I'm Coming Up On My 10th Year Of Being A Teacher — Here Are All The Things I Wish I'd Known Upfront

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If you're reading this, maybe you’re a relatively new teacher, on your way to becoming one, or a veteran teacher looking to commiserate. (Or, you know, you're just curious.) Welcome! I probably don’t need to tell you that teaching is a challenging career or that it’s also a rewarding one.

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From behind-the-scenes politics and drama, parent emails demanding extra credit, to 40 students staring at you for the very the first time, teaching is much more than showing up every day with kick-butt instruction and hoping you get a movie made about the impact you had on your classes.

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To any veteran teachers: I know we could talk all day about the frustrations of teaching, the low pay, lack of funding and community support, and some of your experiences with toxic work environments. However, to the new teacher, horror stories aren't all that helpful. This list is meant to help new teachers prepare for things they can start preparing for and working through now.


(If you're a teaching veteran, grab a newbie this year, take them under your wing, and save the wild stories for a few more weeks.)

So, on that note, I’ve put together a list of some of the things I wish I would have known before starting my career in hopes I can help you navigate some of the more surprising discoveries in the world of teaching.

Note: While I have subbed in many K-6 classes, I have always taught single subject, and these tips are based on my experience with older students. Most of these apply to any grade, but teachers entering primary education: Godspeed, my friends — modify these as necessary!

1-2-3, eyes on me! I’ll wait until you’re ready.

1.Teaching credential programs don't prepare you as much as you'd hope.


I went through an amazing credentialing program with a 6-month student teaching assignment, and still was not prepared enough for what teaching on your own is really like. Sure, I learned how to create a well-rounded lesson, some classroom management skills, and how to align instruction with a standard. However, when I started my first year solo, I still thought everyone would do their "jobs": I would teach, the students would do their work, parents would parent, and admin would run the school.

It was quite an awakening when I realized it doesn't work out that way — especially the amount of student work that actually gets turned in. No program can prepare you for the amount of chasing after assignments to make sure a student passes, calming irate parents, or what working with administration really looks like. I firmly believe that all teacher preparation programs should include mock lessons where no one is involved and there's a wild chicken running around while you're trying to teach. Much more accurate.

I will say that eventually, you do start to get the hang of it, but I do wish I had a more realistic idea of what juggling the non-instruction parts of the job would be like.

2.Paper is a serious issue.

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Every public school that I have ever worked at has a paper shortage. Most departments are allotted a certain amount for the year, and once it’s gone — it’s gone. Teachers have secret stashes, paper reams mysteriously disappear, and by the end of the school year, most people are buying their own. It’s one of the wildest things I have ever experienced — what other job makes you pay for your own paper??

Before you come at me with digital this and digital that — young kids can't learn to write on a Chromebook. You want to get a gift for a teacher that they’ll love and cherish? Get them a ream of paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

3.“Mean ‘til Halloween” is not a thing.


The idea behind this phrase is that a teacher should be incredibly strict and distant for the first part of the fall semester so that the students know who's in charge. This is TERRIBLE advice. Keep your standards high, but I promise your students will respond better to authenticity and genuine kindness. Be you, and keep your expectations high, but always leave room for grace.

4.However, don’t try too hard to get them to like you.


It doesn’t matter how young you are — to your students: You’re OLD. That separation is a good thing because it inspires a natural authority and keeps you out of the realm of “friend” to your students. Trying to be cool comes off as desperate and caring too much about what they think of you can really make teaching miserable because — sorry to break it to you — not all of them will like you.

One of the greatest teachers I ever had didn’t care what her students thought of her, and we all knew it…and we were desperate for her to like us. I didn’t realize how much just expecting all students to put in some effort was what made me respect her until several years into my own teaching career. It’s okay to be a little lame — embrace it. You will create strong bonds with many students by being your authentic self, and you’re going to save yourself a lot of stress by not pretending to be anything.

