Last year was my first year teaching. I was an intern, doing a year-long, paid student teaching.
I was new to the district (and Utah’s education system), new to the school, and new to actually teaching actual preteens. It was scary. It was hard.
And guess what? I get to have the exact same experience this year as well! I am officially a first-year teacher. I am teaching English instead of history. I am in a new district, at a new school. I am teaching charter rather than public with a fraction amount of staff. I am a new teacher yet again.
Training week was last week, and the first day of school is the 27th. Fears are going through my head. But, I know I am not alone in this. The entire English department (3 of us) at our charter school are all new to the school. I don’t know how many years the others have taught, but the fact remains, we are all new to Navigator Pointe Academy.
So, I want to share some fears that all new teachers are bound to experience, regardless of if it’s your first year ever teaching, or first year at a new school.
1. What is my curriculum?
Although many schools have now adapted the National Common Core standards, many are still on their state standards, and charter schools, like mine, do not have to follow the Common Core nor state standards. Even if you are at a school that does, they could focus on different aspects than you did at your old school. Some schools require specific skills or common assessments to be taught at certain times or in certain ways. Some schools have very strict, coordinated curriculum, whereas others are more open to the teacher’s desire.We like to know our curriculum in advance so we can use (at least) August to begin planning and preparing units and lessons.
2. What classes will I be teaching?
This may be even more important than #1, as it depends on this one. Knowing the grade level and what periods are teaching vs. prep is a very useful key. It’ll help you prepare your curriculum as well as organize your classroom and planner. Last year, I knew in June what periods, grades, and classes I’d be teaching. This year, I just barely found out. Can you imagine my stress the past two weeks when I could have been planning and prepping? Thank goodness for scheduled blog posts–they’ve been helping and will continue to help for a few weeks!
3. What are the department/grade/school-wide rule, policies, procedures, and classroom management plans?
Again, this differs from school to school and district to district. It is always nice to be able to create your classroom management plan and prepare some rules, policies, and procedures to hang around your classroom. If you don’t know, you can’t really plan how to run your classroom. Thankfully, my new school is very school-wide in almost everything when it comes to this topic.
4. What are the traditions of the school?
This was one of the hardest things I had to learn on my own last year. Traditions may have to do with #1, 2, and 3, but there are other traditions: sports, clubs, extracurricular activities, staff meetings, celebrations, etc. These are the little nuances of the school, the tiny details that make it its own community with its own culture. It isn’t from the lack of quality of mentor teacher that they don’t describe these to you–it is because these are internal, at least to teachers who have been there a while. Not knowing these can make you embarrassed and feel like you don’t belong.
5. What if I don’t fit in?
Yes, this is the worry we have going to school and guess what? It comes back as a new teacher because #4 creates a uniquely cultured community. Friendships had been created and strengthened year after year of working together. Many teachers also live in the community. Last year, I didn’t feel like I fit in much–I hung out mostly with the interns. I didn’t live in Springville (even though the school was only 10 minutes away, the community wasn’t my community).As well, the departments were very exclusive at my old school–the English teachers were a tight clique and didn’t like anyone else coming in, the history teachers (besides me) where almost all empty-nesters, the special-ed teachers shared their own inside jokes, and the elective teachers got together a lot. This year, I will be a commuting teacher. I will drive 45 minutes to get to work. Yes, there are new teachers like me, but perhaps they live in the Jordan area. It is also a charter school, with less teachers and more of a community involvement. I will begin as an outsider, but try my very best to be a part of the family.
6. What if the students don’t respect me?
I am young–only 23. Many of my students last year had siblings my age. I actually have a sister my students’ age! How awkward and weird! I even had a student whose parents where only a few years older than me because they were teen parents! Weird! But, whether you are young or old, a first year teacher, or just new to the school, students know you are new. They are going to push your buttons to see how you tick and how far they can go. They know the policies and boundaries of other teachers, but you are knew and toy to them. It is always hard to try and convince them that you are the boss.
7. What about the drive?
Like I mentioned, this year, I will have to drive on the interstate and a big state highway for 45 minutes to get to work, in high traffic areas with high accident rates. From October-May there are snowstorms in Utah. Last year, I drove 10 minutes on not-busy roads to get to work. If there was snow, I left 15 minutes earlier to go slow and careful. I’m honestly nervous for the first snow storm driving on I-15 across the border of Utah County and Salt Lake County going up a mountain and following its curve in that highly congested area. What if I don’t leave early enough because of an unforeseen accident and am late?
8. What if how I teach is not what the school’s teacher evaluations are looking for?
New teachers are typically given a mentor and have to be evaluated during their first 3 years. What if how you taught for numerous years at another school is not what they are looking for at your new school? What if your new popular, researched teaching strategies and skills you’ve learned at college is not what qualifies as a “master” teacher at your new school? It is always hard to prepare for evaluations–you want to do the best you possibly can, but you are new. It’s hard not to compare you to other teachers in the school.
9. Insurance, Paydays, Retirement, etc?
Setting up direct deposits, starting/transferring 401Ks, signing up for health insurance that will be the best for you and your family, waiting for insurance negotiations to be finished, seeing all those little amounts of money disappear from your paycheck…there are a million reasons to fear these because it is hard to keep track of all that information and understand it completely. Last year, I went to the district office numerous times to talk with HR to try and understand every note on my paycheck, understand the premiums and all else with insurance. It is confusing.
10. How do I work the machines?
Phones, copy machines, laminators, faxes, computers. There is a billion different types of technology in a school. And each school has a different brand. There are different ways of using that technology–on your own, a teacher’s helper, or an adult volunteer. Who to use? When to do copying? Is it busier in the morning, during lunch, or after school? What is the typical amount of handouts other teachers do each week?
With all these questions and fears, it is hard being the new teacher. Granted, we typically get the hang of how our new school is run by Thanksgiving, but those first months can be excruciating! Always, always, always ask for help. Make friends. Don’t be afraid to be embarrassed in front of your colleagues. Explore the school during lunch. Hog the copy machine. Call HR every week. Go eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge. Ask for a mentor teacher and bother her dawn to dusk–that is what she is there for!
What fears do/did you have as a new teacher at a new school?