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Dear First Year Teacher,

I know you’re excited!  I bet you have Pinterest boards filled with ideas for setting up your classroom, doing crafts with the kids, and super cute snacks you can make!  I was absolutely that teacher!  I was so enthusiastic about snacks, in fact, that I created “Froggy Friends Fun Friday Food Fiesta” and promised my kids that we would cook something special every. single. Friday.  It was fun, but it was a lot.  I like to think of that as a rookie mistake.  You’re gonna have those, my friend.

My first year of teaching came when I was 34 and a mother of two.  I had been a stay-at-home mom up until that point, just doing freelance jobs when I had time, so going to work full time was a big adjustment for all of us.  I remember having an overwhelming sense that I needed to be great, not only for my students, but also for my family who were sacrificing so much.  Teaching was my dream, after all–not theirs.

Heading into that first year, I asked a lot of veteran teachers for advice.  Here is some of the best:

  • Your parapro or assistant is your most valuable asset–treat them well
  • Hang out with the positive people
  • Fake it till you make it
  • Bring your own paper towels (those brown ones just aren’t enough for some jobs)
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Build relationships with your students and their families
  • Stay organized e.g. don’t leave anything for the morning before the kids come in because it won’t happen
  • Make friends with the custodian
  • Learn to go with the flow
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself
  • Keep a change of clothes at school
  • Find balance between home and school

That last one is hard for first year teachers.  We all chose this profession because we want to be the best teachers we can be.  We want to make a difference. (And don’t try to tell first year teacher me that I’m not going to be my best if I stay up until midnight laminating things because first year teacher me does not want to hear it!)

So in that first year, there was no balance for me.  My oldest son, who was nine at the time, grew to hate what we call “fast spaghetti” during that year.  I had gone from being a stay at home mom to a full time working mom.  I didn’t have time to cook dinner anymore, not when there were materials to prepare and things to cut out!  So I threw together fast spaghetti once week, and it got real old, real fast.  In fact, he still groans when I tell him we’re having it.

I remember distinctly one Sunday afternoon, sometime in mid February, I was sitting on my home office floor, surrounded by materials that I was preparing, and my husband came in and said, “You know you can’t keep this up. You’re going to have to find a balance.”  At the time, I was insulted and irritated.  How dare he call me out for doing my best at my job!  But eventually I had to admit that I needed to be present for my family when I was home, not fixated on my job.

That’s my advice to you, sweet first year teacher!  Find a balance.  Be there for your students.  Be there for their families.  Be there for your coworkers.  But remember that you have to make time for yourself and your own family.

One day, you’ll look back on that first year and think, that was one of the hardest and most fulfilling times of my life.   Your heart will feel like it might burst with all the feelings you have for children who are not your own, and by the end of the school year, they will all become forever “your kids”.  In so many ways, there is nothing quite like that first year.

My dad’s favorite saying is “experience is what you get just after you need it.” Dads are right about so many things! But I would also say that experience is something that can be shared.  Use the veteran teachers around you for their experience.  They truly are your best support system.  We also hope that you’ll find support through this blog and the Read It Once Again Curriculum. As with everything, there is a learning curve that goes with using our curriculum.  It will take you a little longer to find what you need and prepare your materials in the beginning than it will once you have done a unit or two.  But the good news is that once you have done a unit, all of those materials are ready for next year.  This was one strategy that really worked for me over the years–Don’t recreate the wheel every year.  Make things that you can reuse, and organize them in such a way that you can put your hands on them when you need to.  I like to keep all of my unit materials in hanging files, along with the associated story book so that I can pull it along with my Read It Once Again Curriculum binder or CD when I’m ready to use it again.  The idea is to work smarter, not harder. That is how you will find your balance.

You should also check out our blog on making your own storyboard because not only is it essential to being organized and prepared, it is also a tool that you can use year after year.

So here’s the thing…I still make fast spaghetti.  And I still work on things for school when I’m at home.  But I have found a balance that works for me and for my family, and you will, too!  As for the other things on the list of advice…Ask what your custodian’s favorite snack is and find time to make it. You’re going to need them!  Trust me!

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