Advice I’d Give Myself as a First Year Teacher: Part 2

In a recent series of interviews, Amy Nystrand, Program Director of the Educators’ Cooperative asked members, “What are three pieces of advice you’d give to yourself as a 1st year teacher?” and the responses were valuable reminders, no matter how long you’ve been in the profession! 

Alyssa Niemiec, 7th Grade Math Teacher at Meigs Middle School: 

I think, one, is just to work on confidence.  I think I was so worried about what the kids thought of me, what the parents thought of me, what other teachers thought of me, and that was honestly the forefront of my mind, that it took away from me trying to focus on myself and what I’m doing, so I think just one piece of advice is just be confident, you got interviewed and chosen for this job and you’re here for a reason. You’re gonna make mistakes, and that’s okay, but you know what you’re doing, and you will figure it out, and even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will figure it out. It’ll be okay.  

Another thing is just take time for yourself.  I would spend, I don’t even want to say how many hours at school during my first year of teaching.  My Friday nights and most Saturdays were couch and tv, and something that was mindless because I just couldn’t handle anything else.  So I think making sure to cut out time.  Self-care is important, and it is, it’s so important, even now, especially now too, just trying to meet up with people and do things is not a thing, but still finding ways to give your self-care is needed and necessary, especially to keep you going, and not to burn out, which is a very real thing.

Then I think too, student relationships are so important. I think I got scared, and was like I need to have control and I need to have a handle on my classroom, classroom management is key, and I need to do this, all this sort of stuff.  My classroom management was terrible, it was awful.  I think I was so worried about also being too comfortable that the kids could do whatever they want, so I was trying to be strict, but I also wanted to get to know the kids, and so it was like an internal battle of like, what do I do. I think it’s just like, no, student relationships are so important. And now I’m just like you were so focused on control and wanting power, and everything going your way, that if you had just spent more time getting to know these kids, or like talking to them and trying to understand them, and all that sort of stuff.  Also, trauma-informed training. 3A advice, be trauma informed, find trauma-informed training, this will change your life. Because honestly it totally did.  So looping that onto it as well, like not assuming if a student is doing something it’s because you don’t have control of him or whatnot, it’s just like there’s something going on that you can’t fix, but you can support, and you can just ask what’s wrong or what happened to have him here.  I think that has completely changed my relationship with my kids, and how my classroom runs, just being trauma informed.  So I’d be like first year Alyssa, find this, I don’t know if it exists yet, because I don’t think it did 6 years ago, but figure it out.  Because that honestly has been, I think besides EdCo, the most influential part to my teaching. So that’s what I would say.

Chris Collins, 9th and 10th Grade Math at Hume Fogg Academic Magnet:

To put it simply, the advice I would say is that it’s not that serious. When I initially started teaching, and everything else that I kept hearing from my coworkers is that it’s about control, I must exert control over everything, that is how my discipline structure should be, everything’s about control, and through control I was taking everything seriously.  But the reality is, and what I found is the more relationships I built, that’s when I was more successful because kids trusted me, as opposed to me trying to control their behavior, they trusted my comments and suggestions and things I told them to do.  They’re like I trust this guy so much, so I will do that.  Or like I trust this guy so much my siblings will do that as well.  So I think that like we try to control too much, and the more you’re teaching, at least I’m finding that you realize there’s so much you can’t control anyway.

Nita Smith, 5th through 8th Grade Piano, General Music, and Choral Teacher at I.T Creswell Middle School of the Arts

One is already happening, to reach out for a mentor, and now metro assigns mentors when new teachers come in, either to the building, even if you’ve been teaching a while, or into the profession. Being a music teacher, sometimes it’s a lonely place, because usually there’s like only one music teacher, one choir teacher, one band teacher.  So the thing is, there were many times when I was lonely because I was the only music teacher and I was going, going, going, going. So I would say number 1, I wish that I would have sought out someone to mentor me. Find someone who can help you flesh out whatever problems, really what EdCo is doing with us right now as an organization, so yeah, a mentor. 

Another thing I would have done more of would be to communicate more with parents, but I was just so overwhelmed.  I mean that was just a whole lot of kids.  And that was really before the digital world we are in now. I remember when email first was created and we were getting email.  I guess I could have done snail mail by sending home notes with my kids or whatever, or done my own little newsletter.  So I’m thankful for Remind, which is something we use now.  I actually was on remind this morning sending messages to parents, and most of the parents were so grateful, because you know everybody does not navigate well on the internet.  A lot of my parents don’t even know how to find Schoology, they don’t know anything about folders.  They didn’t know, they were really trusting that their students, that their children were going on and doing what they were supposed to do.  Not being afraid to reach out. Sometimes parents have a lot on them.  So that would be one thing.  

And the third thing, I wish I would have gone back to graduate school to finish up what I’m trying to do now sooner.  I should have done this sooner, it’s kind of insanity, it’s right along with everything else happening in the world today.  Pile on the madness.

The Educators’ Cooperative is a non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for K-12 teachers. Created for teachers by teachers in 2016, EdCo provides professional development and support for educators to collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and career stages. EdCo aims to revolutionize teacher development and leadership by focusing on the essential agency, autonomy, and common ground all teachers share. EdCo is based in Nashville, Tennessee with a reach far beyond that physical location and potential for replication in communities throughout the nation. When educators collaborate, the future of education is greater than the sum of its parts.   Please visit educatorscooperative.com for more information and to sign up for our newsletter.

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