Professional Practice

Feeling Like a First Year Teacher (Ep. 161)

So many teachers are struggling through this year, and as Nic says in this episode, so many people are feeling like they are in their first year of teaching once again. So what is her best advice to those feeling this way? Listen to your own words. In this episode, she has a list of advice that applies to everyone who is teaching right now. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: This podcast episode was formulated in conversations with some of my peers both online and in-person. The conversations are going something like this, “Oh my gosh, I can’t do this. I’m not going to be able to survive this year. I’m overwhelmed. I am overworked. My family is suffering. What am I going to do?” Maybe you’ve had some of these conversations lately. In all of the conversations or at least three of them that I’ve had recently the conversation has turned to, “I feel like this is my first year teaching.” And I think that’s a really important thing to think about. This does feel a lot like a first year of teaching when I was panicking every day and I felt like I didn’t know anything.

So, this is what I did. I reached out to Facebook on one of those Facebook art teacher groups and I said, “What would your advice be for a first year teacher?” Because guess what? I think that’s the advice we need to hear for ourselves right now. Whether you are a first year teacher or very advanced in teaching I think let’s just listen to the comments that were made and the suggestions that were made by other art educators and if you wrote a comment listen to it back to yourself, maybe it’ll help you today. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host Nic Hahn.

I am not joking even a little bit by saying hearing these words back to myself really did help me out. Now, I could give all the advice in the world to a first year teacher but when I’m feeling like one myself sometimes it’s good to hear that echo coming back towards me even though I’ve been teaching 18 years. So, I have five pages worth of information from the Facebook responses, “What advice would you give to a first year teacher?” I received over 200 responses. Some of them are redundant so I just took some of them to read to you guys today. And open your brain up to just accepting the information coming at you and asking yourself, “Wait a minute, am I doing these things?”

All right, let’s get started. I’m going to start with a comment from my buddy Don Mancy. He says, “Be kind to yourself. Failure is bound to happen. So honestly, reflect and be flexible and you can continue to grow as an educator.”

Jennifer says, “Be a duck. Learn to let things roll off your back like water and make sure you choose wisely where to vent.” That’s a good point Jennifer. Choosing who to vent to is really important. You need to be able to trust the people that you’re talking to. Tabby says, “Do your best and leave work at work. Prioritize your mental health and self-care. Be okay with saying no and advocating for yourself.” Deep. Yep. And I think we hear this echoed a few times throughout some of these comments.

Becky says, “Remember to include parents in their child’s education.” Wow this is really important right now. A lot of us are teaching online and our faces are appearing in the homes of all of our students because we’re flipping our classroom or having Google meets. So, including those parents in the child’s education is always really, really positive. Getting them involved as much as possible, a very positive thing.

Steve says, “Ask lots of questions. It’s okay to say no often.” We’re hearing that again, say no. Good point. Asking lots of questions, that’s really important for all of us right now too. We’re feeling like it’s our first year of teaching because so many things are new to us. So, ask those questions of the people who know and understand or Google. Ask Google. Ask Google lots of questions.

Shane says, “Make work while your students are working.” So he explains that modeling your actual hand moving and manipulating the medium he says, “It’s okay to not necessarily have the same subject as your students but working in the same medium is going to help them learn how to deal with the medium.” So, being a model in that sort of way.

My dear friend Ashley McKean says, “Sincerely thank those who help you.” And this is something she puts into her practice on a regular basis. So she suggests to write thank you notes. I’ve received some of those thank you notes. She lives by this and I think it is a powerful point of suggestion. Building bridges, planting good seeds with the people around you, put your phone away. Social media can work. Be present and be on time. Great suggestions from Ashley.

Lisa says, “Sleep, self-care and coffee.” Yeah right, those are nice, simple to the point. I’m not a coffee drinker but I hear it does work for a lot of people.

Shelly says, “Learn how to advocate for yourself.” This is so important even now. Making sure that my educators, my union, or I’m sorry my administrators, even my coworkers, my family know what kind of pressure I’m in without, it’s more about informing rather than complaining. Just saying, “Hey, I want you to know this is what my life looks like right now. I’m interested in your support.” Advocate for yourself. Make sure that people know how they can support you.

