I remember way back, last August when I was getting ready to start my first year of teaching. I was nervous but excited. Nervous, because I was going to be setting and enforcing my very own classroom culture. Excited, because I was and am passionate about the subject that I am able to teach. Looking back, I can see something interesting about being a first-year teacher. This was not something that they prepared me for in teacher school. The first year, you see, you survive.

Other teachers in my school, veteran teachers, told me that during your first year, you survive. Even if you know all the rules, even with a firm grasp of your content area, you want to keep your head above water. You figure out where your ideas, your training, and your assumptions land when faced with dealing with real students. You reflect, think about how to improve, and you move on from there. The bottom line, they told me, is that no one is a great teacher their first year. You’re going to make mistakes, so take notes, ask for help, and try not to make those mistakes again next year.

I wanted to be a great teacher, an inspiring teacher, and I wanted to be one now, please. Click To Tweet

That didn’t seem very comforting to me. I wanted to be a great teacher, an inspiring teacher, and I wanted to be one now, please. But this whole “survive and then you will thrive” thing was intriguing, so I had to look it up. A quick Google search showed me a thriving market. There are many companies that make “First Year Teacher Survival Packs” or “First Year Teacher Survival Kits.” I also found a ton of articles on surviving the first year of teaching. As my first year of teaching went on, I found myself thankful for those articles, and for the advice of my coworkers.  Don’t worry, they all reassure, it’ll get easier. You’ll find your way. It’ll be frustrating at times, but it’s worth it.

Many articles dealt with avoiding teacher burnout and talked about the long hours teachers work, but the hours hadn’t bothered me. I had assumed that I would work long hours my first year, since I was new. As a first year teacher, I did have to work very hard to keep at least one day when I was not working, but that was because I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible. I read all the books and worked long days to get my lessons as perfect as I could make them and to try to have everything as organized as possible for the next day.

As a first year teacher, I didn’t have a real plan before I started. Sure, I had an idea of the curriculum I wanted to use and I knew what I wanted to teach, but I hadn’t made and implemented anything like this before. What was I going to do? Would it work the way I wanted it to work? Would I be able to make Macbeth interesting to a group of 14-year-olds?

According to a 2016 study, 13% of new teachers leave the profession after their first year. It’s not a terrible statistic, although that same study takes a different turn. It also points out that around 30% of new teachers leave the profession before five years in it. Most studies like this come with information about pay and long hours, but that wasn’t what I focused on. I decided to look for the positives. because that statistic is a scary one.

The articles that quote this study all have uplifting messages or advice from veteran teachers. An article on NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, gives a list of different helpful hints, assembled by experienced teachers. My favorite piece of advice was to remember that as a first-year teacher, I will make mistakes. These will then be things that I can work on later. By acknowledging and admitting these mistakes, I will be able to be a more effective teacher in the future.

Having just finished my own first year of teaching, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I learned something interesting. The first year of teaching was like framing a house. I know it’s a strange analogy but go with me here. My own time in school had laid the foundation, but my house wasn’t livable yet. I needed to set up that framework. This way, I could figure out where things were going to fit, and how my ideals for a classroom were going to hold up against real students. I couldn’t do that without being there myself, trying things out and seeing how it was all going to work.

No matter how much you read or what your student teaching was like, there are some things that you don’t know about teaching until you step into that classroom and start working. The first year, they told me, you survive. You do your best, and you don’t panic when things don’t work out the way that you expected them to. And then, you take all the things you learned during the chaotic first year and refine it all, as you continue to grow into the teacher that you want to be. Survive, and then thrive.

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