5.Don’t ever EVER (EEEEEVER) plan a lesson that hinges 100% on students having done the homework.

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I made this rookie mistake once, which is all it took for me to realize how terrible it was. You will stand up there for an hour with nothing to say because no one knows what happened to Piggy in last night’s reading. It’s horrific. Let me make it clear: Just assume they don’t do the homework ever. (Even if they do, the one time you plan a lesson dependent on it, they won’t have done it.)

Instead, plan lessons around the skills they need to achieve. Yes, you can talk about the reading they didn’t do, you can work off of the homework, but if the lesson for the day can only function if the students completed an assignment at home, it’s just probably not a good lesson. Remember that a good teacher facilitates learning, so plan lessons that allow students to work together and have a few different ways of covering the material.

6.Students appreciate knowing what they’re supposed to be learning that day.

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When I was a first-year teacher, this seemed so unnecessary. Now, however, I’m reminding my students throughout the class what I’m hoping they’ll know at the end of it, and it really does make a difference. Start the lesson by letting them know what the end goal is, remind them as they’re going what they should be achieving, and wrap up with what they learned and how they can apply it.

My students have told me each year how much they appreciated knowing exactly what I was having them work toward. Don’t let your lessons be a mystery.

7.Navigating parents and guardians is one of the hardest parts of the job.

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Parents and guardians are a mixed bag. I have had amazingly supportive guardians, I have had some I’ve never met, and I’ve had some that have been a thorn in my side. I had a colleague verbally assaulted by a parent as she calmly walked to administration for help — and I've had parents stick by my decisions. I’ve also had students who didn’t have a guardian to sign permission slips, who have had incredibly tumultuous home lives, and those who have dealt with loss. Any way you slice it, parents and guardians have a tremendous effect on the job, present or not. There is no magic solution, and you’re going to have to figure out what works for you.

The pressure from some parents and guardians is something I really wish I would have understood more upfront. Some will bypass communication with you and go straight to administration with an issue — and the resulting pressure from administration can be intense. Even after numerous opportunities to do the work, contact that was met with silence, and weeks of zeroes in the grade book, if a student is now risking not graduating or getting benched on a sports team, you may be asked to make generous exceptions to department policies. It can be a frustrating part of the job, especially when you tried so hard not to get to that point and in standing your ground.

My best advice is to document, document, document. Every call, every email, every reminder — write it down to show how you worked to allow opportunities for success before it escalated. Even if you are asked to make those exceptions, you can at least cover your rear and prove that you did your best to avoid the escalation.

8.There are definitely teacher cliques.


Oh, boy. You thought you were done with cliques? NOPE. It’s a battlefield out there. It doesn’t matter: math department vs. English, AP/honors vs. college prep, grade level vs. grade level. Be careful not to get caught up in it — and, believe me, it’s easy to get sucked up. Be nice to everyone, respect everyone, and make a name for yourself in being kind and supportive.

On that note, the teacher break room can be a supportive place or a negative one. If it's full of toxic energy, there's no reason to mingle there. Surround yourself with positive influences you can vent with without losing complete hope in the system.

9.You are not going to jive with everyone’s teaching style — but that’s a good thing.


What works for them might not work for you, but that doesn’t make them wrong. You’re not going to be the perfect teacher for every student, but those students might find value from another teaching style. That’s great! Slow down the judgement train, and really take note of what those teachers are doing that is successful in their class. It might come in handy down the road.

Furthermore, teachers who only work contract hours are NOT the enemy. I remember being a new teacher and thinking that the teachers who showed up right when they were contracted to and left immediately when those hours were over must be lazy. I know now that I was pitifully self-righteous, and those teachers had amazing work-life balance, got their grading done, were less stressed, and had great home lives. I’m not 100% sure how they did it as I still struggle through boundaries, but ask them how they do it!

That being said, there are some teachers out there that really shouldn't be doing the job (read: the teacher at my elementary school who threw a stapler at a kid). Feel free to take mental notes on why, and do the opposite.

