The Biggest Surprises From My 1st Year of Teaching - And How to Prepare for Them


We think when we leave a teacher preparation program that we are prepared for the classroom. But the reality is that there are many surprises first-year teachers experience that college can't prepare them for. Brace yourself for these surprises to make your first year in the classroom a smoother and happier time.

You Won't Always Be Successful

When we come into the classroom as first-year teachers, we aren't prepared to fail in the huge scope of ways a teacher can fail, both big and small. Some of those failures will be very public, others more private and personal. If you are unprepared for these missteps, it can make your first year in the classroom even tougher. Let's explore how to handle some of these failures.

Academic Failures

The reality is that, despite your best efforts, there will be students who fail your class. Sometimes these failures are reported on a report card. For example, you will have students who just won't turn in the work they need to pass. You can email, call, use positive reward systems--every sort of stick and carrot in the teacher handbag. And still, the student just won't work.

Redefine Success for Your Students

You have to remember that, just like you, students carry baggage in their lives. As much as we try to help, sometimes students can't leave their baggage at the door when they enter the classroom. In your classroom, you may have students who are homeless, students who have been abused, and others who may be struggling with anxiety. There will be students who have people in their home life struggling with drug abuse. They can't turn off the emotions associated with their outside life when they enter your classroom.

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To prepare for that, you have to develop a new mindset of what success looks like. As teachers, we often think of success as a grade on a report card or a standardized test score. For some students, this may not be what student success looks like in the classroom. There are many other versions of success. It could be when a student develops social skills so he can interact positively with his peers. In the case of another student, it may be learning to show compassion to others. Develop relationships with your students so that you can help them individually define their successes.

Parents Can Be Difficult

The biggest shock of my first year was dealing with the parents. To this day, they are the number one source of stress in my teaching career. While some will be kind and supportive of your desire to help their students learn, others will be more concerned with placing blame on you for every hiccup their child experiences in school. They aren't ready to let their children learn life lessons. As teachers, we know that students often learn best by making mistakes. Some parents, however, are ready to disagree with our professional opinion.

Helicopter Parent

There are many types of parents you will encounter in your first year of teaching. One common type is known as the hovering (or helicopter) parent. These types of parents seem to be everywhere, all the time. Every day you have messages in your inbox and voicemail. These parents sign up to chaperone every field trip and school event. They also nitpick every grade and note you write on their child's papers.

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When dealing with helicopter parents, there are some tried and true strategies to help you stay sane. First, front load your communication. You have to remember that helicopter parents build anxiety from not knowing. So come up with a communication plan to help keep them in the know. For example, when you start a new unit or project, send an email explaining what parents can expect. If you use a classroom website, you can link assignments and other information to it so that they have all the information they need at their fingertips. There are even apps that allow parents to sign up and receive text messages from the teachers.

Teaching is Exhausting

Teaching, especially in your first year, is taxing on your body both physically and mentally. It is very easy, especially as a first-year teacher under the scrutiny of evaluation, to become a workaholic. There's always lesson plans to do, papers to grade, emails to respond to, and phone calls to make. Before you know it, you can be working twelve to fourteen-hour days every day in your effort to be the best teacher you can be.

This mindset has been conditioned as normal in first-year teachers--new teachers often think it's okay to work extra-long days every day. However, you need to prepare yourself for finding a balancing between teaching and your personal life. Though you may put in long days at school sometimes, you need to come home and recharge your batteries.


Being a teachaholic will drain you physically and mentally. You may start to catch all the viruses that go around because your immune system is wearing down. In terms of mental health, this mindset can lead to anxiety and depression. Prepare yourself to go into teaching with boundaries. Set aside time for yourself. Pleasure read, go to the gym, and spend evenings with your friends and family. If you don't, your happiness will slowly wear away, and you won't be able to do your best with the students in your classroom.

By Rachel Tustin
December 2016
opinion new teacher

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