The new school year has arrived. For some, that means a return to familiar faces, routines and resources, for new teachers it can be a nerve-wracking plunge into unknown territory. Find your footing as a budding educator with a few simple guidelines.
Establish Clear Rules
Set yourself some homework. Put together a clear, comprehensive list of rules to distribute to your students. Spend time going over them with the class. As well as establishing you as an authority figure, defined rules provide students (some of whom will be even more nervous than you) with a framework of expectations.
Stick fast to your rules, but don’t be afraid to alter consequences as the situation demands. Punishments don’t need to be equal to be fair: discipline that works for the attention-seeking class rebel may not be appropriate for the quiet student who’s just having a bad day.
Nervous about their performance, new teachers are often eager to dive straight into content. But at the start of the year, your time is often more valuably spent establishing a rapport with students. You’re going to be in one another’s company for at least a year, and a respectful two-way relationship is the bedrock of effective teaching.
Don’t neglect developing other relationships at school, either. You’re there for the students, but you can’t work in a vacuum. Forming friendships with other teachers can keep you grounded, sane and motivated. It also gives access to a pool of knowledge and experience that will make the start of your teaching career a whole lot smoother.
Ask For Help
You are new. You’re locked in a room for hours and told to not only keep dozens of immature, unwilling and often downright rebellious strangers in line but also fill their heads with a seemingly impossible quantity of knowledge in a limited time span. In almost any other job it would be unfathomable; most apprentices and graduates are trained extensively under the watchful eyes of their mentors before embarking on solo expeditions.
That’s the daunting reality all new teachers have to face. It can be difficult, stressful and isolating, and admitting you need help can make you feel like an annoyance at best and a failure at worst. Bear in mind, however, that you are not alone: you have the support of an entire school behind you. Your peers will have resources that save you hours. Your friends will have the objective insight of distance. Even your students can be wellsprings of knowledge and creativity if you allow them to share it. Ask for help when you need it, and offer it freely in return.
Look After Yourself
You are your number one priority. Your students won’t be learning much of anything if you’re too unwell to teach them. Take your lunch break, take your sick days, find time to exercise, eat well, gather your thoughts, unwind, do anything other than school work. Teaching is tough enough without having to deal with subjecting yourself to stress and illness.
Take care of the two main tools of the teacher’s trade: the feet and the voice. Invest in a good, comfortable, supportive pair of shoes. Treat your voice like a precious instrument. Frequent hydration, steam inhalation, good posture and breathing exercises will help keep your voice in top shape.
In your first year, every mistake feels catastrophic. You can’t help but wonder if that failed math test will prevent young Sophie from getting into college, becoming a doctor, leading a happy life. What if that topic you skimmed over turns out to be vital information on a standardized test? What if you’re passing on all of your bad habits? What if your students can’t make it in the real world?
Take a step back. Breathe. Your small errors won’t spell anyone’s doom. It takes more than a flunked quiz to derail someone’s entire future. The fact is, some of your early lessons won’t hit the mark – and it doesn’t matter. What is important is that you keep an open mind, take note of your mistakes and remember that your first year of teaching doesn’t define you: your best work is yet to come.
Teaching can be frustrating, scary and infuriating. But these things pale in comparison to the perks of the job. Whether it’s testing the mettle of a brilliant child or finally getting through to a difficult one, teaching offers the privilege of shaping lives in a real and significant way. Enjoy the ride, and good luck!
Nick Nedeljkovic is a freelance writer and blogger from Sydney. With a love of learning and more degrees than he can afford, he’s a passionate advocate for education in all its forms.