What I Wish I Knew During My First Year of Teaching

Alison Perez

Dear Alison,

Congratulations on accepting your first job offer in Charleston, SC! I know you are filled with joy, excitement, and anticipation. I also know you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into! Teaching is not about crafty lessons, decorative scissors, and bulletin boards. It is so much more than that – think blood, sweat, and tears. Are you excited? You should be! However, you should also be prepared for bumps in the road. Take a deep breath and absorb any advice you are given!

Be Yourself
Tell nerdy jokes, share silly stories about your life, sing and dance, laugh, talk about your pets, and give a hug or high five to every kid, every morning! Kids are perceptive and will totally know if you are faking it! Don’t ever be embarrassed to be who you are. Being vulnerable for your kids builds a community of acceptance and empowerment. Side note, kids are hilarious and weird. You are going to laugh at inappropriate times occasionally, and it will be okay!

Grow a Strong Teacher Tribe
This work is HARD. There are going to be days that you may not think you can continue on in this profession. Your teacher tribe will be there to lift you up on your darkest days and to celebrate your many, many successes. Fill your tribe with people who love hard, are insanely passionate, optimistic and hopeful, a bit weird, will push your thinking, and will take you out dancing when necessary.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Firm
Children crave structure, routine, and predictability. Set clear expectations and boundaries, and hold everyone (including yourself) accountable. Accountability helps kiddos grow self-control, own their learning, and is the best way to show kids that you love and believe in them no matter what. Also, if you say you are going to call their family, DO IT!

Buy a Sensible Pair of Shoes
Every summer, go to a grown up shoe store. Please, don’t go to Target. Wear your new shoes around the house for at least a week before the first day of school. Yes, these shoes may seem a bit geriatric, but I promise you, your feet will thank you at 3:30 each day!

Go the Extra Mile
Get to know your kids, their families, and the community in which you teach. Go to football games, birthday parties, backyard BBQ’s, and soccer matches. Kids are way more likely to show up ready to learn inside of school, if you show them how much you care about them outside of school!

Whispering Is Way More Effective Than Raising Your Voice
Seriously. Rumi said it best, “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. ” Deep, right? There will be times when you are pushed to your limits. Don’t be afraid to step away, take a break, and ask for help. Know yourself and your students well enough to identify the root causes of any turmoil in the classroom community.

Not All Lessons Are Going to Be Great
Be prepared to make mistakes and know that some lessons just won’t work. It is ok to feel embarrassed, frustrated, or perplexed. Remember to give yourself grace, take a deep breath, and try again. This work is hard, but your kids are worth it and YOU are making a difference!

On the First Day, Wear an Outfit That Makes You Feel Amazing
Although it may seem small, looking your best helps you to feel more prepared and ready for the day. Get dressed, look in the mirror and give yourself a smile! I know you have a closet-full of fabulous teacher dresses Alison- rock that look!

Be Brave Enough to Ask for Help
There are so many people who are cheering for you! Ask a friend, a loved one, a colleague, a parent, or a mentor to help you. They can grade, copy, organize, and decorate. Make two lists – one filled with tasks that you need to handle, and one with tasks others can help you with. Asking for help is a sign of strength and courage!

Create a Balanced Life
Schedule your time before and after school. Set boundaries and ask a friend to hold you accountable. You should plan at least one day each week where you leave school by 4:00 and go do something that makes you happy – exercise, walk your dog, cook, or go to a movie. Happy teachers have a work-life balance.

Alison, you are going to move mountains! This work is incredible – so hard, so intense, so hilarious, but mostly SO IMPORTANT! Your kindness, empathy, grit, optimism, and work ethic will help you to make an incredible difference. Lastly, don’t ever stop believing in yourself. You are an AWESOME teacher!

I believe in you!
Future Alison

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