1. Take Care of Yourself
Before I started my teacher training, my advisor, Meira Levinson, asked me to identify a non-negotiable activity that I will do every day, or at least a few times a week, that I find rejuvenating. When you’re drowning in tasks you have to make taking breaks a rule you force yourself to follow. For me, it was going for runs; you might choose to go on a walk, meditate, call a friend, do yoga, etc.
If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your students.
Make sure you complete your chosen activity regularly even—no, especially—if you have a long to-do list. When we’re re-energized, we’ll be able to prioritize more clearly and work more efficiently.
2. Connect with Colleagues
Don’t start to plan a lesson or unit by searching Google.
You’re surrounded by colleagues with decades of experience, lesson plans, and activities. Reach out to them! You’ll find that most teachers are more than happy to share entire Google Drive folders worth of curriculum they have developed over the years.
Also, remember you were hired because you have something to offer the school. Whether it was a note-taking strategy you picked up from your supervising teacher, a discussion structure you learned in your methods class, or a tech tool you discovered on Twitter, share your ideas with your colleagues—you have a lot to contribute!
3. Invest in Student Relationships
It can be overwhelming thinking about all the procedures you have to teach, the expectations you have to set, and the curriculum you have to cover.
Yet, without strong relationships with students, you will inevitably run into classroom management problems and diminished motivation as the year progresses. Building relationships with students can start with simply learning how to pronounce your students’ names correctly, learning about their interests, and understanding students’ unique cultural backgrounds. Once you have built a foundation of trust, you will be able to develop a more nuanced understanding of your students’ academic strengths and challenges over the course of the year. Consider using this system from Jenifer Gonzalez for building relationships with your students.
4. Think Long-Term: Iterate & Save for Retirement
When you’re about to start your first day teaching in a new school, it can feel odd to also think about your last—but you should.
First, thinking about your retirement will remind you that teaching is a journey. Instead of trying to be perfect in year one, instead aim to continuously iterate and get just a little bit better each week. When you look back on your career in 5, 10, or 25 years, you’ll be amazed at how much you grew. Also, your willingness to continuously improve will keep your teaching fresh and motivation strong for many years (or decades!) to come.
Second, start saving for retirement now. Contribute to an IRA and/or, if your District offers one, a 403b or 457. You might say be saying to yourself, “I’ll think about saving for retirement after I pay off student loans, get married, or have kids.” However, you could end up with tens or even hundreds of thousands of more dollars in retirement if you start investing early. Also, having a retirement nest egg can help you keep your options open if you decide down the line that teaching isn’t right for you.
5. Reflect & Celebrate Regularly
Teachers are often the most self-critical people.
We’re bombarded with feedback, whether it’s the look on our students’ faces, the quality of work on an assignment, or unit exam scores. No wonder we can be so hard on ourselves—especially when we’re starting out in the profession.
Be sure to take time every week to celebrate a win, whether it was a genuine conversation & connection with a student, a great question posed during a discussion, or how quickly students followed a routine you taught them.
Also, while it might feel like a waste of time when you have a to-do list that’s miles long, take a few minutes to check in with yourself: How are you feeling? What was one positive impact you had on a student this week? What’s one thing you want to improve for next week?
Regular celebration & reflection can help us develop the resilience to be an effective educator for the long haul.