Schooling Magazine

Advice to New Teachers

By Anytimeyoga @anytimeyoga

During our preservice training this year, one of our administrators — in a fit of ice breaking and group bonding — asked us to line up around the auditorium according to our years of teaching experience. This is my tenth year teaching, so I expected myself to be somewhere toward the middle. I didn’t exactly expect to find myself so far toward the front.

But then, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I work in a low SES district in a state that is hostile to public education and to teachers. There’s a retention problem. As such, with so many newer teachers joining our faculty, I have, over the past few years, slid into the role of a veteran teacher. I believe I first had that moment of realization — and panic — two years ago. This is the first year I can own it. This is is the first year I feel confident in the advice I give.

There’s one piece of advice I give rather a lot because otherwise I fear it’s too easy to overlook.

Teachers, you know that quote you hear all through teacher school, the one about being the decisive element in your classroom?


For everyone who’s never heard it, here it is:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

– Haim Ginott in Teacher and Child, via Goodreads

Turns out we hear it so much because it’s true. A lot of students do what they do — try or don’t, tune in or out — in greater or lesser part because of the teacher in the classroom.

It’s really important that we bring our A-game to school every day — which means it’s really important that we take care of ourselves.

Even now, but especially as a new teacher, it was easy to get caught up in the notion that preparation was about preparing materials: lesson plans, lectures, worksheets, discussions, activities, projects, graded work. And it is, to a certain extent. But it’s also about preparing ourselves for a day of being fully present with our students: anticipating questions and needs, listening, analyzing, redirecting cognitive thought, redirecting behavior, encouraging.

In a perfect world, of course, we’d be able to do ALL THE THINGS. But this is reality and/or the world of first year teaching that makes “reality” look blissful by comparison. Sometimes, we have to strike a balance — and in those times, it’s important not to ignore the “decisive element” component of the equation.

This often requires some deliberate, methodical self-care. Borrow lesson plans from more veteran teachers. Use the worksheet that came with the book, even, occasionally, if there’s one available to you. Find other teachers with whom to share, commiserate, and collaborate. Leave work early — or at least not late. Say no to that one last request that was going to break you. Find friends who are not teachers in an attempt to leave work at work. Sometimes, make a concerted effort to leave work at work. Run, practice yoga, go to the gym. Engage in other me-time. Read a book. Order take out. Have a beer. Leave the dirty dishes in the sink. Go to bed early. And fuck (yourself or someone else). Go to sleep on time. Preset the coffee timer. Wake up early enough not to be rushed.

Sip your coffee slowly.

Albert Anker Mädchen Kaffee trinkend
[Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

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