Starting a new job as a teacher is a lot like becoming a parent. Full of energy and expectations, you plan, organize and renovate, re-plan, research, stress…….well, that describes me in both situations, anyways. New teachers (for the most part) are optimistic, naive and wholly unprepared for what awaits them. They can’t wait to prove themselves and show up all those negative, nay-saying veterans who may have given them less than positive advice or warnings as they approach ‘the first day’.
I’m all for positivity and excitement about new ventures, but when you set your sights in the clouds, it’s inevitable that you’ll be disappointed in the short term, and eventually the long run if you can’t seem to re-adjust your expectations. I wish I realized this as a new teacher, but I’ve only come to really think about it in the past couple years through reflection.
So, here I am as one of those ‘nay-saying elders’ warning the young’uns to let go of three expectations most new teachers have to find balance and confidence as they start their new careers.
Expectation #1: You’ll have emotional and financial support
In a perfect world it would be wonderful to have unlimited access to positive, supportive colleagues and mentors, as well as the financial resources to purchase whatever you require as a new teacher. The stark truth, unfortunately, is quite the opposite.
Teaching is a busy profession and often your colleagues and administration will barely have time to say hello in the morning, let alone sit down for chat sessions and collegial mentorship. Moreover, if you thought you’d be writing school cheques to cover school supplies you’ve purchased or new textbooks to replace the ones from 1999 in your closet, you’ll be sorely mistaken. Ain’t no $$$ for that!
I fell into this expectation head first, and really did hold on to it for quite a long time as a newbie. Well into my first school year, I became frustrated at the lack of resources available to me, using my own money for school supplies and general feeling of being completely lost without much guidance or meaningful mentorship.
A quick fit to avoid this expectation pitfall is to realize that as a new teacher you are literally and figuratively on your own. Don’t assume you’ll have any kind of emotional or financial support and plan for how you will deal with that. For me – actually asking for help and seeking it out was instrumental (after spending a good amount of time feeling, frustrated, entitled and depressed of course). Communication is the KEY to resolving this obstacle.
Expectation #2: Things will go as planned
Whaaaaat? The timing for my lesson is off? I couldn’t cover half of my unit in the time I allotted? My students hate the novel I selected for a class study? Newsflash: nothing goes as planned in teaching. Despite the teachers’ college delusion of lengthy lesson plans, meticulously detailed to gain control of your classroom, in reality these are a waste of time. From disruptions like fire drills and assemblies to half your class being absent due to a field trip or sporting event, teachers must constantly think on their feet and be ready with a variety of activities for students to complete daily.
Where young teachers get led astray is their adherence to ‘what they had planned’, and I was absolutely guilty of this. It took me years to listen to my own inner teacher voice as well as student feedback to make my classroom more dynamic and responsive to my students, and regular, unexpected distractions or interruptions.
Case in point: it’s ok to go with the flow, re-plan, re-structure, re-focus. Keep daily agendas simple and short, and provide extra time for each unit to ensure you’ll actually be able to complete the course you’ve laid out. Moreover – listen to your students! If they all hate something you’re doing or are completely lost studying a new concept then make a change. After all, your goal is student learning and if they’re telling you it’s not computing, you need to reconfigure the teaching method and delivery – it’s kinda your job:)
Expectation #3: Your new classroom and teaching life will be ‘Instagramable’
Although I’m a huge supporter of teachers using social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for professional development, sometimes the images and ideas on these sites can lead to a general feeling of inferiority. Other teachers on social media always have ‘perfect’ classrooms, students, and teaching ideas, and new teachers can be both overwhelmed and intimidated by viewing or following more veteran teachers on social media.
First thing’s first: please keep in mind that like everything else on social media, teachers want to put ‘their best foot forward’. Like you, they have bad days, challenging students and leave their classrooms a disaster on a tough Friday afternoon only to forget about coming in early to clean it up the following Monday morning.
Moreover, many teachers with solid social media followings are veterans who have been in the trenches for years (usually decades). They’ve already navigated what works and what doesn’t, gathered and created a vast amount of resources, as well as established a physical classroom space they’ve curated over a long period of time. As a new teacher, you can’t expect to start where they are and your own teaching and classroom experience may be the complete opposite of what you view and follow on social media – and that’s ok. Follow teachers on social media as mentors, but take what they post with a grain of salt. Nothing is as perfect as it seems on social media, including teacher lives and experiences.
Start your teaching career with an open mind, free of expectations
Wade in the shallow end as you enter this profession, and watch out for incoming waves or an abrupt change in the weather. Teaching is a wonderfully engaging and fulfilling profession, but if you enter it with unrealistic expectations, it can seriously let you down. Ask for help. Prepare for the unexpected by becoming adaptable and dynamic. Use social media for professional development, but keep it real.
Did you have expectations as a new or young teacher that were wholly unfulfilled? Tell me about it in the comments!