It's normal for future teachers to have fears about their first teaching job. The many what-ifs can be downright scary. Here's some advice for the next generation from a seasoned veteran.
1. What If My Students Don't Like Me?
One of my biggest concerns when I was an aspiring teacher was that my students wouldn't like me. I truly hoped to be friends with my students. Those hopes were dashed when I was a student teacher, as my mentor, Annette Dimasi, stressed that it was incumbent upon me to set boundaries and convey my authority before my students had the chance to eat me alive. Having your students respect you, she emphasized, is more important than having them like you.
Further Reading: How to Nail the First Week of School: Tips for a New Teacher
Ms. Dimasi was right. Time has proven that most of my students appreciate the fact that I challenge them and push them while setting clear boundaries for behavior and my own time. I've had many students who didn't seem to like me tell me later that they appreciated the fact that I challenged them and helped them grow.
2. What If I Don't Like a Student?
Every teacher has that student who pushes their buttons. Mine was Eddie. Eddie contradicted anything I said in class. He was the head mischief maker, and he worked to derail class on a daily basis.
I began to understand why Eddie acted out, though, when I talked to one of his former teachers, who told me that Eddie had a difficult home life. Knowing that helped me understand him and empathize with him.
One day, I decided that if I couldn't beat Eddie, I'd join him. When he lobbed some sarcasm my way, I tossed some friendly humor right back. Over the next few months, Eddie and I kept up our affable teasing. Eventually, I won him over.
The point is that kids are kids. They could be acting out for any number of reasons, and building relationships and breaking down walls goes a long way toward understanding them. The very student who seems unlikeable at first might soon become a favorite.
Indeed, imagine my delight when Eddie came to visit me several years later to tell me he wanted to be an English teacher.
3. What If I Don't Make Enough Money?
Let's face it: teachers don't make a ton of money, so we must be resourceful. First, I always encourage teachers to not spend their own money on school supplies. There are ways to find resources for the classroom without busting your living budget.
Second, maximize your economic potential by earning advanced degrees that move you up the pay scale. Growing your teaching career makes you a stronger teacher and helps your bottom line. In many states, there's a pay bump that comes with earning your National Board Teaching Certification. Finally, coaching, advising student clubs, and teaching afternoon or summer school can all add a little cash to your pocket.
4. What If I Make a Mistake?
Look, it's not a matter of if you make a mistake. It's when. You will make a mistake. Probably several.
During our state testing, for example, I didn't realize that I'd let a student who needed to take the test in a special environment stay in my room. It was almost two hours into the test before I realized my mistake. When I did, I immediately contacted the necessary administration to have the student moved. I was lucky; the test was untimed, and the student still had plenty of time to finish under the correct testing circumstances. I apologized and assured my administrators this type of error would never happen again.
The mark of a great teacher is being able to own up to your mistake, try to correct it, and vow not to make the same mistake again.
5. What If My Content Knowledge Isn't Enough?
I was terrified when I got my first job as a high school English teacher. What if I hadn't read the books on the reading list? What if I didn't know all the grammar rules?
As a mentor today, I assuage my mentees' fears by letting them know that at first they only need to be a few steps ahead of their students. You may have some long nights and weekends making sure you understand everything you need to teach, but after that, you'll be ready.
And don't be afraid to ask other teachers for help. Most schools have shared curriculum folders, and there's a wealth of information online. Being prepared is one of the most important steps that future teachers can take.
6. What If I Have to Deliver Bad News to Parents?
Working with parents can be scary—especially if you have to deliver bad news. Using the compliment sandwich can mitigate most issues.
Start the meeting by telling the parent something good about the student: "Joseph is a talented writer; I often read his papers first because they set the bar for the class." Then follow-up with the problem behavior: "But Joseph doesn't complete his homework, and this is having a negative impact on his grades." Finish up with something good: "I want Joseph to do well, and if we can work on homework completion, he should easily earn an A."
Creating an action plan with parents can help them feel more involved in their student's performance. For instance, the teacher can tell the parent that the homework will be posted on the online platform, and the parent can work to check the platform each night. The student, in turn, must do their part by reining in their video game playing and completing the homework in a timely manner.
Further Reading: 10 Things Every New Teacher Should Know
Fears, questions, and the ever-present what-ifs are typical for new teachers. But by being prepared, creative, and adaptable, you'll be ready to tackle any teaching situation.