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How To Survive Your First Year Of Teaching

I cried every day for 3 months during my first year of teaching. I was incredibly unprepared for how difficult and demoralizing being a teacher could be. But I survived—even thrived eventually—and want to help other new teachers get through.

I cried every day for 3 months during my first year of teaching. But I survived—even thrived eventually—and want to help other new teachers get through.

I was so excited for my first classroom—setting up my room and planning lessons. I had so many great ideas and couldn’t wait to share them with my students. I wanted to be fully prepared.

Enter a job offer on a Thursday. Enter a start date the following Monday. Within 5 days, I had to move and get ready to start the school year. Not a lot of prep time. The tears began.

Teaching is emotionally draining. You care about your students. You want to do it right. You put so much thought and effort into all parts of the lesson, that when it doesn’t go as planned it’s absolutely devastating.

My boyfriend couldn’t understand why I stayed at school until 5 pm after getting there at 6:30 am, and then worked until bedtime when I got home (Dear teacher staying at school and working all hours at home, I know why you do it, but I urge you to take some time off.) I was trying to keep up with everything expected of me, as I learned on the job. 

In my first year, I had one of the toughest kids in the school. Behaviors from this kid ranged from running across the top of the desks and using headphones to place around other student’s necks and try to strangle them to some of the most colorful language I’ve ever heard and sniffing petrol in the toilets.

I pulled out all the tricks I had learned at Uni to try and help him with his learning. I had the best behavior and educational plans, I used all the low-key responses and went through the various stages. We used different contracts and had reward systems that he chose, but all to no avail. I would send him to the office so that the students and I could have a break, but 5 minutes in the office for a talk and he was back again. Study can only prepare you for so much. There’s a learning curve—especially with new teachers often given the toughest class with the most problems—and it would help to have a mentor or experienced support in your pocket.

Recent reports show more than 40% of teachers leave within the first year. And it’s usually due to lack of support, such as placing new teachers in tough situations with little to no support. Maybe this is telling us that how we treat our graduate teachers is not really working. To this day I’m surprised that I stayed past that first term. The first year of teaching shouldn’t be so hard.

I tried so hard to make the first few weeks of school fun and engaging. I acted like I was totally together and had it completely under control. But you know what, I was only fooling myself. Around week 5, I finally got up the courage to approach my principal to ask for help. Asking for help was a big step …I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t handle it. The response was totally demoralizing.

I was told, with a pat on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about it, you’re doing a great job!” The one thing that kept me going was the friends that I made in that first year—other new teachers who became close friends. We helped support each other through that first year of teaching.

Towards the end of the term, the other new teacher that I started with decided that he couldn’t hack being a teacher and quit. I took this opportunity to take over his classroom (instead of the isolated room in an outbuilding I had been in). It was in the main part of the school and right next door to one of the other teachers I had become good friends with. That’s when things started to turn around.

So did the tears stop in Term 2…. Well not completely, but having my teaching buddy next door helped. Having a tiny bit of experience helped. I still wished I had more support, but I got through.

I know just how much support counts in your first year of teaching. Imagine having planning resources and printable activities at your fingertips. Better yet, imagine having a place to share ideas, ask questions, vent about a tough day. I wish I had had that kind of support off the bat. That’s why I created the First Year Thrive New Teacher Support Program. If you’re just starting out as a teaching, you don’t have to cry every day. There is help.

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24 Responses to How To Survive Your First Year Of Teaching

  1. Oh, I can so relate to this!

    I’m an EFL teacher so I work with many different levels and with students of all ages. I usually have this problem with teens, who seem to show little or no interest in class. Most are forced by their parents to be there, so in a way, I can’t blame them much; but sometimes I wish they would make the most of their time – if only to make the class go faster!

    When we do have a good class, it’s awesome! They have a great time, learn a lot and leave chatting and with huge smiles – so why don’t they always do it? Teens! Urrrgh!

    On the other hand, I’ve had issues with some of the kid groups as well a couple of years ago. Some of them wanted more of a challenge, but when I gave it to them, they became lazy. Believe me, I never went up to high, but I guess they just needed an excuse. For the most part, my kid classes go brilliantly and the kids respond well, but a year or two ago it was horrid. The kids complained constantly (I had never in 30 yrs received complaints from children!!!). I wasn’t getting the support from my boss and he was throwing the stress he was getting on me – VERY frustrating and demoralizing! I finished that year in bad shape and totally burned out. It was no fun.

