Taking a few simple steps ahead of my first year of teaching helped me to walk into my classroom composed, confident, and ready to give my students the best year ever
The Roller Coaster First Year
My first job as a teacher sent me on a surprising roller coaster ride of emotions. I was terrified that I would screw up. I felt exhilarated at the idea of inspiring young minds to learn... but I worried that someone would discover that I had no idea what I was doing and I would find myself kicked to the curb. Thankfully my training, my community, and a summer of advanced preparation helped me to make my first year as a teacher successful, in spite of those fears.
Plan Your Attack
I am a planner. I can't help myself. I will plan an event until it isn't even fun anymore. Normally, this is an issue that drives my family and co-workers to distraction, but in the case of my first year of teaching, it came in handy. I spent the months before my first appointment planning classroom activities, familiarizing myself with school and district policies, and learning about the school's preferred curriculum. I created detailed lists of the books I wanted to use and decided how to incorporate them into lessons. I also made a note of the supplies the classroom had and what I would need to buy myself to get the year off to a good start.
I probably overdid it. I had enough in my planner to supply several classes with content for the coming year, but, like any good security blanket, it made me feel safe to have it. I also had the benefit of knowing what the school would supply, what I would need to provide, and where I could get my hands on donated materials to help me feel like I had a decent handle on things.
Get a Feel for the Terrain
After my initial tour of the building, I was able to wander around on my own and get a feel for the landscape. I wanted to be sure that not only would I be able to find my way without getting lost, but I would be able to judge how long it should take my students to use the facilities, and the best routes to places like the library and the garden, which I planned to make heavy use of in the first weeks of class. I wanted to come in on the first day feeling comfortable and relaxed, not confused by unfamiliar surroundings. It was a simple thing, but that long tour gave me a sense of familiarity which helped me to feel at ease during those first few stressful days.
Create a Classroom Policy
In addition to a lesson plan that would provide a map for my students, I also had to consider classroom management. With a large class, only one part-time assistant, and a few parent volunteers, I knew that discipline was bound to come up. I spent a good deal of time going over the school's disciplinary policy and considering how this should apply to my classroom. I wanted my class to be well ordered and civil but not oppressive. I felt, and still do, that students should have the freedom to explore ideas, so long as it doesn't infringe upon the rights of others to do the same.
Once I had developed what I felt was a reasonable, enforceable policy, I wrote it up as a contract that my students would read and sign. I sent a copy home to their families for discussion and agreement as well. This came in handy as, during the year, in spite of many lessons discussing these contracts, and a clear poster on the wall detailing the classroom rules, someone claimed ignorance, and we needed a reminder for the parent meeting.
Finding a mentor was immensely helpful. A fellow teacher who had already experienced the ups and downs of that first year was a comfort, as well as an excellent resource, but I didn't stop there. I enlisted the aid of volunteer parents to help with certain classroom tasks. I got to know everyone from the janitor to the superintendent so they would be familiar with me and willing to help in a pinch. And I sought out anyone I could think of who could connect me with community resources. This not only allowed me to feel I was a real part of the school, but it gave me the confidence to reach out when I needed help, and offer assistance to students and their families as I saw the need.
My first year of teaching wasn't perfect - I made more than a few mistakes - but the extra preparation helped me to recover from them and move on. The support of my fellow educators and class parents was immeasurably helpful and put me in a position to make year two even better as a result. There are things I would do differently, but in the end, it went well, and I am grateful for the steps I took to see that it did.