First Year Teacher: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself

Tips and ideas to help make your first year of teaching easier!

Finally! The beginning of the school year is underway. You're getting ready to do what all those years of college have trained you to do. You might have been prepping for this all summer even. It is a very exciting time!

If you're like I was, you've probably been pinning your heart out, joining every Facebook teacher group there is out there, and you may have even read The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong. These are all great things to help you prepare. However, one of the most important things you need to do this year is Take Care of You and here's how!  

Don't Try To Do Everything

My first year of teaching I wanted my principal to be proud of me, my students to love me and co-workers to see how helpful I was. I signed up for committees, volunteered to help people on my team and tried to make lessons that would blow my kid's minds on the daily.

In addition I was trying to grade all assignments, answer every parent email right away, all while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. I started to feel like I was going to drop it all. Everything I put on my plate. I couldn't quite understand how all the teachers I followed on social media, or the veteran teachers down the hall were able to keep it all afloat.  

This, my teacher friends, is when I decided I can't do it all!  In fact, no one can. Not even those amazing social media teachers. I promise you friends, they have challenges too! Even the veteran teachers down the hall have struggles. We all do!

Each day I committed myself to one or two things that I needed to get done. Sometimes it was grade those tests, sometimes it was email that parent, or fill out paperwork on that student.

Look at the things that you want to get done for the week, and prioritize them. What needs to be done right this minute? Most of the time, it's only one or two things. So stop, take a deep breath, and repeat after me, "I can't do everything and that's okay".     

Build Relationships With Other Teachers

One thing I realized is that the people that I worked with on a daily basis were the people who understood my celebrations, my stresses, and my passion for this profession. These were my people, and they're your people too!

So make plans to hang out with them and build relationships. You can get some really good advice over coffee, dinner, or lunch. These are the people who get you and what you're going through.

We definitely need support in this profession. We need a positive group of teachers to cheer us on and lift us up, or tell us if we're getting a little too down in the dumps.

Find a lunch buddy who doesn't mind listening to your silly student stories, because you'll listen to theirs, too. These relationships are important and you'll be glad you have these people in your life.        

Don't Grade Everything

When I first started teaching my policy was if I assigned it, I needed to grade it. I felt that way about classwork and homework. However, the only thing that came out of that was a headache and piles piles of work that I brought home each night and on the weekends. There was no way to keep up with it.

I remember a veteran teacher friend of mine looking at me wide-eyed saying, "Wait, you're trying to grade everything?" Her advice to me was grade what matters. From then on, that's just what I did.

Now please understand that "what matters" is not just assessments. Yes, of course you want to grade their assessments and add them to your grade book, but look at some of the other ways you check your student's understanding of what they're learning.

  • How about exit tickets? Exit tickets are great because they are easy and quick to grade. You can commit to grading just one or two a week (even if your students are doing them daily) and not overwhelm yourself.  
  • Are your students working on centers? Often I would choose a center that coincided with one of the weekly standards and use that for a grade. Even though my students would have a few centers that week, I only chose one to grade and add to my grade book. You don't need to grade them all!
  • Another thing I would add as a grade was tasks at the teacher table. Often this would be a quick task or short activity to check for understanding in reading groups or math groups. I was able to check for understanding right there at the table and put it right in my grade book.  
  • Do you have any parent volunteers who would be willing to do some simple grading? Let them grade things like spelling tests, math facts and things that are multiple choice.
  • Do you have technology? Can you assign some self grading quizzes through Google classroom? Or can students work on a website that scores them?
When thinking of some of the activities you have your students complete in class, which two or three could you choose to grade?  

Set Office Hours

This one is a must! We are teachers, it's in our blood to work around the clock. Shutting off our minds is not something we do well. However, it's so important that you create office hours that allow you to have a life outside of school. This means outside of your "office hours" you're not lesson planning, checking your email, or grading papers.  

These office hours can look different for every teacher. I made myself available an hour before school, an hour after school and 30 minutes after dinner. My teacher BFF came in an hour and a half before school, stayed an hour after school, and when she left the building, she was done.  

Whatever hours you decide to go with, let the parents of your students know when they can reach you. Do your best not to veer outside of those hours. Some teachers will even put an "out of office reply" on their email. This can help you draw those boundaries and stick to them.    

Try and plan a schedule that will allow you to have a personal life and your own winding down time.  Your body and mind will thank you, and your family will too!  

Schedule Time For Your Hobbies

What relaxes you in your free time? What are some of your favorite hobbies? However you answer those questions, please make time for it.

Whether your hobbies are reading, baking, crafting, going to the gym, or hanging with friends, be sure you schedule it in your calendar just like you would a doctor's appointment or parent/teacher conference. Decide what day and time you're going to do it and commit to it.

You need this time for you! During the week your students require so much of you and your time. The best thing you can do for them, is make sure your are doing something to recharge your battery.

Tips and ideas to help make your first year of teaching easier!

I hope this advice helps you as you venture through your year! Teaching is such a rewarding job and just like we take care of our students on a daily basis, you also need to take care of YOU!