteran educators alike to pick up a copy. Stand up and be the voice the children need when they cannot seem to find their own. An excerpt written from a teacher in this book deeply resonated with me and I hope it does with you too. I feel this statement can rekindle the flame of why you chose your career, or why someone new like me should be thankful for being at the beginning of such a wonderful journey.
“As educators, we know that so many students come to school for so much more than just an education. Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and those who aren’t, come to school to be loved. I have found that the most effective teachers are not the ones who know the most but the ones who care the most.” (Nicholas Ferroni, Social Studies Teacher, Union High School, Union, NJ.)
Casey Downie, BA P-12 Biology/Teacher of Students with Disabilities
6th Grade Science/Special Ed. teacher – Thompson Middle School, Middletown Township, NJ