    When reflecting and thinking back, I realized that there were some things that happened over and over, and one of them was that my boss was granting these kids all their whims instead of supporting me. When he finally stopped it by telling the parents they already had what they wanted (I think he got tired of the complaints), things started to go smoothly, although by then I had had enough.

    Funny, despite being specialized in working with children and having an immaculate reputation as to my work quality, that year I was trampled on like never before in my almost 30 yrs as a teacher. I knew my work was good and I knew it wasn’t a matter of class management – I’ve worked with much bigger groups in the past – but it just wasn’t working. Luckily, my boss realized that these kids needed limits and when he put them to work, things started to work as they should. Actually, I daresay, more than the kids, the parents needed those limits!

    Anyway, I am hoping things will go better from now on. As a result of that year, I was left out this past one, so not happy about that (There’s actually more to it, but cutting it short for now hehe). I am hoping that I will be called back this year. I have made changes to my curriculum so it adapts a bit more to what these students are used to, but without losing my style and work quality. I am usually light years ahead of what is done here and people don’t like changes, so hopefully my new curriculum will work perfectly this time.

    I love my job in every way! To me, it’s the best job in the world and wouldn’t change it for anything. When things go well, I am totally fulfilled by it. My heart just beams with happiness! When things don’t go so well, I still feel fulfilled, especially if those “things gone wrong” are turned into “things gone right”. I love seeing the kids grow and learn, but most important, I love teaching them to love learning!

    Thanks for an awesome post!
    Carolyn

  2. Hi Mel
    I have been teaching for over 40 years and sadly can relate to everything you and other teachers have said. I have many stories just like yours and I guess I kept going because I always thought I would ‘get on top of things’ and next time I would deal with ‘things’ better. In some ways this was true as I developed new skills and strategies which work very well in the classroom. The really sad thing is that in the interests of self preservation [and rightfully so] some wonderful teachers have been lost to Education and the students.
    You are continuing to make a wonderful contribution and difference to teachers and students through your blog and I have found your posts to be very helpful.
    Thanks for your efforts!
    Margaret

    • Hey Margaret,

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing some of your experience with us. Wow 40 years as an educator is outstanding, and it’s so nice to hear how you developed your skills over that time. Although, it is such a shame that there are stories like ours….many good teachers have left because of it!

      I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying my posts and that they are helpful 🙂
      Cheers
      Mel

  3. Hi Melinda, I just discovered your blog, what a fabulous resource! I’m a new homeschooling mum and am always looking for lots of new ideas and resources, so glad I found yours :-).

    I really enjoyed this post and really felt for you. I cannot understand the lack of support for new teachers. I completed a dip ed in secondary education back in 1999. The school I did my prac at was so difficult and really sapped all my enthusiasm for teaching high school students. Then upon graduating the department offered me one of the most difficult schools in the state – teacher stabbings, violence, gangs, zero respect from the students for women. I knew what I was capable of…and I knew I could not survive teaching at such a school, so that was it for me. I went back to a career in finance once again. I know I’m not alone – so many potentially good teachers are lost because of similar circumstances, it is quite ridiculous.

    • Hey Lynda,

      Welcome and thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment 😀

      Oh dear, sounds like you also had a pretty shocking start to your teaching career. It is such a shame that they do this to new teachers, and I know many a teacher who has left because of similar stories.

      I had a little peek at your blog, and noticed you’re also a fellow Aussie. It sounds like you’ve now got your hands full blogging, being a Mummy and homeschooling as well.
      I hope you enjoy the tips and resources I share.

      Cheers
      Mel

  4. […] “These kids were operating at the edge of what was humanly bearable and brought it all into the classroom. It was hell. I went to admin to get advice and it was as if I had hit a brick wall….. I was confused and wondered whether I should be able to cope without assistance after I had taught for a year, I started to feel inadequate and stressed. When I made another attempt to ask for help I was told to be more consistent with my behavior management.”  – from Why I Cried Every Day For The First 3 Months Of My Teaching Career. […]

  5. Do you think I should be a teacher if I like teaching, but I don´t like little kids (7 to 12)? I mean, I don´t like to be like a nanny. I mean, I already had some experiences in my 1st semester of education and I found it very hard because they are very undisciplined. What´s your advice?

