You’ve made it! You are finally here—a teacher, with your very own class! Your dream come true! Now what? It’s a valid question for many new teachers navigating this new teacher life! As with most things in life, there is no one size fits all. And many times you think one way, to find out a minute later, you need to think another.
That’s what teaching is, being able to roll with it, always be on your toes and be able to change things in a split second. And with time and experience, it gets easier.
First and foremost, you are a motivational speaker. That is literally my number one job—to make my students believe in themselves and believe in me! The minute I meet my students, I tell them I’m happy they are here. The students settle in their seats and I let them in on a “BIG secret." That they are the best (insert grade) class in this building! That my Principal chose the absolute best kids to put in my class to show the rest of the school how amazing we are! We show everyone how to walk down the hall, how to be kind, and make smart choices, to persevere through our challenges, and that every day is a new day.
These kids truly believe they are the best in the building—they hear it everyday, so they begin to think it. The students who hate math suddenly start to believe in themselves. I share success stories and failure stories about myself. How it took me three times to pass the teacher’s test—and I kept on trying. Imagine if I hadn’t! I wouldn’t be here with you! They look around the room, shocked that I had to keep trying to succeed. They begin to realize that nobody is perfect, and that everyone, at one point or another, has failed. That the only way you truly fail is if you don’t pick yourself up and try again. That mistakes are a part of learning and that’s why pencils have erasers. That they need to take chances, because hey, you will be successful if you keep going.
One year I had a student despise math so much, he would cry everyday during math. So one day, I told him that I was going to call him Mr. Positive and that I needed him to stay positive even if he got some wrong, that we would try it again. He was reluctant at first but by the end of the year he was taking chances, and persevering and referred to himself as Mr. Positive.
Second, you have the opportunity to make every child’s life amazing. Your classroom is their safe space. Make those connections! Connections are probably the most important thing. They let your students know that you truly do care about them. They need to be invested in you. Tell them about you! Tell them about your pets, children, people you care about, your hobbies. They will love to hear about your life! Ask them about theirs. Find out their greatest likes and dislikes. That is your in! If they believe in you and know that you truly care about them, they will be the hardest workers. They will try to succeed! When they succeed—you cheer them on. You tell them you are so proud! If they miss—you tell them you are proud of them for trying and putting in the effort.
Trust me, they will keep trying, and they will start to see results. Tell them they need to put in the work. That they need to come to school and give it their all—everyday—even on days they don’t want to.
Lastly, your mood sets the entire tone of your classroom. Start everyday with a smile. Yet, stay firm and strong when needed. Behavior management plays a very important role in the classroom. Make class rules together. Give consequences and stick to them. Make a big deal when they follow the rules. Tell them they are doing great! Tell them when they need to do better. No two students react the same to behavior management.
One of my favorites is giving the student two choices (this works when a student is stubborn) because it allows the child to think they have a say. Positive praise and positive reinforcement are great too! And what kid doesn’t love a prize from the prize box? The prizes don’t have to be expensive—many are non–monetary like lunch with the teacher, a positive email home, extra recess, or extra free time.
You are framing the behavior—they will need constant feedback and reminders from you. Be in tune with your students that come back from recess/specials/lunch in a different mood. Many of your students will need to be taught coping skills. Last year, some of my students would get angry about something and would remain angry for up to an hour or more later. I spent a lot of time speaking with these students about their feelings. I always start by validating how they feel: “I understand you are angry about x.” Then we talk about how we have to eventually move past the angry feeling and not stay in it. To move forward, we need to forget and move on. This takes a lot of time in the moment, but eventually the time spent being angry decreases and the students learn to be resilient.
Wishing you an amazing first year! Make those connections! Your students won’t remember everything that they learned this year, but they will certainly remember you and how you made them feel. And when they come back five, 10, 15+ years later to visit you, to tell you that you were their favorite teacher—that’s when you realize you received the ultimate reward. This is why you went into teaching—to make a difference in that one child’s life. To be the constant in lives that are uncertain. To be that cheerleader that will always be in their corner. Because once you are my student, you will always be my student.