Rachel says, “Don’t take anything personally.” That is so true. This goes for students, this goes for administration. Our administration is under huge stress right now as well. So, if they’re coming to you in a cranky tone understand that they’re overwhelmed as well and overworked.

Katrina says, “Stop working at contract time.: That’s a hard one. “Don’t check your emails at night or on the weekends. You have a life outside of school.” Man, so, so true. We do have a life outside of school and we should celebrate that, acknowledge that and allow for it.

Devin, my buddy Devin from Wisconsin says, “Make yourself visible to your community whether this means holding community events or creating a social media page to help parents be informed. Community support for your program can be huge.” That’s a good way to look at this Devin because really right now we are so in everybody’s homes teaching our students we could look at this a couple of different ways but one is being an advocate for what you’re doing in your classroom so good point.

Heather says, “Everything will get better over time.” It’s true, think about your first couple of years. It did get better with time. Even semester to a semester it gets better. And we’re in the drowning part right now but keep kicking, keep your arms moving and find the surface of the water so that you can breathe again. It gets better over time.

Laura says, “Do not take on extras, committees or coaches or commitments. Focus on your classroom.” Yep that’s right. Our job is very huge right now for many of us so let’s put those extras away right now and just put our efforts into the minimum, not the extras that we’re doing but just our classroom. What do we need to do to make this the best place it can be?

Lauren says, “Have a procedure for everything in capitals and be consistent.” Yep good point. So, everything means online and in person. So, if you’re setting up your classroom or resetting up your classroom, maybe you moved into hybrid or maybe you moved into distance learning, make sure that you’re setting up the standard and shifting when needed.

Chris says, “No matter what, don’t hate any students.” So true. Chris continues, “Take offense to nothing. If kids are rude or horrible to you it’s because they’re likely hurting and something totally outside of the classroom and that’s why they’re treating you that way. Treat them with extreme compassion and kindness. And also save everything onto Google docs and categorize it by courses, topics, and lessons.” So we have the heart from Chris making sure that you’re understanding that these kids don’t… It’s not you, it’s more than that. Kids don’t just act out because they want to act out they often have a reason behind. So not what is wrong with you, ask them, “What has happened to you.” Try to investigate that a little bit more. And then the logistics of using Google docs absolutely Chris I’m with ya. I use it all the time.

Kathy says, “Be firm not mean.” She goes on to tell a story of how early on in her career she was told to be mean and she rejected this completely and went the opposite. But she thinks that if she had been told to be firm she would have understood that a little bit better. Being fair and understanding is more what students need not the mean but more firm. Good job Kathy, that’s good reflection and a way to pass that on to a new generation or all of us right now because we need to hear these things.

Penny says, “Just simply have a sense of humor.” Yep that leads us into my good friend Mickey who replies with, “Let me introduce you to my friend Jack Daniels.” I know her personally, she is so funny and that’s not real for her. What she goes on to say is, “Seriously the job is the best as long as you remember that the kids are most important. Celebrate them as individuals and the gifts that they are.” Thanks Mickey. That was beautiful.

Debbie writes, ‘Work your ass off and plan, plan, plan. It will pay off and give you the foundation that you’ll need for the years to come. Listen to those who have been there, inhale every ounce of their experience. Make friends with the custodians they are everything.” And Michelle adds onto that, “Make friends with the custodians, secretaries and librarians.” Yes, here, here. Those people are what make the school run absolutely. So remind yourself of that. Making time to say hi to your evening custodian, leaving them little treats. They’re under a huge amount of pressure as well with extra cleaning duties and making sure that our students and ourselves are safe. And if you’re learning from home just doing a little check-in like sending them a little note saying, “Hey, I miss seeing your face or your face with a mask. I miss seeing your eyes.” Okay well, don’t get weird about it but let them know. You’re thinking of them.

Laura says, “Sometimes it’s best to say less at first.” No, I would say always. And it’s something I need to learn constantly, I’m still working on that. You are entering into a new space, observe everything around you. And so, that’s true of whatever form we’re teaching right now. Let’s be quiet. Let’s look around us. How are other people doing this that are seeming to be more balanced? Observe them. Say less. Good one Laura.