  6. Hi Melinda,

    I took over a class 7 weeks ago and since then parents of my Y7&8 students have regularly phoned and emailed the D.P. to make complaints about me. These same parents email me 2+ times a week complaining about myself and also write me notes in their kids diaries.
    Last week one of my parents, the 3rd set of parents in 2 weeks, requested that the D.P & I met with them to discuss their child. Now this particular child has lied to my face, doesn’t bother to complete her/his work, has glued in 2, yes 2 maths worksheets in 7 weeks, talks whenever she/he likes and has even left the school property without permission. These parents informed the D.P. that I hate their child, don’t trust her/him, that the child now dreads coming to school (and I don’t?), is slipping back in maths and her/his spelling is worst too. Thankfully the D.P. had seen the child’s attitude towards me and backed me up but revoked all my consequences that I was using on the advice of my tutor teacher and syndicate leader. I was unable to explain that this particular child simply couldn’t ‘be bothered’ to complete the work which is why she is falling behind. So frustrating!

    On Saturday night I checked my school email and cried for about an hour after reading a very nasty email from a parent. I don’t understand how it is possible for someone to judge a stranger so quickly!

    The parental lack of trust is affecting my students and now I’ve had to get the D.P. to make regular visits to my classroom in an effort to get the class on my side again.
    The other two teachers in my syndicate are fantastic but it would be lovely to wake up and actually get through a whole day without a headache or sore neck from stress. Its horrid. I’m making some headway – one student has gone from 78 callouts (and I overlooked the rest) in one day to an average of 15 in a day but I’m counting down to the school holidays – hopefully the rest of my year will be better.

    Thanks for your blog,
    Helen

    • Hi Helen,

      Thanks for sharing your story and I’m sorry to hear that you’re having such a hard time.

      The one thing that jumps out at me that is in your control and that you can change…is to try and switch off from it all on the weekends. Do not check your school email; you need to give yourself some away time. Whatever is sent by a parent to you over the weekend will still be there on Monday, so there’s no point in worrying about it until then.

      I’m glad to hear that you have the support of two other teachers; I think this is really important. Remember to ask them for help!

      Also the smallest achievement with some kids is huge, so that is definitely a success.

      I hope you enjoy your well-deserved holidays and the rest of the year improves for you!
      Good luck
      Mel

  7. Re: above post

    By the way, neither the principal nor the deputy principal said a word during that meeting, they just sat there and watched how the parent abused me. I walked out of there beaten and very upset. Later on the principal came to my classrom and asked whether I was ok, I said no I wasn’t. I was given a business card with a phone number for a psych service which depressed teachers can ring to get support!

    Yvonne

  8. Sorry everyone, I hit the wrong key and the post was sent before I had finished editing it. Can I still edit it now?

    Anyhow, in the end it was parents of other students in the class who went to the principal and demanded that I get some support. The parents knew those difficult kids for years and they saw how hard I tried to get some sort of order in the classroom so I could teach. In the end I got another teacher to help me in the class for the last 4 weeks of the term, she was an experienced teacher and she thought I deserved a medal for turning up each day. I prided myself for not having taken any sick days, but I realise in retrospect maybe that was the wrong thing to do.

    Before the end of term I told the deputy that I was not continuing on, and she seemed surprised!! It was purely self-preservation, I’m not a quitter, but I have a family to look after and this was completely swallowing me up. The next term I was so sick I was unable to work, so I had no income. That was last year and since then I have been doing relief work, I’m simply too scared to get myself into another horrible situation. I’m still getting over all this.

    Now it looks like my husband is getting a job in Port Headland and we might be moving up there. What is it like to do relief up in Port Headland? We are flying up there on the 5th of June to have look. I wonder is it worse than anywhere else?

    Yvonne

  9. Hi Melinda,

    your experience mirrors mine in so many ways! I’m a ‘mature age’ new Primary teacher and I live 1 hours drive north of Perth with my husband and 2 teenage daughters. In my first year I didn’t get a job until term 3 teaching Italian in a Perth northern suburb to Year 7 and 8s. I was the fourth teacher for the year, all the others had left because it was so awful, but I didn’t know that then. Lucky it was only two days per week and I stuck it out till the end of the year, but it was pretty awful in terms of student behaviour.

    In my next year I taught a year 7 class in a wheat belt town, I got the job in the afternoon before term started and I had 2 hours to organise the classroom and no teaching preparation whatsoever. I had the most challenging kid in the school in my class and later another child who assaulted other kids in class. During this year though I had great support from admin and although it was very hard, I felt I could do it since I had the support.

