It’s the start of another school year and things are finally settling back into a routine for me, but I will never forget my very first day of being a “real” teacher. I was so scared and all I could think was “What have I done?” The first few weeks of teaching are stressful! There are meetings, meetings and more meetings, new routines to learn, your new students to meet… This is my eighteenth year of the first week of school, and I still get anxious the night before the first day. However, I have learned how to manage this hectic time, which this survival guide is all about. So, here are my top strategies for managing the stress of the first few weeks, especially if you are new to teaching or new to a school.
Eat, drink and sleep right
Sounds obvious, sounds simple, but I have found that these are often the first casualties at the start of the school year. Remember to drink water throughout the day, which I admit I am personally not great at and still struggle with. I also try to cook the week’s dinners on the weekend, so that in the afternoon I can spend time with my own children and simply reheat or do some quick vegetable / salad prep. I also cook more than we need, so that lunches can be leftovers.
Be prepared, but don’t over prepare
The first few weeks pass like a cyclone and you will feel like the days are whizzing by, out of your control. Prepare your lessons and resources as much in advance as time allows – this will be dependent on the age or your students and the subjects you teach. But a word of warning, be prepared for all of your planning to have to change on the fly. Expect the unexpected. Perhaps a lesson didn’t go down the way you thought it would, or your students didn’t understand a concept and you need to rethink your approach. Don’t forget that there will be constant interruptions in the first few weeks – welcome assemblies, leadership inductions, meet the parent days, standardised testing and so on. Check the calendar carefully, but learn to roll with it if plans don’t work out.
Take your lunch breaks
First, this serves the important function of fueling your body (see my first tip). If you don’t eat, you will not be firing on all cylinders. Just as important though is that lunch breaks in the common room are a time to build relationships with your colleagues. These are the people who will help you through tough times and who will be a support and a sounding board for ideas. Despite being with plenty of students all day, teaching is a very isolated job. You will usually work alone in your classroom and you will often feel too busy to take a break. I make sure that I force myself away from the screen and make a conscious effort to leave my desk and socialise at the lunch table, as I believe this is crucial to sustaining yourself through the year.
Learn essential procedures quickly, ask questions, but know whom to ask
One of the most frustrating aspects of starting at a new school (I am at my sixth) is learning new procedures and getting used to new routines. It is unavoidable and overwhelming. My best advice is to prioritise in terms of what you need to know right now and what is important but not necessarily urgent. I am a secondary teacher, so for me the most important things I want to know in the first few weeks are:
- School rules and behaviour management policies. Secondary students will nail a new teacher. They will push the boundaries immediately so I make sure that I am on top of it on day one, and nail them right back. If there is anything you are not sure of, don’t let on to the students. Fake it until you make it!
- Lesson times. I know, thank you captain obvious, but trust me this takes longer than you think, especially if your school has different lesson times for each period.
- Absence, late to school and late to class procedures. As above, secondary students will test you on this, so make sure that you respond accordingly.
- Management and staff structure. You need to know who is responsible for what, who is your line manager, who is theirs and so on. When you are not sure of something, it is best if you know the right person to ask. Certainly, ask your colleagues, but sometimes teachers, especially those who have been at a school for a long time, just do what they have always done. This may not be in line with the school’s policies, especially if there has been a change in management or change in direction. Hence, my advice is to ask questions, but know whom to ask.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
It’s okay if you don’t learn all your student’s names in the first lesson. It’s okay if you have a lesson that totally flops. It’s okay if you don’t manage to find time to call all your parents in the first week. Teaching is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. Sometimes you absolutely smash it and you feel elation as you witness an ‘aha’ moment, some days you feel exhausted and wonder if you can make it through the day, other days you question whether you are making any difference at all. The first few weeks, especially if you are in your very first year, are truly about survival. Think about the long game and take small wins as they come. You’ve got this!
Do you have more advice for surviving the first few weeks? Please comment below.