Dear New Teacher:
I see that you have recently completed an approved educator preparation program and are ready to embark on a great journey called the world of education. If you have already landed a job in this economy, please give yourself a pat on the back.
Most new teachers experience some degree of struggle in their first year. Some experience a minimal degree of struggle, while others face a crippling degree of struggle. My first year started off with a minimal degree of struggle, but slowly deteriorated into a crippling degree of struggle.
Now that I have 3 years of experience, it’s safe to say that I know everything about teaching. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything or hold your hand when you’re crying. No one did it for me and I won’t do it for you. I’m not that compassionate. The best I can do is offer these tips to you. If you don’t find them valuable, I’ll still sleep tonight.
1. You’re Not Mean Enough
The worst thing you can do is try to be friends with your students. This isn’t Billy Madison. You are not 30 years old and going back to skool. You are THE TEACHER. You are THE BOSS. Earn their R-E-S-P-E-C-T before you start asking Mary about her upcoming slumber party this weekend. Aretha hit “Respect” out of the park for a reason. It’s important.
If you think you’re too mean, believe me, you’re not. Some teachers say you shouldn’t smile until December if you want to have a good year. I never understood this. Now I do. It’s based in fact.
2. Make Rules That You are Going to Fully Enforce
Making rules is the easy part. Enforcing them is what separates the men from the boys.
For example, let’s pretend it’s the first week of school and you have been going over your rules constantly. One of the rules you’ve been gushing about is no talking during independent reading. There have been no offenders until one day…
You see Johnny chatting away with Danny in the library.
Time will stop in this moment because there will be 30 sets of eyes on you. Every single one of them is sizing YOU up. They want to see exactly how you handle this debacle for their own future reference. They want to know how firm you actually are when a couple of their knucklehead classmates are blatantly disregarding one of your rules. Are you all bark and no bite or do you actually mean business?
So you decide that you have 2 main options:
A) Ignore them.
B) Lay the smack down and take action right away.
If you choose option A, you might as well call up the cotton candy vendors now, because you just blew it. Your class is now a carnival.
The moment you let 30 students watch you do NOTHING to the offenders is also the moment you immediately become a pushover. Every time you ignore rule breakers, you let 30 kids know that your rules are a joke.
If you choose option B, you have just become a hero by instilling a little bit of fear in all.
Always go with option B and your rules will slowly gain respect.
3. Don’t Be a Know-It-All
I’m sure you are familiar with that student from your college courses. He or she was the pretentious jerk who always had the audacity to raise their hand at the end of every class just to hear themselves talk. They usually asked something completely obnoxious and irrelevant, which prompted the professor to go off on a tangent when you were supposed to be at the pub 15 minutes ago.
Here’s a little secret: No one likes the Know-It-All. No one liked them in high school. No one liked them in college and guess what? No one likes the Know-It-All Teacher. The only thing worse than a Know-It-All-Teacher is the Know-It-All-Newbie-Teacher.
No one cares about your student teaching experience. No one cares about your ideas for using technology in the classroom and no one wants to hear your suggestions or comments on managing behavior when you have 0 years in the saddle.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then YOU are probably the Know-It-All Teacher. You can usually pick them out within 20 seconds at a staff meeting. They will usually show up at least 10 minutes late with a fresh Dunkin in hand and be the loudest drinker in the room. They comment on EVERYTHING because their ideas and opinions are extremely important. They also like to make up their tardiness by making everyone else stay 20 minutes late because they never shut up. (See the similarities with the pretentious jerk in college? These people never go away.)
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to be this person. Just don’t be ANYTHING like this person.
4. Avoid the Dog and Pony Show Classroom
We are elementary teachers. We have always dreamed of setting up the perfect cutesy classroom. We love cute décor and matching colors everywhere. We love dancing glittery unicorns splashed all over our room. We like cute. I get it.
If one of your most difficult decisions this year has been what theme to go with for your classroom, I worry for you. The teachers who have the dog and pony show classrooms usually have a few years of experience under their belt. Mrs. Johnson can spare a couple minutes to add silver sequins to Uma the Unicorn because she knows how to run a classroom. But you? You aint got time for that.
You need to avoid all of this cute nonsense until you figure out how to run a classroom without calling your therapist. Instead of focusing on whether you should go with a monster classroom theme or a polka dotted one, focus on how you are going to set up your essential materials so you don’t have 30 kids running around your classroom destroying them.
(I also suggest avoiding centers your first year, for all of the reasons stated in this post. The setup and management involved is completely ludicrous.)
5. Don’t Be a Staff Hero
Yes. Don’t be a staff hero. What do I mean by this? Well, let me start by saying that taking on extra, unnecessary responsibilities is almost never a good idea. Actually..it’s never a good idea. Don’t get sucked into running that Donut and Coffee Committee every Friday morning because you feel the need to be initiated into the school community. This isn’t a fraternity. You don’t get paid extra, and… guess what? Nobody cares that you just signed up for 16 different committees, so let’s just stop with the people-pleasing nonsense already.
When that staff meeting rolls around in October and the principal is urging everyone to sign up for ridiculous committees, remember to keep your composure. Don’t be a pushover. This is a great time to quietly walk out of the room to use the bathroom or roam the halls for an extended period of time.
Don’t feel guilty about this. You already have the biggest responsibility in the building: trying to make it through your first year without quitting. If anyone has a problem with this, they can go jump in a lake. Focus on yourself and survival. Your thighs will thank you for the lack of glazed donuts.
I hope you enjoyed the first installment of my new teacher tips. Stay tuned for Part 2 very soon!