10.It's essential to partner up and ask for help.

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If veteran teachers are willing to share resources, why reinvent the wheel when there is an effective lesson available? Don’t be afraid to ask seasoned teachers for their materials and resources and tweak them based on your style. You’ll learn so much from the process. Also, remember to utilize your team.

If you find yourself needing to create a new unit from scratch, see if there is someone on your team that wants to work together on it. Not only does it save you both time, but the variety of lessons is going to benefit everyone.

11.Don’t forget how hard it is to be a kid.


Yes, adulthood can certainly be harder, but that doesn’t mean that kids and teens aren’t going through hard things. Don’t forget how hard it was to be a kid, or a preteen, or a teen. In comparison to your struggles now, they may seem small, but they didn’t FEEL that way when you were living through them. Remember that growing up is hard, and sometimes it will affect a kid’s performance and attitude. Know your students, and learn when to ask if everything is alright or when to say, “You seem like you’re having a tough day. Do you need some extra time?”

I don’t think I fully understood this until I had kids, and I watched my daughter feel like the world was so big, and she was so small in it. I also remember having a bully in sixth grade who made the last few weeks of school hell. Sure, it doesn’t consume my every waking thought now, but it sure did then. Kids have bullies, complicated home lives, go through breakups, and have friend drama they haven’t experienced before. Being young is hard, so remember that as you’re working with your students.

12.You will learn SO much from your students.


You get into teaching thinking you’ll be the one helping them grow, but my students have taught me so much about grace, authenticity, and grit. They will also keep you up-to-date on pop culture, memes, and what is no longer cool — especially if what is no longer cool is literally everything you do, say, and wear.

That being said, these kids have stories and a lot to offer in terms of worldviews, and it’s important to really listen to them. Don't take yourself too seriously, have fun, and open your mind to learn.

13.It’s going to take a few years to find your strengths.

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Your teaching style is going to change dramatically over the first five years, and honestly, you are just not going to be the teacher you dreamed of being for a few years — you just have to be patient and learn from your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to try new things and play around with different classes when offered. You may find yourself loving a grade level or class type that you didn’t think you would or hating a class you thought you’d love.

It also takes awhile to become a good teacher — and I mean this with all of the support in the world. I’m not saying you’re going to be useless the first few years, but you’re not going to be perfect. The teacher I am now and the teacher I was my first year are lightyears apart. I’ve loosened up, gained confidence, found my strengths, and have found empathy that there is very little space for when you’re just trying to keep your head above water.

14.Give yourself plenty of grace as you’re figuring out how to balance an ultra-full-time job with being a human.


One piece of advice I carry with me was from a veteran teacher: “I never feel like a good mom, wife, or teacher all on the same day. If I hit two every day, I feel successful.” The thing was that, from the outside, the teacher telling me that seemed amazing at all of them. I wasn’t married at the time, and it still gave me the confidence to know that not every day is going to be perfect.

It’s OK to have days where you aren’t a great teacher. It’s OK to have off days in your home life. Life is a balancing act, and we’re looking for a strong average, not perfection.

15.Yes, there's a teacher shortage and a lot of frustrations, but it's still an amazing career for many.


I don't regret my decision to be a teacher for a second. In those first few years, though, I felt so ineffective and overwhelmed. Now, I have go-to lessons, units that I enjoy teaching, and I can throw together quality lessons in a relatively short period of time, allowing for more balance in my life. A good administration and a supportive work environment are key, but if teaching really is a passion, it's 100% worth it to me.

If you do find yourself wondering where your passion went, teaching also gives you amazing skills that transfer to so many industries. To me, teaching will never be a waste, and the bonds you make with students and the ability to help them become well-rounded adults are an absolute privilege.

There you have it. Hopefully, you learn from my mistakes and from the ones you’re going to make! May your drama be minimal and your paper be plentiful.