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What I learned during my first year of teaching

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After taking a year off from teaching while we lived in San Francisco, I am heading back to the classroom in August, and I could not be more thrilled. While most teachers are coveting their time off from school, I am wishing the summer days away so I can meet my new students and start at my new school.

This will only be my second year as a teacher, so I am by no means an expert and am definitely not a veteran, but I learned so much during my first year of teaching that no college class or substitute job could teach you. There are professions out there that teach you so much by doing, and education is 100 percent one of those professions.

So, to all of you first-year teachers out there who are also wishing the summer days away so you can meet your first-ever group of students, I have a few pieces of wisdom (term used loosely) that I would like to share with you all as I launch into my second year of teaching.

1. The first day of school is one of the most important days of the year. Teaching takes first impressions to a whole new level. Your kids will size you up the minute the bell rings and you open your mouth. Lose them day one, and it can be really difficult to recover. #realtalk #justbeinghonest

2. It's okay to mess up in front of your students. I'll never, ever forget when I misspelled a word while writing on the board during a class activity and one of my students corrected me. It was traumatizing. I thought my career as an English teacher was over. A 14-year-old boy corrected me!? May as well throw in the towel, right? Wrong. Although people (read: students) assume teachers know everything, we don't, and we do mess up. Duh, we're only human. This turns into a wonderful teaching moment in which you can show your kids it's okay to mess up and teach them how to bounce back when they do. And a kid gets to be the hero. It's a win-win situation. (Spoiler alert: your career isn't over if you misspell a word or mess up a math problem in front of your students.)

3. STAAR (or whatever your state uses for standardized tests) is not the end-all, be-all. Contrary to popular belief, STAAR is not an accurate measure of kids' capaibilites and intelligence and it certainly does not measure your competence as a teacher. We put so much pressure on ourselves and our kids because at the end of the day, the STAAR test really does carry a ton of weight, but we must remember that we do not teach for STAAR; if we teach with that mentality, we are doing a huge disservice to our students.

4. You'll receive more constructive criticism in a year than you have your entire life. And you have to learn to take it gracefully. I'll be honest; I struggled with this at first. I have a bad habit of trying to be perfect at everything I do 100 percent of the time, and the reality is, that is just not possible. So when your principal observes you and hands you a page full of feedback, take it as it's meant to be—constructively—and use the feedback to be better for your students.

5. You are more to your students than a teacher. At times, you will be an adviser, a shoulder to cry on, a resource for food, a motherly/fatherly figure, and sometimes, you'll even be a friend (but be careful with this one). True story: one of my freshmen came to my class after school for tutoring, and out of nowhere he said, "Ms. Jacoby (he never got the hang of using my new last name), can I ask you for some relationship help?" I was a little taken aback, and I told him he could ask me whatever he wanted after we finished with tutoring, but that was probably one of my favorite one-on-one conversations with a student. It was unexpected, genuine, and honestly, hilarious. One thing you will always be for your students? An advocate.

6. Teaching is one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Your kids' fears become your fears. Your kids' problems become your problems. Your kids' tears become your tears. And let me tell you, there will be tears. You'll probably get sick during one of your breaks (I was sick the entire week of spring break), and teaching is tough on your bank account because all you want to do is buy stuff for your classroom and kids. You'll hear stories from your students that you cannot even fathom, and they will surprise you in more ways than you can imagine.

But I wouldn't change it for the world. I don't recall a single day during my first year of teaching that I didn't want to go to work. Sure, there were days I was unbearably tired, and I would be lying to you if I said I looked forward to proctoring STAAR exams (I told my kids I'd rather take the STAAR test than watch kids take it; they didn't believe me), but I never once dreaded going to work; and that, my friends, is a pretty strong indication that you've found the job for you.

So, first year teacher, good luck. Understand that you won't be the only one who is lost, you don't need to have it all figured out, and you have a plethora of resources you should take advantage of. You have the most important job in the world (in my biased opinion). You can do it.

Veteran teachers, what would you add to my list?



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