“You can’t stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it.” ― J.D. Salinger
Lately, I have realized that it has been more than ten years since I started my job as a teacher. I quickly reflected and saw how much I have changed as a teacher. I remember feeling like a superhero, having that “I’ll be the best teacher in the world” attitude, which lasted until I walked into the classroom. Then came frustration, self-doubt, and that “How will I handle this?” feeling. I thought about what I would tell my 10 years younger self, and here I ended up with 5 tips I wish someone had said to me in my first year. I hope anyone in need finds some comfort in this article.
1. Have a growth mindset
Sometimes when feeling overwhelmed, having a fixed mindset (saying I don’t like challenges, I cannot do it, I don’t know how to do it, etc.) can be seen as a way out, but I’d like to remind you that it isn’t. Some days will always be more challenging than others and having a growth mindset helps one grow and overcome these days. Saying, “I love challenges,” or “I may not know how to do this, but how can I learn?” is a great start.
Let’s not forget the power of “yet”. When you start adding “yet” at the end of your negative thoughts, it changes your mindset forever. I recommend Carol Dweck’s TED talk, where she shares the power of “yet”. She is the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and coined the terms fixed and growth mindset.
2. Invest in yourself
You cannot learn everything at once. So, a college education can only teach you some things you need to know about teaching. Invest in yourself to get better, do things differently, and stay up to date. With today’s technology, information is one click away. Do not be afraid to use it.
If you are teaching the present simple tense, looking for how to give effective feedback, or in need of finding new games/ideas, you can find new approaches and techniques that fit your classrooms and students through webinars and published papers that are free!
Oxford University Press, for instance, has a wonderful page on professional development, where you can find modules on different topics (topics that you may not even realize that you need), webinars, position papers, etc. If you think this is too much, and you need more time to keep up, here is an idea: Start small. Spend 15-20 minutes in a week and see where it goes. You’ll feel more confident when you see you develop professionally. Plus, studies show that a direct connection between being a life-long learner helps boost overall well-being.
3. Have a sense of humour
Avoid taking things personally. There will always be rainy days when your lesson plan goes differently. A kid in class will always want to play more games, or a parent will ask for more. Take a deep breath and smile. As Margaret Atwood said, “Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” And having a sense of humour will help you “go around it” and cope with difficult times. Remind yourself that these days happen to everyone, and it will pass.
4. Have a teacher buddy
This person will be your rock. Your teacher buddy will understand you more than anyone. You do not have to go through the difficulties you face alone. Find a teacher buddy you can turn to when feeling overwhelmed and need a pep-talk. A Harvard study that lasted for almost 80 years revealed that adults with close relationships are happier than those without. This is especially true for teachers. So, be open to new friendships.
5. Be mindful of your self-care
You may get carried away with lesson plans, parent meetings, and end-of-year shows, but remember to take care of yourself. Take your time to get back to that parent, watch a new film, listen to a new song. You can even start your lesson with your new favourite song and change the mood for everyone.
My fifth graders used to love it when I did this. Also, remember there is nothing wrong when you expect others to respect your time when you do the same with them! Also, be mindful of your own time. It is OK to set boundaries with your time and leave work at work.
Reflect: This is one of the best habits to gain as soon as possible. If your goal is to improve your teaching skills, take some time to reflect on what you have done, how you have done it, and what could be different, and find ways to do things differently. You may find it difficult to spare time for reflection, but when you do, you will see the benefits and become the best version of yourself as a teacher. You can take a look at this article on OUP ELT Blog and start reflecting.
What other tips do you have for new teachers? Please share with us in the comments!
Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. After graduating from Istanbul University with joint honours in American Culture and Literature with Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy, she embarked on her own teaching career. Now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu not only meets and supports teachers from across Turkiye, but she has also become a workplace coach which enables her to help her colleagues with their career development.