Stay Steady During the Ups and Downs of Your New Career

If you’re like most teachers, you may have already had to deal with some significant school-related issues even though the term has just begun: a disrespectful student, a failed lesson plan, a demanding parent or a misbehaving class, for example. The cumulative effect of these formidable challenges can be stressful enough to cause you to question your decision to become a teacher.

If negative feelings are making you question your career choice, take heart; you aren’t alone. Even veteran teachers can feel overwhelmed and discouraged, especially at the start of the school year. The solution to successfully managing these negative feelings is to first be aware of the causes of your discomfort and then set to work dealing with them. 

One source of disillusionment with your new profession manifests quickly when students start misbehaving. The relative ease of the first few days of school vanishes once students begin testing the boundaries of acceptable classroom behavior. Even the most experienced teachers can find it exhausting to deal with students who are misbehaving, especially if the misbehavior is severe, chronic, or difficult to anticipate and prevent. Because you are new to teaching, your lack of confidence about how to handle various types of misbehavior will also add to your distress.

Another reason you may be discouraged is that it’s very easy to make mistakes as a teacher. Not pacing lessons correctly, misunderstanding school rules and procedures, and failing to keep up with a demanding daily schedule are just some of the many mistakes new teachers make. Because each mistake is a new experience for a first-year teacher, it’s not possible to gauge how serious the result of the mistake will be. It’s particularly humbling that so many of our mistakes are made in front of an entire class of students who choose that moment to pay attention.

You may also find yourself staying late, working too hard, and taking too much work home to keep up with the relentless demands of your paperwork and other instructional responsibilities. Because every task is a first-time event, it simply takes you longer to accomplish what more experienced teachers seem to breeze through, partly because they already have many of the instructional materials they need. It’s also difficult to manage your workload when you don’t know how to prioritize your new responsibilities.

Along with the tangible work you may be taking home, you may also find it difficult to avoid mentally rehashing the day’s problems and failures once you have left school. Many teachers find it difficult to leave the day’s problems behind once they get home.

A final reason why you may feel discouraged about your new profession is the unsettling difference between the dreams that propelled you to choose education and the realities of your new profession. When you were preparing for your career, your daydreams probably did not center on unruly students, stacks of paperwork, and so much other work to do that you can’t possibly accomplish it all. It’s easy to lose sight of why you wanted to become a teacher when you have so many new responsibilities to cope with simultaneously.

Once you have identified the reasons you may be feeling discouraged about your professional life, it’s time to use that knowledge to go about solving the problems that are dragging down your spirit. Fortunately, there are lots of solutions—some are quick and easy, and some that will take a bit longer—to restore your positive attitude and make it possible to enjoy your students and your school life.

When you’re feeling discouraged, try some of these strategies to help you weather the ups and downs of your career.

  • Make a reasonable to-do list of the tasks you need to complete each day and use it to gain control of your responsibilities, manage your time, get organized and stay on top of your workload.
  • Protect your personal time by setting boundaries and sticking to them. For example, many teachers choose to not work at home after a certain hour and designate some nights as work-free times. Keeping your work life and personal life in balance will make it easier to enjoy your career.
  • If you have not already made a list of your professional goals for the year, now would be a good time to create one. Working to achieve clearly defined, realistic goals will increase your job satisfaction, allow you to focus your energy productively, and increase your professional skills.
  • Use your time at school as efficiently as possible. Make a task list specifically for your planning period, for example, so that it does not fly by in an inefficient blur. Devise a work schedule that covers your daily responsibilities and that will enable you to use your school time to reduce the amount of work you have to take home. You can also ask your mentor and other colleagues to share ideas about how to work more efficiently.
  • If student misbehavior is a cause of stress, consider restructuring your class time. Carefully planned routines for the start of class, for instance, will encourage students to settle to work quickly. Structured routines for the last few minutes of class, transition periods, and other predictable events will make it easier for students to remain on task and for you to be able to teach instead of cope with misbehavior.
  • Examine your classroom leadership style. Is it possible that you could be too tentative or permissive? Do you hesitate to be firm and to set clear limits for your students? Many new teachers struggle to define their leadership styles. You may want to ask a colleague to make snapshot observations to help you determine your leadership strengths and weaknesses, and to suggest ways you can improve your class management skills.
  • Work at getting to know your students and building strong connections with them. Improving the interpersonal relationships in your classroom will not only make it easier for you to work successfully with your students but also will make the class atmosphere more pleasant and productive.
  • Turn to other educators for advice and support. Talk things over with a mentor or sympathetic and helpful colleague. Reach out to others online. There are several helpful groups and chats on Twitter for new teachers. Try #firstyearteacher and #newteacherjourney to get started.
  • Make the time to systematically reflect on your teaching practice. Don’t just dwell on your weaknesses; pay attention to the things you are doing right as well. Being aware of your strengths will make it easier to use them to continue to improve your performance.

Stop being so hard on yourself. Being a teacher is not an easy job. Being a first-year teacher is especially difficult. Make a conscious effort to be patient with yourself and with the steep learning curve that constitutes your first year of teaching. You would not expect your students to be perfect all day long; try to have the same acceptance for yourself and your efforts to succeed.