5 Things I Wish I Knew as a Brand New Teacher

If you had a time machine and could go back to meet a younger version of your professional self – what would you say? What would you tell this brand new teacher setting out on her journey? Here are five things I wish I knew as a brand new teacher:

  • Find and maintain work-life balance
  • You can’t save everyone – and that’s ok!
  • It’s alright if you fail and screw up
  • The responsibility for your students’ success is not yours alone
  • Make time for reflection

The first bullet on this list is one I still struggle with – even after being in this profession for thirteen years! Yet, this is so important! Find and maintain the balance between your work and the rest of your life.

Yes, your work is important but you know what? So are you! Chances are you’ve already heard this from people close to you and they are right! Some may see this profession as a calling and in some ways I agree, but at the end of the day you only get paid for the hours you put in that were actually agreed upon.

I won’t say that I don’t work um…a few hours more every now and then when things are hectic, but try – really try – to have a barrier between work and your personal space.

As things are right now, some of us may be teaching from home still and if you do this point is even more important. These combined expressions are true:

”You can’t fill from an empty cup and you need to recharge to be the best version of you.”

The second thing I would tell my younger self is this: ”You can’t save everyone and that’s ok!”

Being new in a profession makes us eager to please. We want to be good at what we do and fear making mistakes, at least I know I did and well still do, to be honest.

But sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves, a pressure that no one else put there. Not really.

I remember spending a lot of my time trying to plan well-structured, informative, and interesting lessons. Don’t get me wrong, I still do, but nowadays I have more experience and material to rely on. Nowadays if needed, I know I can improvise since I know my courses better.

My first year though? Not so much. I made a plan, often detailed, and really tried to stick to it! I’m not sure it was always the best, but I tried and revised things as best I could. This brings me to the third bullet on this list:


It’s alright if you fail and screw up!

It’s not the end of the world, just get out there again! It happens to the best of us, don’t let this discourage you from trying out new things! A bonus here: don’t be too proud to admit that you messed up.

Admitting this to your students doesn’t necessarily put you in a bad place or lose their respect. Instead, you come out as what you actually are: human.

And humans, as we all know, make mistakes. So cut yourself some slack. Apologize if you need to and try to solve the problem, but don’t become afraid and disheartened by whatever just happened.

The next thing is perhaps a bit different but has to do with pride once again.

Remember that the responsibility for your students’ success is not only yours!

Of course when we see students making great progress or achieve their goal we want to see part of this as our doing. And why shouldn’t we? We must have had something to do with it right?

But just as the victories of our students are not only ours, neither are the failures however much we sometimes think this. When a student fails a course, I often think about this for quite some time.

Thoughts like ”What could I have done differently?”, ”Did I use all knowledge at hand?” or ”Did I really help this student the best way I possibly could?” – these questions become my companions for a while.

Of course, I’m not completely innocent in this and there were probably things I could have done better for this individual, but let’s not forget the other side of this coin: the student.

I mostly work at vocational programs in upper secondary high school and like everywhere else I have students failing courses from time to time. And yes, courses taken later and closer to the end of a student’s education are usually harder – but for the most part, they’re not impossible!

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much resources you put out there or how well you try to structure the content of your lessons. The student must also do his or her part of it all!

Most students that have failed in my classes have one thing in common: they didn’t actually use their time actually studying the subject! The activities connected to this can vary, but for many, the simple task of opening the textbook and re-reading a chapter is something unheard of.

Celebrate victories, both yours and those of your students, but don’t dwell too long on the failures and mishaps.

The last advice I would give myself from those presented in this list is to make time to reflect on things you’ve done in your classroom and courses.

In order to improve something, you need to know where you stand first. Different polls and questionnaires are a good way to gauge your ”audience”, but remember that a lower rating can also have to do with things presented being less fun and entertaining than other things your students would choose for themselves.

This doesn’t automatically mean what you teach is wrong or bad, it could just mean that the gap between the content you try to teach, and the receiving student is too wide right now.

Yes, read that again!

It could just mean that the gap between the content you try to teach, and the receiving student is too wide right now

It doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to teach the student, or for the student to learn the subject – it means that right now the difference between where the student is and where he or she needs to be is too wide at the moment.

This makes it more difficult, but not impossible.

These are the things I wish someone would have told me when I first started working as a teacher. Back then I didn’t know how taxing teaching could be in terms of my emotional energy. I didn’t know how much pressure I would put on myself and how having or taking time to actually reflect on the things I do in my everyday practice would help me in the long run.

True, I’m far from nailing these things every single time, but knowing about them helps.

So, if you could go back in time and meet your younger professional self – what would you say? What are your best ideas for someone just starting their teaching career?

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