5 Tips for New Teachers by a Veteran Teacher

Yes, we want you and we want you to stay for 30 years!

Are you just starting out as a teacher?  Do you see yourself still teaching after 30 years?  That’s how long I’ve been teaching.  I initially started my teaching career completely by accident.  What I mean is that I did not go to college to become a teacher.  While I was in college, I was working part time as an instructional aide.  Once I had graduated, I left that job and found a full time job, though it was not related to my major (Spanish).

If you’re just starting out, keep reading!

Out of the blue, a teacher from the school where I had worked as an instructional aide called me and asked if I would like to teach.  Me?  How? I don’t have a credential (isn’t that what you need? I thought to myself).  Turns out, I could apply for an Emergency Credential and apply to a credentialing program…all I had to do was complete 6 units per year to maintain the Emergency Credential.  Now of course, they don’t even issue that credential in California.  But way back in the day, there was a very serious teacher shortage!  So I was hired.  That was 30 years ago.  Yes, I did go to school another 2 1/2 years to get my clear credential.

Over the past 30 years, I must have mentored or been a Master Teacher to at least 25 other new teachers or teachers in training.  I’ve also been a Literacy Coach who has trained new teachers to my district for the past 10 years.  Usually, the advice I have given has been instructional advice and classroom management advice.  But wait…there’s more to teaching than just instruction and classroom management!

So here is some career advice I would give a new teacher or a teacher in training in 2015:

If you want to enjoy your retirement, start planning for it NOW
  1. Plan for retirement NOW!  I had already been teaching for about 6 years before I started a 403b.  I started with saving $100 a month, which at the time was a lot of money for me.  Since then I have amassed quite a bit into various retirement accounts by increasing the contributions each year to the absolute maximum.  Trust me, it will be worth it.  You are planning for your future, especially now when teachers and other public servants are constantly threatened with reduced pensions.  Contact your Personnel Office or your credit union and ask about the 403b or other options.  Also, while you’re at it, check into Disability Insurance as well.  Especially, if you are female and are planning on having children. Disability Insurance is vital in a profession as stressful as ours.   
  2. It’s ok to take a Mental Health Day (yes, I capitalized it because it is a phenomenon that actually exists in education!).  Teaching is like no other profession.  We are ON constantly.  We not only wear ourselves out physically, but emotionally and mentally.  You can’t teach and give your all when you are so exhausted by the demands placed on you by this profession.  Call in sick.  Take a day for yourself.  Recharge yourself.  You’ll come back refreshed and ready to go at it again.  Take one in the Fall and another in the Spring.

  3. Take those breaks!  Recess and lunch breaks are important.  Yes, I know we have to make copies and cut paper and make phone calls, etc., etc.  
    Take those lunch breaks!  Do you want to end up looking
    like this and scare your students?

    But you can’t hole up in your classroom all day.  You need to talk to adults, relax and have some casual conversation.  Get to know your fellow teachers as friends and not just colleagues.  You will need your colleagues’ support eventually so get to know them personally.  And to get you started…bring brownies to the staff lounge.  You’ll be instantly liked across all social media.

  4. Bad days.  Yes, you will have not just one but many.  Teaching is highly stressful and full of surprises as well as children vomiting on your new shoes. The copy machine will break down just as you are about to make copies of a very important worksheet or test.  Your projector or document camera…or heaven forbid..the internet itself, will stop working just as your principal walks into your room…with a board member to see how wonderfully you integrate technology into your lessons.  Just accept this as part of life and laugh about it.  That’s the only way to stay sane when these things happen.  Actually, you might just want to write it down in a journal and keep them as anecdotes when you look back after 30 years and you’re writing your memoirs.
    Bad days.  You’ll survive and live
    to teach again…I promise!
  5. Support your union!  In my second year of teaching…without having tenure…I went out on strike with my union.  It was worth it as we got quite a hefty raise.  Our job is hard enough.  Just imagine how much harder it would be without all those workplace protections and rights you enjoy now.  Today, teachers are under more scrutiny and are constantly being attacked as overpaid, summer loving, leaving work at 3pm, spoiled public servants with extravagant pensions.  And that’s on a good day.  I’m in California, and we have a strong and very active state level teacher’s union.  But it all starts at the local level.  Be a building rep, volunteer for a committee, get to know the bargaining team, and while you’re at it, throw your hat into the ring and run as an officer in your union.

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As always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions!