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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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How to Survive Your First Year Teaching

The first year as a teacher can be extremely hard - brutal even.

Without proper training and guidance, new teachers can face what seems like insurmountable odds-academically struggling students, misbehaved students, angry parents, demanding administrators, reams of paperwork, stress and fatigue—just plain overwhelmed.

Numbers suggest that as many as half of new teachers quit within five years of entering the classroom. Half of new teachers—that’s huge.

I remember wanting to quit about half-way through my first year as a teacher. I just felt ineffective, overwhelmed, and doubtful, as if I had chosen the wrong profession. It wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to come across a mentor—a highly successful teacher, who told me that things would get better in time. Although I would still have bad days, he insisted the number of good days would increase as I got better, as my skills improved.

He was right. Things got better each school year.

In the hopes of returning the favor and keeping more teachers in classrooms, I’d like to suggest some of my best tips for surviving the first year.

#1. Seek out a Mentor

It’s essential that you find someone-a positive, successful, supportive teacher—that will coach you and show you the ropes. It doesn’t matter if you served under a mentor teacher as an intern, you still require close mentorship in your early years in the classroom. Seek out this person on campus. If you can’t find him or her, do what I did: communicate with a mentor via e-mail, Zoom, FaceTime, phone—whatever it takes.

#2 Keep Learning

Remember, things get better when you get better. Attend professional development trainings, workshops, read, ask questions. Don’t stop learning because you graduated or became certified. 

Continue honing your skills; becoming more effective in assessment, management, differentiation, parent communication, and other areas will make life easier.

#3 Pace Yourself

Teaching is more a marathon than a sprint—if you plan to stay in the field for some amount of time. Know yourself when it comes to numbers of hours worked. Find a routine that works for you. Coming in early to plan, staying later. Have specific times when you leave work behind and spend time with friends and family, relax, engage in hobbies. It’s not healthy to be grading papers every minute you’re not at school. Take naps, meditate, go to the gym-whatever helps.

#4 Find the Positives

Teaching can be very stressful, and negative situations often arise. Purposely look for the positives in your day—making a child smile, teaching a strong lesson, communicating well with a parent—and remember those moments at the end of the day. In fact, you can list 3-5 positive things that happen each school day—actually write them down. Make that a ritual.

#5 Surround Yourself with the Right People

Finally, hang out with the positive, happy teachers. Stay away from the negative, complaining teachers in the faculty lounge. They will only bring you down. As a new teacher, you are vulnerable to toxicity and the wrong information. Keep yourself surrounded with positive people, and it will rub off on you.

Don’t give up. You can make a difference as a teacher but it requires persistence and continuously improving your knowledge and skills.  Teaching is a craft that must be constantly honed. Pace yourself as your practice your craft. Hang around high-energy, positive teachers. Get under the wing of the right mentor. Finally, know that things will get better as you get better.