You're the big kid now.
It’s your first week on the job. You've planned countless lessons. Graded mountains of homework. Seen your students struggle, grow, struggle some more, and demonstrate their new knowledge in touching, unexpected, or aggravating ways. You think: man, what a journey it's been. And then you look at the calendar.
It's only the first week.
In the world of teaching, things seem like they're going super fast and painfully slow at the same time. Here are some tips for making the fast times less overwhelming and the slow times less like you're red-penning your life away.
Tip #1: Act more confident than you are.
When you're just starting out and nerves are getting to you, it may feel like you command about as much respect as the mac and cheese that Jenny left in her desk a week ago. But the kids sure as heck don't have to know that.
Whether it's teaching something new, trying an activity you're not sure will work, or trying to get the little darlings to quiet down, acting like you've done this a bazillion times and could do it with your eyes closed will be a lot more convincing to them than to yourself.
At least, until the day that you realize that you have done it a bazillion times. A word to the wise: still probably a good idea to keep your eyes open.
Tip #2: Take deep breaths.
We know. How cliché can we get? But sometimes a little bit of patience can get you a long way. So whether it's a lesson your students just don't seem to get or little Billy drawing on the wall again, keeping calm and making that smile stay glued to your face can get you a long way. At least as far as keeping sane is concerned.
Tip #3: Don't be afraid of the D-word.
We have no doubt your mind went straight where it's supposed to: discipline. New teachers are sometimes wary of cracking the whip (so to speak), but getting comfortable asserting your authority in the classroom is a key ingredient for success throughout the year. Want more where that comes from? Check out our sections on discipline and classroom management for a cornucopia of coping mechanisms.
Tip #4: Ask for help.
According to this article, "the steep learning curve is hard not only on students, but also on the teachers themselves: 15 percent leave the profession and another 14 percent change schools after their first year, often as the result of feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and unsupported." Those stats aren't pretty. So find the people you can turn to—whether it’s other teachers, school administration, or your buddies who work in nice, easy jobs like finance—for the kind of boost that you need.
Tip #5: Know your resources.
Yeah, this is sort of the same as number 4. But it's just that important. Common questions that might arise include; Have any teachers on staff used this textbook before? Where do you look to find the list of school rules and regulations? Which office do you send a kid with a bloody nose to? And is it the same one as where you send the kid who caused the bloody nose?
Knowing exactly where to look for academic and disciplinary questions in advance will give you a shapely leg up on the questions that are sure to arise over the year. And the years.
Tip #6: Be specific.
"For homework, do your math handout and read the next chapter of Hamlet."
What's wrong with this picture? Aside from Hamlet not having chapters.
Well, are they supposed to just write the answer to the math problems, or show their work? Is there a specific lesson they should keep in mind? Do you want it on the handout or separate paper, or can they just do the problems in their head? And when they read, should they take notes? What themes should they focus on? Will they have to write an essay about it? What's the difference between a chapter and a scene?
Sure, this is probably heading into detective-interrogation mode, but it's a good plan to hedge your bets to avoid the "I didn't get what the homework was so I didn't do it" response. It helps the students—and in turn, it will help you—if you give very precise directions about what they're supposed to do, whether it's homework or a new activity. Even better if you can tell them what the goal of the exercise is.
Bottom line: leave any wiggle room and you're risking a whole lot of wigglers.
Tip #7: Notice how kids learn, react, and interact in different ways.
You know how it goes: not everyone learns in the same way. (And there are plenty of theories on just how different kids learn in different ways. Being attentive to how your class as a whole, as well as individual students, best interact with the material will help you design the sorts of lesson plans that will keep the wheels a-spinning.
And that means that you pay attention not only to what activities and methods click with certain students, but also…
Tip #8: Don't forget that kids are people, even though they're undersized ones.
That's right: they're not just vessels to absorb the history of the French and Indian War or basics of quadrilaterals and spit 'em back out on test day. These are tiny humans that you are contributing to forming.
So get to know what makes them tick. Maybe it's a particular subject, or a favorite activity, or an incomprehensible obsession with llamas. Whatever it is, getting a sense of what makes each kid an individual snowflake will help you interact with them better and teach them better. And hey—maybe you'll even like some of them.
Tip #9: Count your blessings.
We told you we were gonna get cliché. You have a job. It's probably what you've dreamed of doing for a long time. And at the end of it is summer vacay.
But beyond that, make sure you don't forget to notice those moments of student growth, and other rewards of teaching. Even if you're having a tough week, there are bound to be those times that make you remember why you decided to be a teacher in the first place.
Tip #10: You don’t always have to be a ten.
In other words, cut yourself some slack. You don't have nail every explanation, to have an Oscar-worthy closing moment at the end of each class, or even be 100% eloquent all the time. If you feel like you're having an off day, chances are your students sure as heck won't notice.
So take some deep breaths, reflect on these tips, and don't sweat the little stuff. And if you're really having an off day, go back to Tip #9, eat some ice cream, and try again the next day.
The unlisted tip, of course, is to adopt *cough* Shmoop *cough* into your curriculum planning reosurces. Seriously, we're like, the best nonviolent secret weapon!