Letter to a First-Year Teacher

Dear First Year Teacher,

Please remember to breathe.

You will get lots of advice. In fact, you’re probably already overwhelmed with the information your teaching certification program has loaded you up with. Not to mention all the tips and tricks your teacher-friends have thrown at you. And now, added on to all of this, you’ve gotten a flurry of letters dreamed up by Bowman, and yours truly.

There will be times when you are just trying to make it until the end of the week, or the end of the day, or even just the end of the class. You may find yourself sitting at your desk at lunch, with your head in your hands, crying your eyes out. I did. But it’s okay. As long as you remember to breathe, you will get through it.

The lessons you take away from this first year may not be easy. They may even be painful. But you will learn more this year than you ever dreamed possible.

You won’t be able to use all of it.

Some of the advice you receive will be awesome, but you won’t know how to implement those ideas just yet. Some of the ideas people give you, you won’t like. You’ll think they are crazy-bad. And that’s okay too. Listen to your gut. It might be telling you what you believe in.

You need to figure out what your philosophy of education is—the things you believe in passionately, and hold onto those ideals. But don’t worry if you haven’t figured this out yet. It’s something that will take time.

But, even if you don’t like the advice someone is giving you, listen with an open mind. We build our viewpoints by being exposed to new ideas. It may be that you discover what you are passionate about by figuring out what you don’t believe in first.

Or maybe you just aren’t ready to hear those ideas yet.

Take in as much as you can. Build up a network of people who are willing to share ideas with you—even if you’re not able to use even 1/10 of all of their awesome ideas.

The awesomeness will still be there when you’re ready for it.


And now for the actual advice:

  • Know your students well.

This is the motto of the school I taught at this year. You need to know their names ASAP. You don’t need to know their every interest, every book they’ve read, or every sports team they root for, but you should try to find some point of connection with each child. Something you can chat about for two minutes during passing period or in a spare moment. If you build relationships with your students, you can do just about anything and they will be okay with it. “You want us to move all the desks to the back of the room and sit on the floor today?” [shrug] “Okay.”

  • Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

“Tomorrow is another day.” My mentor teacher was always saying this to me. Especially when I was freaking out that my students hadn’t learned something, or were acting up and being defiant, or we had a fire drill in the middle of class and nothing got done. You get 180 chances, give or take, with your students. You don’t have to get everything right on the first try.

  • You are not alone. But it will probably often feel that way.

Get yourself a support system. You’ll want a variety of people you can go to, both in your building and outside of it. People in your building can help you navigate school policies and politics. People outside of your building can help give you perspective and get you outside of your work “bubble.”

  • You will neither be as good, nor as bad as you think you are.

Don’t be ashamed if you “phone it in” every now and then. It’s okay to grab the textbook and teach straight from it, or copy worksheets from the teacher next door, or have students watch a video for the day. If that’s what you need to do to get through the class, then do it. You can always do something different tomorrow (see above: “tomorrow is another day”). A more positive way of framing this is use all of your available resources.

  • Take care of yourself. Your mental health and physical well-being are important.

Do something just for yourself every week. Go to a yoga class, watch a movie with friends, crank up the tunes and dance in your apartment. Whatever. Just do something that makes you happy; something that recharges you.

  • And when your friends offer to pick up the check for dinner…go ahead and let them.



4 thoughts on “Letter to a First-Year Teacher

  1. I thought you were gonna say, And when your friends offer to pick up the check for dinner…, order another dinner to-go. All good advice, Bree. Your first advice is sooooo key! Our principal a few years ago said his first goal was to learn names of all 600+ kids at our K-8 school. And he did.

  2. I’m not a new teacher … been in education for many, many years. For the past 12 I’ve been an administrator. Moved this summer – new state, new opportunities … choosing to return to the classroom … will be teaching Algebra 1 to ninth graders. I’m excited about it … and anxious. Glad to have read your post to new teachers today!

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