Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Advice to a First-Year Teacher

A friend of mine who is a first year Teach For America teacher recently reached out for some advice.  Here is my response (with a few edits).  This will look mighty familiar to hundreds of Mississippi Teacher Corps teachers :-)

A lot of stuff of going on (all of it normal for a first-year alternate route teacher).  The good news is you are through the roughest patch.  The most difficult part of the school year (for any teacher, but especially for first-years) is October through November break.  There are couple reasons for this:

-The kids start acting up as the "newness" of the school year fades.
-You get overwhelmed with planning and grading.
-The weather changes.  You pick up a cold and can't shake it.
-There is no off day, just six or seven or eight straight weeks of school (for these same reasons the second hardest stretch is February through March break).

So the good news is you have officially weathered the toughest stretch of a first-year teacher.  December will fly by as will the weeks after spring break.

A couple of other thoughts:

-Have one day (Saturday or Sunday) where you do nothing school related.  No planning, no grading, etc.  Do something you like to do.  Go out to eat, go to the movies, exercise, whatever.  This is key.  And this is the most important piece of advice I can give you.

-Do you have a lot of outstanding grading that needs to be done?  If so put a check+ on everything and give it back.  Having grading hanging over your head can be a constant source of stress.  Once you do that from now on do all of the grading immediately after school or first thing the next morning.

-Speaking of the next morning it is much more efficient to wake up early and do work than to stay up late.  Better to go to bed at 8:00 PM and get up at 4:00 AM than go to bed at 10:00 PM and get up at 6:00 AM.  You'll get twice as much work done in the morning when you are (relatively) fresh.

-Your friends will understand.  Your immediate family, your best friend, and your significant other are the only folks you need to keep updated.

-Take all of Thanksgiving break to relax and recharge.  If you do decide to work only do it on the Saturday and Sunday before school.  However, for December break spend an hour or two each day of the second week planning.  This will help you immeasurably once school starts.

-Classroom management comes down to three questions: Do you have rules and consequences?  Are you enforcing them?  Are you enforcing them consistently?  Ask yourself each of these questions.  This solves 99% of of management problems.

-The gaps in knowledge between students will have to wait.  You don't have the skill-set and experience to adequately address this yet.  You will have to forgive yourself for this (easy to say, hard to do).

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