If you’re anything like me, the first days of teaching were a mix of excitement and absolute fear and panic. I still remember asking, “What was I thinking?!” as I stood shaking in front of my first fifth grade music class.
There were some things I learned right away and some others that took me a while to figure out. I thought I’d give you a list of some of the biggest lessons I learned that I wish I had known before my first day of teaching!
- Don’t attribute a student’s name to the clothes they’re wearing (i.e., Jacob is wearing the Spider-Man shirt). This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but it’s a mistake I made. I mean, seriously, the next time they show up it’ll be a different day, so they’ll be wearing something different. And then you’ll never figure out who the kid is.
- Set ground rules and stick to them. Kids need stability. They may buck against the rules, but once you’ve all got routines down, you can start letting up on them.
- Don’t always count on administration showing up right away when you need help. During my first day of teaching, I had two third graders decide they hated each other. The one girl took her shoe off to smack the other girl with it. By that point I had called for assistance and no one showed up. Five minutes later, I’m standing in the open doorway of my double doors teaching the class, all of whom are still sitting where they are supposed to be. One of the angry girls is standing to my left where I can see her through the glass on that door, and the other girl is standing to my right behind THAT door. The behavior specialist showed up and told me she was impressed by how I handled it. You better believe my knees were knocking together! But I just pretended I knew what I was doing.
- Don’t expect to get respect unless you give respect. We may want to show that we’ve got all the power. What we need to remember is: most of our students just want someone to care about them. The old saying is, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” It’s so true. I’m not saying be nice to a fault – discipline is still a necessity; however, if you treat them like the real people they are, they will treat you like someone they care about.
- Plan out every step of every single lesson and stick to it no matter what. Just kidding. Don’t do that. Actually, you need to expect that your lesson plans will very rarely EVER go as intended. You have to remember: you’re teaching people! Maybe you were the kid in every class who always paid attention and knew what was going on (nerd!* 🤪), but not everyone is able to focus like that or understand a concept the first, second, or tenth time you teach it. And that’s okay.
- Expect to make mistakes. There will be days when a lesson you planned out absolutely flops. That’s okay! Evaluate what worked, what didn’t work, and what you could have done differently. Then set that lesson aside and move on.
- You’re allowed to have fun with the kids. Believe me: they’ll act like they think you’re a weirdo, but you’ll be the one they all crowd around. When you mess up, laugh at yourself. This builds up your students’ confidence. Teaching isn’t supposed to be a chore. If it is, you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate what’s going on inside you. Be serious when needed, but don’t feel like you have to be rigid to maintain control.
There are SO many other things I wish I had known, and maybe I’ll write them out at another time, but I think this is some food for thought! If you’ve got some advice for our readers, add it in the comment section!
*Don’t worry, I’m one of the biggest nerds out there! 😂