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This week marks the end of our first academic quarter. For me, it was my first quarter in my first year of teaching. For the past month or so, I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed and, sometimes, burnt out. Recently, a colleague showed me this amazing graph of the first year of teaching:

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Yes. YES. This is my life. I am currently in full survival mode with brief moments of both disillusionment and euphoria. I try to grasp onto those euphoric moments to help me out of the disillusionment moments, all while trying to stay on top of developing meaningful lesson plans and grading all the things. It’s like running a race where, no matter how hard I try and no matter how hard I’ve trained, I can never get ahead. But at least I am keeping up with the pack – and I suppose that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

I’m in survival mode. I really am. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Welcome to The New Teacher’s Survival Guide. I do not profess to be an expert at any of this, but I’m hoping that sharing my story will accomplish a few things: (1) console those who find themselves in a similar position, (2) remind the more experienced teachers from whence they came, and (3) provide me a cathartic opportunity to engage in self-reflection.  Today is part one of a five-part series, which will also include managing the workload, designing meaningful lessons, retaining relationship and authority with students, and finally, keeping the fire burning bright while doing all of this stuff!

Part I:  Creating a Support Network

Hi, I’m Ms. Dooley. I teach government and economics at an excellent California suburban high school full of amazing students and colleagues. I am exceptionally fortunate and blessed to have been hired into this position straight out of credential school – and while there are other newer teachers at my school site, I am the only first-year teacher there. And sometimes that’s lonely. Really lonely.

I underestimated how difficult it would be to transition from student-teaching to “by myself” teaching. I miss having a built-in support network a lá master teachers, professors, and credential buddies. Besides the encouragement and instruction that comes from a network, it’s just plain lonely without one. I do have a veteran teaching buddy assigned from my department, but there is no built-in together time, and she is busy implementing a new AP block class this year, so it is difficult to touch base.

I spent about a week getting all down in the dumps over this. I’m new! And lonely! It sucks! Then I decided to do something about it. Why should I expect others to reach out to me when I very well can reach out for myself? It was time to take control of my feelings and create my own support network.

First, I considered my options. To whom ought I to reach out first? It was actually a more difficult decision than I originally anticipated. Some considerations:

  • I have great relationships with our principal and assistant principals, but I felt like they should not be bothered with my petty feelings. I also want prove that I can solve my own problems, and only use admin for really drastic measures.
  • I needed to make sure I could trust the person to let me express feelings of stress and insecurity without then taking it to my superiors and using it as evidence that I’m “incompetent.”
  • I needed someone who could more easily relate to the new-teacher roller coaster – and while I am the only first-year teacher at the school, perhaps I could find solace among the less experienced.
  • But I also want to learn and benefit from the experience of veteran teachers, so it’d be great if I could find someone with whom I can discuss assessment ideas, classroom management, and whatnot.
  • What really do I need in a support network? I’d love to actually add a social element in there, too. Can I find a fellow teacher buddy (or two) who would want to grab an appetizer at the local restaurant after school every so often? Or hang out outside of the school setting?

It looks like I have the makings for a well-rounded support group, if I can just start advocating for myself. First, I reached out to a fellow newer teacher, who also teaches gov and econ. He allowed me to spend lunch in his room, and he gave me the space to decompress and articulate my new-teacher feelings. He is the one who showed me the phases of first-year teachers’ attitudes. He shared stories with me about his first year, and what he still struggles with today. It was cathartic and reassuring. Then repeat with my veteran teaching buddy, and then another newer teacher who is open to hanging out some time outside of school (yes!).

Now fast-forward a few weeks to today. I do still have my lonely moments, but I feel significantly better after advocating for myself and taking initiative. I feel a lot more in control of my scholastic self, and now I feel like I have more people cheering for me to succeed. I have people to whom I can comfortably turn with just about anything, whether it be how to submit grades, how to manage my crazy fourth period, or to celebrate a lesson that went particularly well. This isn’t to say I’m no longer stressed nor overwhelmed—far from it!—but it makes a world of difference to do something about those feelings rather than to simply submit to their control.

In credential school, they don’t teach you how to create a support network. That’s all you, my friends.

So, what about you? How have you coped with the loneliness of “by-yourself” teaching, and where have you found and created support? How have you maintained those channels of support, and to be a source of support yourself?  This is an ongoing effort of mine, and I’d love to hear others’ stories of success.

Check back next week for part two of The Teacher’s Survival Guide: Managing the Workload. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Dana Dooley teaches high school AP Government, Government & Economics, and Yearbook near Sacramento,...

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