Brianna said, “It gets easier with years.” I know we don’t want to hear this. She goes on to tell us a story about how she quit for years and she went to culinary school and when she came back she actually came back to education and she came back and found a love for it all over again. “It feels way more calm and under control and more realistic,” she says. And I think that’s a powerful story. So she actually became overwhelmed and I’ve got to say that was one comment I saw several, several times on this thread was, “Run, find a new profession.” Nope. She’s saying, “I did find a new profession. I came back to education and I was more calm, controlled, and realistic.” And I think that is a powerful story from her. Thank you Brianna.

Merit says, “Don’t be afraid to change your lesson if it’s not working.” Oh yes. So we are experiencing a new way of teaching. If it’s not working the way we’ve always done it, problem solve guys. We can do this. Let’s problem solve and change it up, make it better for the next time and then learn from that.

Carrie says, “Pay attention to what all teachers around you are doing.” Yeah we talked about that. But she goes on to say not only the other art teachers that you are connected with but also classroom management and organization from classroom teachers, from EEC teachers, from ELL teachers, other specialists, you can learn a lot from the people around you and adapt what they’re doing to your unique challenges in your classroom, in your art classroom.

Dana says this, “Crying is totally normal.” Let that sink in. That’s good Dana because I’ve been crying. I stay as positive as I possibly can be but some days my heart is just hurting. I feel like I’m failing our students because of the overwhelming task that is laid at my feet and there’s tears with that sometimes you guys and she’s right. Think about our first years of teaching. There was lots of tears then as well and it’s okay. Crying is normal. You should feel all the feelings, that’s okay.

Jenna says, “Know your objective. Don’t try to teach too much.” Giving three things for a takeaway is totally appropriate. I love that. So, reminding yourself that you’re not teaching everything under the sun again, trying to focus yourself a little bit more, giving three takeaways or even less, maybe just one, is fine for a lesson, whether you’re teaching digitally or in person.

Michelle, “Join your state organizations.” Love this. So, finding the places she says that personally she cannot live without NYSR Education Association. So awesome. Awesome. Thanks for pointing that out. NAEA is a great place to find camaraderie and then of course the Art of Education University. We try very hard to be a organization that you can be a part of and learn from.

Ashley says three years was when they started feeling finally okay with what they were teaching. Now my goodness, I hope that we are not teaching in the way that we are teaching for three more years. But if we gave ourselves that grace we should be pretty awesome teachers in three years. That’s what we would tell a first year teacher.

Alita says, “Keep directions to less than five minutes.” This is important because a lot of us have moved on to online teaching and so we’re doing these awesome videos and we’re teaching our kids and we aren’t dealing with like the little squirmy wormy bodies that are saying, “Five minutes is all I have Ms. Hahn.” That does help us keep it at five minutes but if we don’t have that our videos get longer and longer and longer. So keeping that idea of directions being short, concise, to the point or breaking it up a little bit whether you’re teaching online or in person.

Matthew says, “The best days always follow the worst days. Never forget your why.” Yes, that is very, very true. So when I have that big cry, I am super sad, I wake up the next morning and my body has released all of that negative energy. And I wake up and I think, “I’ve got this. I can do this.” And the best day happens after my worst day and that’s very, very accurate. That’s why it’s okay to let yourself feel and cry.

Frederick says, “The best advice given to me in my first years was you’ll doubt yourself, you’ll think you’re not suited for this. If your admin gives you enough of a wide berth to grow allow yourself to grow. Finish two years before making a decision to leave.” He is now celebrating his 12th year of teaching. Thank you Frederick because again, lots of people were saying, “Get out of this profession, this isn’t where you need to be right now. It’s scary to a first-year teacher.” But two years that’s, if we can teach this way for two years we are going to be better teachers. Hopefully we will be back to normal. Remember what normal was? That was a lot of fun when we just had to worry about class size and classroom management. Man, those were the days.

