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Surviving that first year as an educator

It has been well over a decade since I began my teaching career, but my first year as an educator is something I will never forget.

I remember walking in to my classroom on the first day of my teaching career feeling like I owned the world and was going to be the best educator to walk the planet, this quickly shattered as I stumbled over not having answers to students questions, dealing with tech errors during instruction that I felt made me look incompetent, instruction not moving at the pace planned, finding out from the curriculum coordinator my curriculum was not as strong as I thought it was, not understanding acronyms in PD, and feeling overloaded as I built non-existent curriculum and cried in the principals office.

I would find out years later from colleagues they thought “this girl is never going to make it.” To be honest, I remember thinking on a weekly basis during my first year as an educator, I am a failure, a fraud, and what am I doing. I wanted to lock myself up in a hole for weeks on end and never come out.

I began to wonder, was my first year as an educator similar to others, so I asked my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter their thoughts about their first year as an educator and to describe it in a GIF.

What I learned from this Twitter post: I was not alone, so this means first year educators, you are not alone.

It’s true my first year felt like this

But if I hadn’t gone through those experiences I wouldn’t have walked away with the wealth of knowledge and advice I have now. So here are 5 pieces of advice I have for new educators:

Find yourself a mentor

I do not know where I would be if I did not have a mentor my first year. You need someone who can guide you and give you advice. You need someone in your corner to cheer you on, but also someone you can take feedback from, run ideas off of, and grow from as an educator. It is easy to feel like a fish out of water, especially when you sit in on your first teacher in-service day and hear thousands of acronyms you did not learn in university. But with a mentor you can go to them with the questions you are afraid to ask anyone else.

You know, now that I think of it, being a new teacher for me was a lot like being a student: scared to get the answer wrong, scared to look like you do not know what you are doing, and afraid to fail.

You cannot be perfect, but you can be adaptable

I used to plan out my lessons down to the minute, and when I fell behind because a student asked a question (heaven forbid…LOL) I would become panicked and upset. Then I would ask my students to “pay attention” and attempt to throw in all the remaining content into the time I had left (because they totally retain information that way right!…SMH). As they left the classroom I remember thinking “I am an awful educator”, “I bet they know I have no idea what I am doing”, and “wow I suck”.

But here is the bottom line, learning is NOT linear, it is messy, cyclical, and unpredictable, so you must not expect perfection and need to become adaptable and flexible fast. The more adaptable you are to your environment, the more safe and adaptable your students will feel towards you and your classes.

It is okay to not have all of the answers

As a new educator I felt like I had to know everything about everything, but the reality is no one has all of the answers. Marketing studies show Generation Z wants authenticity, so when you tell a student a lie, try to burry the questions, or sell them on an idea without material to support your claim they know.

So next time a student asks a question and you do not have the answer, remember to say “That is a good question, I do not know. However, I will look into it and get back to you.” They will respect you more for being honest and human than inauthentic and a liar.

Don’t panic if tech doesn’t work, ask your students

These Gen. Z students can feel intimidating, they are digital natives. During my first year, when I couldn’t figure out what was happening with my projector, when my Apple TV was freezing, when my PowerPoint or Keynote was going nuts, or when I couldn’t help a student with a tech error it was easy to feel frazzled. Even though I was a new teacher I didn’t want to “look new”, and tech errors made me feel like an amateur in front of these digital natives.

But tech errors happen to everyone so make sure you have a backup if something isn't working out right, and do not be afraid to ask and learn from your students. By asking students you are allowing them to become empowered individuals who are contributing to the classroom. Let them have that empowerment.

One of the coolest parts of my day is when I get to learn from students. Ask them, “How did you do that”, I promise they won’t judge you, they want to share what they know just as much as you do and tech is their thing!

Work hard, play hard, build community

The best advice I got was from my first Principal, Rod Wallace. He told the group of new staff “here we work hard, and play hard.” You have to have balance in your life. This is something new teachers struggle with, because we want to say “Yes” to everything, and we also want to be as good as that 20-year educator down the hall from us as soon as yesterday. However, it is okay to say “no” to work and go out on the weekend and “no” to involvement in activities if your are stretched too thin.

I thoroughly believe If you cannot balance your own life how can you be expected to help your students balance their own lives. This does not mean work is not important, but building time for yourself and others is the best education you can give.

Let’s be honest here, think back to your favourite educator, I bet they were not your favourite because they were the “best educator and taught you so much about the subject you were interested in”, but because they took time to treat you like a person and made time to hear you. So the next time a kid pops in your classroom stop working and make time for them.

And that’s it for now, but if you want to hear my views on flexible classroom and seating, kinesthetic learning, inquiry-based learning, how to create engaging Keynotes/PowerPoints, integrate tech into the classroom, authenticity in education, and classroom management let me know and it might be my next blog post!

Thanks for reading

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