    The year after that I was given a Year 6 class in the same school for the first term with the view of possibly having them all year (a teacher was having a knee operation). I thought I was prepared for anything after my experiences so far, but I was wrong. I had 5 kids in my class who came from very broken homes, some had the DCP involved and some should have. One kid was literally starving. These kids were operating at the edge of what was humanly bearable and brought it all into the classroom. It was hell. I went to admin to get advice and it was as if I had hit a brickwall. We got a new principal at the beginning of the year and everything had changed. I was confused and wondered whether I should be able to cope without assistance after I had taught for a year, I started to feel inadeaquate and stressed. When I made anothr attempt to ask for help I was told to be more consistent with my behaviour management. I did that and the result was that one parent, a drug addicted single mother complained to the school thaI was picking on her son, a kid that was known in the school for years for being upside down under his desk, refusing to do any work or following any instructions. A meeting was lined up between this parent, the principal, the deputy and myself and I was promised that once the mother starts hurling abusive language at me, the meeting will be terminated. I had no idea what to expect, but I somehow thought that the principal would somehow support me. During the meeting the parent let loose a hateful tirade against me, complete with the ‘bitchy’ staredown attempt, what a horrible teacher I was and that her sone doesn’t want to go to scholl be

    In One difference is that I didn’t cry, instead I got sick. Among many other healthsues I would wake up 3-4 times each night unable to breathe, I had ongoing night mares, I dropped two dress sizes and ground my teeth so hard when sleeping that I cracked a root of one of my teeth.

  10. OMG i feel for u so much i lived in hedland for three years i went to primary school in port but i went to high school in south and i feel for you, your amazing

    • Hey Jodie,

      Haha I’m sure you can completely relate to ‘how it is’ up in Hedland then 😉 I often wondered how it was for the other students in the class when the teacher was distracted with coping/dealing with so many behavioural problems…

  11. Hi Melinda, thanks for sharing. I’m a new teacher in Australia and can relate to how you felt at the time. New teachers are definitely not prepared for the work load of teaching, and society does not understand the pressure. Luckily I love my job!

    • Hi Katie,

      To be honest, I don’t know what became of him. I only stayed at the school for 1 year then had to move schools, and then I left the town so lost touch. But after that first term his attendance at school slowly dwindled and I think he was rarely attending towards the end of the year. Very sad really, often when he did come to school I just let him sleep on the cushions in our reading corner, as he was so tired….

      Thanks for your question
      Mel

        • Hi Katie,

          Well where I am now is much harder…..I’m a Mum to a Little Miss Three. I do this full time at the moment and work part time on my blog and at a University. So yes I have support with being a Mum and yes I like where I am now 😉

          But over the years, after that first year, I have had various levels of support from the different schools. But, I would say it has never been as bad as it was in that first year. Maybe that’s also because I knew more and persisted with asking for help when I needed it.

          Thanks for asking!
          Mel

  12. Melinda, I absolutely love your raw honesty in this post. Being honest myself, I didn’t even finish my Dip Ed, due to the lack of support I saw during my prac (I ended up in adult education)!

    So much is demanded of graduate teachers and little support provided. A timely quote shared with me this morning makes a good point about the lack of value placed in teachers in Australia –

    “Professional development is strongly emphasized in Finland and teachers are viewed as respected professionals.

    Fact. This is a two-fold question. Professional growth is viewed necessary for teachers, but usually they have much independence in deciding about their PD. Elementary teachers must have a M.Ed. with major in education and a minor in multi-disciplinary school subjects and another minor in a chosen subject. Teachers are part of the academia, and their professional opinion about learning is respected. Usually teaching is the chosen career, not a stepping stone to something else.”

    Loved your post and can’t wait to read more!

    Kate

    • Thanks for stopping by Kate and sharing your experience of teaching with us. It’s such a shame to hear when teachers don’t get through their studies and the first few years of teaching due to lack of support. This to me is fundamental and a necessity; we need to look after the well-being of our teachers and keep the great ones, and something that needs to change in Australia if we want our students to flourish.

      Thanks for sharing the quote, I also read an article on Finland’s education system today and the value by society placed on teachers is a breath of fresh air. Find the article here: http://www.weareteachers.com/hot-topics/special-reports/teaching-around-the-world/finlands-a-plus-schools

      Cheers
      Mel

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