The following was originally posted on Facebook by Sung H. Kim, Science Teacher Lead at Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High School. We are grateful for this wisdom and wanted to share it with our community immediately.
For many, our new reality has abruptly transformed you into first year teachers. So some advice from a former first year teacher:
1. Survival is the goal. Don’t have any other goals except to make it through today. This is not the time for ideals or perfection or coming up with the most engaging lesson plan or activity. You’ll find out quickly (if you haven’t already) that plans shmlans. Just survive. Think about when flight attendants teach you to grab your own mask and put it on first before you put one on a child. It does nobody any good if you flame out prematurely. This is about the long game. Just survive.
2. Be flexible and do whatever it takes. What works for one family and their kids may not work for yours. And what worked on Monday with yours may not work on Tuesday. It gets frustrating and discouraging but disappointments are based on unmet expectations. And I often find that first year teachers have noble but inflated expectations. So expect that things may (often) not go as planned. And pivot.
3. Which means you have to give yourself a lot of grace. You will lose more than you win. And that’s OK. At the end of the day, your kids will go to sleep, wake up, and do school again. Every day is new with fresh opportunities and challenges. Forget yesterday’s failures. Yesterday-you was the loser. Today-you looks like a champion to me!
4. Be resourceful but keep it simple. There is so much stuff online from people who have already done what you’re trying to do. But there is a tipping point when too much resource becomes burdensome and overwhelming. Pick a curriculum/activity and try it out. If it works, keep going back to that well. If it doesn’t, use a new resource. And remember points 1–3.
5. Consistency is huge. Setting clear expectations for class time is huge. The earlier you can set up a schedule and norms and the more you stick to it, the less drama you have to deal with later. So be strategic about your schedule and norms. No student likes authoritarian teachers. That should be easy to understand. And pick your battles. Mom/Dad-you needs to take a backseat to Teacher-you. At least during class time.
6. Nothing is more effective as a teacher strategy than love. Patient, kind, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongdoing. Students learn best when they feel safe, understood, cared for. Love. The most effective teachers often have the best relationships with their students.
It’s a challenging time for us all. For some more than others. But there are real, irreconcilable reasons why so many teachers leave the profession prematurely. To be fair, some of the reasons for resigning have nothing to do with the students, but it is a difficult and often-thankless job. And yet one that is obviously so vitally necessary.
Keep up the good work, everyone! You’re probably doing better than you think.