Meeting the Challenges of Your First Year Teaching

Remember the pre-first day of school jitters you had as a kid? Multiply that by 100. It’s no surprise that first-time school teachers are filled with anticipation, excitement, fear, and self-doubt. Teaching is not just a responsibility to provide students with a meaningful education, but it’s a chance to inspire and make a long-lasting impact on their lives. What are two challenges that many first-year teachers have faced? How have they met these challenges? And, if you’re not a first-year teacher, what’s your role?

Some teachers express that in their first year, at first despite being anxious, they were really just very excited to start, full of hope and new ideas. But as time went on, they were overwhelmed by problems they didn’t expect, and feelings of doubt as to whether or not they were up to the challenge. In fact, one estimate states that around 17% of teachers quit in their first five years, a number that actually seems to be lower than previously expected. So, the majority of new teachers do make it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Fear of failure

What if I make a mistake?

Don’t be afraid of messing up. Try to find a teacher who says that their first year was amazing. It likely won’t happen. The truth is, many challenges a first-year teacher will face cannot be anticipated, mistakes are inevitable. The key is to learn from them and move on. This isn’t to say that planning ahead isn’t helpful, but it is impossible to plan for every little thing that could happen.

But what if my students hate me?

Some teachers have found that by being both respectful and firm with students, they in turn gain their respect. Of course, not every student is going to like you.  While it’s important for your students not to see you as just another one of their friends, they should feel like you’re on their side. Not pointing out every mistake that they make, but rather, commending them for the good and helping them to improve where they need it. Setting limits and classroom rules, and enforcing them right from day one — can also help your students to know where you stand and know that you’re consistent.

Getting Help

Practical Help

One of the best ways to feel at ease at any new job, is knowing how to navigate. Simple things can save a lot of time, and not being afraid to ask questions until you get the ropes. Do know how and where to get help when you need it? Where to get needed supplies for class, tech support, repairs, etc.? Knowing who and where to go for help, and ways you can get what you need will save you precious time, something that you’ll likely be short of in your first year of teaching.

Building relationships

It might be intimidating to be surrounded by more experienced teachers than yourself. Like that kid before their first day of school, you may even worry “Will they like me?” But your fellow teachers are your greatest support system. Find allies in other staff members and educators. And this is where you veteran teachers come in. Maybe you’ve been teaching for years, or decades. You have so much to offer, especially to a teacher who’s just learning the ropes. Share the things that have helped you, or just be there for them to vent out their frustrations. Take the initiative to make them feel welcome.

All in all, don’t worry too much!  Which of course is easier said than done. Yes, it’s going to be very difficult, and you are bound to make mistakes. But teaching is rewarding as well, and if you hold on through the first few years, it will only get better! Think back to a teacher who helped you; maybe it was by encouraging words, or simply giving you knowledge. That teacher wasn’t perfect, but you remember how they helped you. Having a chance to make a difference in the lives of young people is an amazing privilege, and likely you will impact them in more ways than you know. You can do it!

Ashley Mauger
Author: Ashley Mauger