Anyways, Megan. Megan says, “Eat lunch with your colleagues.” Now this is getting pretty hard to do. “Make friends, be social. You really need each other when you’re in education together so rely on each other for good advice.” Megan truly eating with your colleagues is super important but at my school, and I don’t know if you’re finding the same thing, we’ve been asked to try to social distance while eating too. Well, I have come up with a little bit of a situation that I’m attempting right now and that’s just opening up a Google Meet so that I can still eat or connect with some people in my life. And just having this Google Meet that opens up and if you have time to jump on, let’s eat lunch together. And what is that called? [inaudible 00:20:36] so we’ll be on video eating our food? Man maybe not. But anyways, still find time for those colleagues. Maybe you just give a phone call for five minutes and have that discussion with them of the day.

Eric says, “Keep a three ring binder of all the notes and cards you get from parents and kids and you will be so pleased when you get to look back at them after years of teaching.” Eric that made my heart hurt because there’s so many things that I have let go into the trash because I just don’t have the space, I don’t have the area to put this in. And he’s right, I miss those things. I wish I would’ve kept more of them. Keep those positive emails that come into you, read them when you need to. Great idea Eric, that’s our why. It can be part of our why.

Shannon says, “Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes and say sorry. The students will be super surprised and it makes you more human.” Yes. Okay. “We’re doing a Google Meet. The whole thing freezes. There’s a situation that happens during our meet. The computers don’t work, whatever, whatever it is admit, ‘Man, that didn’t work. I made a mistake. Let’s try it differently.’ Work with your students. Listen to them. They have great suggestions as well.”

Ted Edinger, Mr. E you might know him as, he says, “If you use Pinterest know you’re when, where and why you are doing this project. Know your standards, your objectives. Know your rubric. Don’t be afraid of parents. Don’t be afraid of parents. Set your boundaries. Don’t stop making your own art. Spend fun time with other art teachers. Shop talk is okay, it’s going to happen. Read lots of books. Learn as much technology as possible and attend conferences. Also connect to other art educators using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, amazing communities out there.” It’s so true, that’s how I know you buddy is through those connections online.

Dottie says, “Be friends with your custodians. We’ve heard this and accept that you will never be finished with everything on your plate. Accept that you will never be finished with everything on your plate. It’s going to be there tomorrow. Do what you need to get through the day. Try to bite off those little chunks that you can to accomplish the extras but you’re never going to be done.” Good advice Dottie.

Heidi says, “You will dump all your creativity into your kids. Be careful. Keep some for yourself. Keep your personal creative spirit fed.” That’s a good point. Sometimes it’s hard to find that creativity when you’re so overworked, you’re stressed and you’re putting your energy into so many other places. But that also is the exact prescription to heal yourself. So, if you’re a person who needs that creativity in your life make sure you find it and embrace it and use it to heal and be balanced.

Kimberly, these all match up here, Kimberly says, “Airborne and lots of water. Keep a regular bedtime. Don’t sweat the small stuff. In 10 years you will not even remember which kid left the dirty paint brush in the sink.” Kimberly yes that’s right. Okay be healthy. Absolutely I need to hear that right now. Taking my Airborne, trying to have a decent bedtime, maybe a little bit less Netflix at night to shut my brain off. Just go to bed to shut your brain off but love that. Are you going to know the student that frustrated you today? Are you going to even hold onto that in 10 years? No. No, you’re not. So let it go.

Sarah says, “Drink water. Never drink out of the water fountain however.” Good point. All of my water fountains are now banded with there’s tape on them and you can’t use them but good point those are gross. Bring your own water. Arlene says, “Don’t touch your face. Make sure that you wash your hands.” Wendy says, “Breathe. Get good shoes and laugh lots.” It’s so, so true.

Wow I needed to read those out loud to myself to remind myself. If I was a first year teacher this is the advice that I would give to them but what if we heard that back towards ourselves? Wow powerful words from our PLN, our Professional Learning Network, on Facebook so thanks a lot for participating in that.

And we’re going to end with one of my favorite people in the world. Her name is Debi West. She works for the Art of Education University on a regular basis. You can’t miss her. She is everywhere in arts ed. And she leaves us with this. “Remember, you don’t teach art you teach kids. Love them well.” Speaking of crying a little bit that is exactly right. So Debbie tells us, “Love them well. Love those kids well. That’s what we can do right now. Take control of what you can and it should be a better year. Remember it takes years to be good, let yourself fail.” All those things that were just said but thanks for the reminder Debbie. Remember you don’t teach art you teach kids.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.