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I was a lot like Janine from Abbott Elementary during my first few years of teaching. I was idealistic, energetic, and full of ideas for my classroom and school. I ran myself ragged trying to be everything to everyone and doing whatever needed to be done to make sure my students had a good educational experience.
Did it pay off? I think I could safely argue that I had a positive impact on the lives of some of the students that came through my classroom. But it also left me exhausted and a distant partner to my new husband by the time I got home.
When I look back, I am so glad that I didn’t have the additional pressure of posting everything I was doing on social media or attempting to sell my work on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers just so that I could make ends meet. Yes, finances were tight, but I barely had enough time to sleep. I needed to shut school off sometimes.
And that is why I’m worried about the trend of new teachers trying to do all of the things out in the public sphere. There are TikTok classroom reveals, Instagram photos of first-attempt lesson plans posted on Teachers Pay Teachers, and Twitter thread confessionals. Instead of spending time learning your craft and being mentored by older teachers, you are rushing to make everything you do available for the public to consume. So while I admire your enthusiasm, might I suggest tapping the breaks a little?
You still have a lot to learn
After years of preparation and practice, you finally have a classroom of your own, with students who will look to you as the expert. It is a huge responsibility, but it is one that nearly every first-year teacher desperately wants. This year is your chance to prove that all of the hard work was worth it and who knows, maybe the much older teachers will be eager to learn the new methods and practices you bring to team meetings.
Here’s the good news: most of your colleagues will welcome the youth, energy, and new ideas you bring to the table. We remember what it was like to be full of ideas and the strong desire to prove that what we had learned in the classroom could work outside of a laboratory setting. But many of those same experienced colleagues have seen a lot of new ideas come and go and have adapted their teaching to that ebb and flow. So while they will welcome your addition to the team, they will be cautious of new ideas. Listen to their concerns and experience. They might just know what they are talking about.
It didn’t take me long into my first position, where I was the only English teacher for grades 9-12, to discover that there was a lot that I still didn’t know. While it took me another eight years to start, I decided that my graduate work would be in English, not general education. I could not claim expertise in anything, even the units that I felt like I was good at teaching. Give yourself time to learn the craft before presenting yourself as an influencer or TPT expert. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you still have a lot to learn.
“While it can be incredibly rewarding to share everything you are doing and learning as a new teacher… take a step back. Share, but don’t overshare.” First Year Teachers: Step Away from Influencer Culture Click To Tweet
You don’t need your messiness to be public
I don’t know how many times I have looked at my husband and said, “aren’t you glad we didn’t have social media in high school?”
The same is true for me as a teacher.
I was once privately chastised by a former student who indicated that I might be getting a little jaded based on what I was posting about teaching and my students online. While there was a lot more to my situation than she had any way of knowing, I took a step back to consider what I was posting and how I would feel about my semi-public criticisms of student ignorance if I were a teenager. From that day forward, I started being a lot more careful about what I said about teaching and how I said it.
The painful truth is that you will make many mistakes in your first few years teaching, no matter how good you are at your job. Some of your mistakes will be between you and the classroom walls. But some of those mistakes will be between you and your students or their parents or even your administrators. While it can be incredibly rewarding to share everything you are doing and learning as a new teacher, particularly in a public space on social media, take a step back. Share, but don’t overshare. Be honest, but protect your vulnerability for those closest to you. Even in the best circumstances, people can be cruel. It is best to avoid giving them more fuel for a potential fire.
By all means, create away, but give it time to age
I am a firm believer in teachers finding creative outlets. We are not just teachers. We are people with interests and gifts and lives outside of our classroom. Creative ventures help to remind us of that and prevent us from losing ourselves in jobs that can be simultaneously rewarding and soul-depleting.
I had more than one instructor in my teacher education program tell me that we should journal our experiences. It is one important piece of advice that I didn’t attempt during my first year. I was so busy learning how to put theory into practice with live humans I didn’t have time for my own reading and writing. But I still saw the value!
Create, write, read, and learn. Use any free time you have to become better at your craft before making that craft public. Teachers need creative outlets, but they need to do so without the pressure of making it mean something to anyone but themselves. Let your creative juices flow for a while in private. Once you feel like you are experienced enough to share what you’ve learned with honest reflection, go back to what you’ve created, edit with clear eyes and a discerning heart, and share it with other teachers.
The internet and everything that goes with it has opened up a whole new world to educators, both experienced and new. Social media has created entire teacher communities where educators can share, and yes, make extra cash, posting their work and experiences online. But dear new teacher, don’t feel the pressure to jump into the fray. You have time. Watch, learn, and grow for your most important audience: your students.
Then maybe explore all of the other possibilities.
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