You are about to embark on an exciting and important adventure—your first year of teaching! I know how you’re feeling because I too have been in your shoes. I always wanted to be a teacher. I was the little girl teaching her stuffed animals how to read when my little brother was too tired to be my student. It truly was a dream come true when I was hired to be a first-grade teacher and have my own classroom! Yet, as my first day of school approached the butterflies in my stomach grew as I grappled with the mixture of pure excitement and sheer panic. I remember getting the room all set up and realizing that even though the pencils were freshly sharpened and the bulletin boards were looking great and straight, I didn’t have a single lesson plan ready (don’t worry, I did get those done.) Since I can’t send you off to your first day with a warm cup of coffee or emergency stash of chocolate, I wanted to share some nuggets of truth I’ve picked up along the way and wish I had known as a first-year teacher.

  1. It’s hard, but worth it:

    I’m not going to sugar coat it, the first year of teaching can feel overwhelming, but please know you’re going to make it! You’ll teach your students that they can do hard things and remember, you can do hard things too. They’ll learn to do this from watching you and the reward is oh-so-sweet. There is nothing better than having the privilege of investing in a child’s life. You will have 180 days to learn, teach, and love your students. Some days will feel long, but your kids need you and each one will hold a special place in your heart. Yes, even challenging students. Trust me, they go a little deeper into your heart. Your eyes will tear up when you see a child get it for the first time—it’s like a lightbulb goes off in their brain. You’ll become a little school family and they’ll always be your kids, regardless of how much time passes. Hang in there, because it’s worth it!

  2. You are not alone:

    It might feel like it when you’re in your room with your students but know that we, your fellow teachers, are here for you. Please ask for help and allow others to help you. If you aren’t given a mentor teacher, seek one out. Go into other teacher’s rooms and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, take advantage of volunteers. Many student’s families will offer to help and you can even send things home with volunteers to do, like cutting lamination. Teaching is not a solo act—we are better when we work together!

  3. You will make mistakes and that is OK:

    Say it again—it’s okay! Please give yourself grace and know that the beauty of mistakes is that we learn from them. Also, it’s okay for your kids to see you make mistakes, but remember to turn it around and use it as a teachable moment. Learning is messy, but it’s so good!

  4. It doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect:

    Your classroom doesn’t always have to be Pinterest worthy. Also, as you scroll through social media please don’t let comparison pull you down. It’s wonderful to be inspired by others and look for great ideas, but don’t let it consume you or define you. As time goes on, your repertoire of teaching ideas will grow and expand. The first year is full of so many new things. Focus on loving your students and guiding them in their learning.

  5. Leave before dark:

    Basically, if the custodian starts joking about you needing a cot in your classroom, you’re staying too long. How do I know this? Well, I stayed late almost every night in my first year. So, pick a time to aim to be out of there, because there will always be something to do, but you will be a better teacher if you take time to refuel and refresh. It is good to keep in mind that there are seasons in teaching (like beginning and end of year or report cards) that you might need to stay later, but don’t make it a habit. Or maybe pick one night a week you stay later, but work hard to get home at a reasonable time.

  6. Take time to fill up your cup:

    And I’m not talking about your coffee cup either! I’m talking about your heart. Do something you love and know that sometimes the best thing to do is to leave work at school! This is why setting a time to leave is a great habit. You do such important work pouring into your precious kids every day, but if you don’t take time to refill your tank, then it’ll leave you feeling empty and dry. Find things that fill your heart up and make time for them. You’ll be a better teacher if you do!

  7. You are the best teacher for your kids:

    It’s true! Your students need you and guess what, you need them too! Together you’re going to make mistakes, learn, and grow together. There is something so special about your first class! You’re going to learn so much this year and please, don’t ever stop learning. Can I let you in on another truth? Not only do your students need you, but our profession also needs you! We need your spark, your excitement, your tech-savvy skills, and your learner’s heart. We learn so much from you! So, keep shining your light brightly and have a great first year!

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Becca Foxwell

Becca Foxwell

Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year 2016-2017