You got the job. Congrats.
Now it’s all about surviving your first year.
I’m going to go against the grain here, and say that the first year teaching is not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be.
Or rather, it is that bad, but since you have nothing to compare it to, you won’t know this, so it will all be good. The year will be fine. You will be fine. You’ll get your ass kicked, yes, but then you’ll be fine. And it’s in that spirit of fine-dom that I’m throwing the feel-good, namby-pamby nonsense about the first year of teaching out the window, and replacing it with The Real Version. Those politically correct education books filled with sunshine, glitter and boringly practical tips? Bullhonky. You want to survive? Here’s what you do:
1. Drink heavily.
I mean this in every sense of the word. Words. Whatever. There is probably a group of teachers at your new school that goes out for happy hours. Join them. Happy hours are a wonderful resource for 1) de-stressing 2) finding out how a school really works as opposed to what is says in the teacher handbook 3) drinking away your sorrows and 4) making friends with colleagues who are going to save your ass when you’re drowning later. Even if you don’t drink for religious/health/recovery reasons, still go. Numbers 1,2, and 4 will always apply. But props to you for being able to maintain your sanity without the occasional marg. I wouldn’t even attempt it.
But don’t think I’m all about the alcohol. (Ok, maybe I am, but still…) You’re going to need to drink more than a few Budweisers to get through the year. I also recommend high early-morning doses of the caffeinated beverage of your choice (if you decide to entire a classroom full of children at 8am without it, that’s all on you) and at least three bottles of water a day. Any idea how much you’re going to talk? Don’t take my advice and end up sounding like a chain smoker in the final stages of emphysema. Whatever floats your boat.
2. Go ahead and snap.
I don’t give a fiddler’s fart what the classroom management books say. At some point, you’re going to lose it, and losing it can work wonders. You can redirect, refocus, calmly wait, circle the room, hold up your hand, speak quietly, ring a bell or use any other number of educator-approved techniques to maintain control, but at some point the kids are going to win. They have a lot more experience being shitsters than you do teaching, so there’s no reason to take it personally. Use it against them.
An effective psychotic break has less to do with shouting (I said SIT DOWN, get out your BOOKS and READ, now MOVE!!) or choosing the dangerously quiet voice (You know what? That’s it. We’re done. Why don’t you just go ahead and do whatever you want for the rest of the period, since that’s what you’re going to do anyway…) as it has to do with good timing. Psychotic breaks have to be few and far between (I absolutely recommend no more than one per semester, keeping it down to one per year for maximum effectiveness) and they have to come right after you have tried a number of other strategies that have failed miserably. The kids know you’re at the end of the rope, they know they’re being little shits and they know every teacher has a breaking point.
It’s like a horror movie where the music and camera warn you that you’re about to get the poo scared out of you, but knowing that only makes it worse so when Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers or the Boogeyman finally does jump out, your popcorn goes flying into the face of your neighbor.
You are the Boogeyman.
And the kids totally see it coming.
And while making you crack might have seemed like a good idea to them at the time, they’ll go home that night and sleep with a nightlight, then spend a couple of days trying to shake the heebie-jeebies every time they walk into your room. Which guarantees you a brief respite from buttheaded activities.
After a couple of years, you’ll refine your talents, so that you catch the earliest of early warning signs, nip the instigators in the bud and psychotic breaks will almost become a thing of the distant past.
But in the meantime, don’t worry if you let your devil horns show through.
There’s a little horror movie in every public educator.
3. Blow things off
Bombarded doesn’t even begin to describe.
You are going to get so much crap dumped on you, that if you even attempt to take it all seriously, you’re going to snap faster than I can crack a Harry Wong joke. (Ready? Go: All new educators need Harry Wong. Harry Wong’s way is hard, but rewarding. The best tips come from Harry Wong…) You’re toast.
You have to filter, and no administrator, textbook, or student is going tell you how to do that. That’s why I’m here.
The simplest of filters is the “Do I give a rat’s ass?” filter. Works something like this:
Open email. Read. Ask yourself “Do I give a rat’s ass?” Answer yes: add to to-do list. Answer no: click delete.
A similar version of this filter can work in staff meetings, professional development days and or hallway conversations. Mental check-in: Do I give a rat’s ass? Yes – pay attention. No – check out and start planning that night’s dinner in your head.
It’s the only way to maintain your sanity.
Your job as a first year teacher is to survive, not kill or maim a student, and learn a thing or two. That’s it. No más. School Improvement Plans, Leadership Teams, complicated data, in-house politics, calendar meetings, it can all wait. You’re bright. You’ve been hired to teach the young minds of America, so you damn well better not be an idiot. Your brain will pick up on key words that indicate when you might want to pay attention. “Employee evaluation” “legal duty” and “paycheck” are a few. Otherwise, just resort to the rat’s ass method. But if you’re super uptight, find a buddy. A laid-back, smartass buddy with a few years under his/her belt and use that person as your ass-checker. Meaning, take said email to your buddy and ask, “Should I give an rat’s ass?” Depending on the answer, follow the aforementioned instructions.
Later in your career, you might find yourself suddenly thinking, “wow…I really would like to consider being on the calendar committee/instructional leadership team/parent teacher association” but for now, just take my word for it. You don’t have time. Which brings me to my final and most important tip:
4. Go the f–k home.
Pardon the vulgarity (though I recommend you get used to it) but, seriously. There will be too much to do, it will never be done, and you should just give up right now on trying to pretend it’s manageable. It’s not. So finish what you can finish, set yourself a time limit (If it’s past 5pm, you need to lean in a little closer here, so I can smack you) and Go Home. Children will not die. Your colleagues will not hate you. But maybe (just maybe) you’ll make it through your first year without burning out.
Always nice, not hating your job.
But worst case scenario, if you get to feeling a little frazzled or questioning your career, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Note, please, that’s When Pigs Sing not, as many have read, When Pissing. Similar enough to be annoying. Amusing enough that I haven’t changed it.) I’ll happily taunt you, then settle in and give you the real reasons it’s worth sticking that first year out.
Like having a kid from your first class track you down a decade later to say she hopes you’re still teaching.
Or finding out that one of your annoying little buggers decided to major in your subject.
Or teaching a kid that then decides to teach kids.
Your students don’t know the tough realities and occasional suckiness of a first year teaching. They’re actually going to learn something from you. And, likelier than not, they’re going to remember you.
And that, my friend, is why they pay you the big bucks. So good luck.
You’re going to need it.