When new teachers are honest they will admit that this is the biggest question that runs through their minds:
“Did I choose the wrong profession?”
which is often chased by a second:
“Should I quit?”
If this is you, never fear. You are not alone! These questions reflect valid feelings that are a normal part of first year teaching. By the time you get to late October, these feelings are almost unavoidable. The overload of lesson preparation is coupled with Meet-the-Teacher night, your first observation, sickness, and compounded fatigue. Fortunately, it’s also time for Homecoming!
During the first weekend of November, the university where I teach celebrated Homecoming. Of all the participants who attended, I was bombarded by the first year teachers. They were visibly exhausted, and greeted me with the comment, “I’m soooo tired, Dr. Clark-Goff!!!” They were desperate for sleep, friends who could relate, and professor support. At that very moment I could do little but give them a hug and a listening ear while reminding them of two essential tips that I want to share with you:
- Keep in touch with each other. Text, email, facetime, whatever works for you. Going through your first year simultaneously with other first year teachers will help you know you experiences aren’t uncommon, you are not crazy, and you are never alone!
- Share your successes too. It’s normal to share your struggles and ask for help, but it’s critical to take note of a success each day. You need to say it and your new teacher colleagues need to hear it. Some days your success may be super small, but I guarantee that you can find a success in every day.
None of these former students indicated that they were ready to pack it up and transition onto another career path, but they did echo a few of the comments I have read on Facebook groups for first year teachers. Here are some common feelings I frequently see posted in these groups, and I wonder if you feel this way:
- I am extremely overwhelmed and literally exhausted all the time. Someone please tell me that this gets better!
- I wonder if I chose the right profession.
- Is this ever going to get better, or will it always be this challenging?
- I’ve been floundering all year.
- My students have learned nothing and I’m terrified of what their test scores may show.
- I’m tired and frustrated. Are my feelings about teaching normal?
- I’m struggling with classroom management. I’ve tried a host of approaches and I’m at a loss of what to do next.
- My mentor is nice, but isn’t really providing the support I need.
- I would do what I am supposed to do if someone would tell me what that is.
- When I am observed, all I hear is what I’ve done wrong. Maybe this isn’t the career for me.
- I feel like I’m not doing the kids justice. How am I going to survive this year if I am constantly in tears?
- My feelings range from quitting to exhaustion to a desire to change the world. Will I ever achieve the control, knowledge and pleasure in teaching that the more veteran teachers possess? If so, how long will that take?
Do a few of these comments sound familiar? You may relate to the majority of them. The fact that first year teachers share such comments publicly shows that you are not alone. What you feel is real. However, don’t get stuck in the difficulty of your reality. Look for a positive in every day and document it by sharing it or recording it. Successful first year teachers keep connected, and intentionally seek the positive in each day.
How can there be a positive when teaching is so incredibly difficult? What if you relate to the hopelessness expressed by these first year teachers? Why give teaching another year? Why go through this again? There are plenty of less demanding jobs to be had. So why not make your first year of teaching your last? Let me give you a few quick reasons to think twice before giving up on teaching.
Six Reasons To NOT Give Up on Teaching After Your First Year
- Your best days in teaching are yet to come. Do you remember what we said in “Five Honest Reasons New Teachers Need Support” about you not being able to learn it all before you got to your classroom? The first year of teaching is really an extension of clinical teaching in terms of all you have to learn. You are still a teacher in the making. There are things you simply cannot learn until you are in charge of your own classroom and your own students. Give yourself time to learn your craft, and permission to make mistakes. With any skill, you have to practice it for thousands of hours in order to master it. Keep practicing!
- If you change professions, you are going to have to endure another first year all over again. It may have different trials and tribulations, but you will still struggle because it is your first year in the job. It’s easy to romanticize having someone else’s job. Don’t buy the lie that the grass is greener on the other side. Get gritty, dig deep, and grow in your knowledge and skills. You were made for a purpose—your purpose—not someone else’s.
- It gets better!!! As one of my former students said, “Your first year is going to be a tornado. You have to learn to accept that this is going to happen and you have to ride it out, because next year you are going to be Pecos Bill!” I’ve never met a teacher who said that the second year got harder. You refine your craft and eventually, there are more good days than bad ones. With time, the bad days are few and far between.
- You went into teaching for a reason. You have a calling. Piles of grading and office referrals may have caused you to lose sight of it, but you have one. Take some time to reflect on the reason you started this journey of teaching in the first place. Maybe you became a teacher because you wanted to make a difference. Perhaps you had an amazing teacher and you wanted to be that person for someone else. Hold onto your reason, write it down, and read your reason…daily.
- You have the power to improve your teaching. You may have heard about folks being “born to teach.” Though teaching is a skill that comes more naturally for some than others, teaching is a learned behavior. There are many ways you can improve your teaching, develop your classroom management skills, and take steps to grow into effectiveness. Take time to reflect on and evaluate your own teaching. Seek out the most effective teachers on your campus and during your conference period, to watch them teach. Ask them to come observe you and coach you on how you can improve. By taking initiative, you have power.
- You’ve had plenty of tough times, but few of the good ones. The second is easier than the first—by far. By the end of it you really feel like you have a solid grasp on your profession. If you never teach for that second, you endure all the struggle but miss out on the accomplishment. You invested years in a college degree and certification. Don’t get impatient now! Commit yourself to two years before even thinking about a career change.
My first year of teaching was tough. I had to create my own curriculum and I genuinely struggled with classroom management. When I was completely frustrated with students’ behavior, I would change the seating arrangement. That happened a lot! My Friday nights were spent at school preparing the next week’s lessons. My evenings were spent preparing materials. I had one child who I held through many a seizure, and another who defiantly hid under her table. But if I had given up on my calling after that first year, I would have forfeited a whole incredible career! Don’t miss out on all the great experiences in education that are to come. Growing into greatness requires more than one school year.
Admittedly, life is too short to spend a career doing something you hate. I wouldn’t want you to continue in the teaching profession if you don’t really love your students and feel like you are making a difference. Yet when you are physically exhausted and emotionally depleted at the end of your first year of teaching is not the time to make a career change. I encourage you to not even entertain the consideration of resigning until you have completed two full years of teaching.
The veteran teachers I saw at homecoming today have taught long enough to feel the confidence bred by experience and success. They are established and content. That achievement comes with time and effort. It really does get better! In the meantime, make connections with strong, positive veteran teachers and other beginning teachers. Associate with and observe the very best teachers in your school. Also, whether it is first year teachers with whom you took college coursework, or other first year teachers in your district, reach out to other new teachers. The veterans and the newbies both need you just like you need them.
Resign? Leave teaching? Quit after your first year? Becoming a teacher is no mistake; it’s a calling. Leaving too soon: That would be a tragedy.
Kylah Clark-Goff, Ph.D.
“When someone asks why anyone would ever become a teacher, remind them why it’s worth it. Every job has its ups and downs, but not every job can change a life.”