First-Year Teacher Survival Kit 7 Things to Help You Succeed

By Katina Thomas
Dr. Rosemartin is an Assistant Professor at Salem State University. He teaches courses on the student teaching experience, teaching science in elementary schools, and environmental education. He is a former elementary school teacher passionate about preparing future teachers

The first year as a classroom teacher can be overwhelming. I was fortunate to have a supportive mentor as my principal, and I remember clearly the advice he gave me—not just the words but the carefully selected items that he handed me. I’ve been teaching now for more than 20 years, and I currently teach in an elementary teacher preparation program. When my students begin student teaching, I always share the advice and items my first principal shared with me, along with some of my own.

It is fair to say that most people regard teaching as a high-stress career; naturally, then, understanding teacher resilience gets a lot of attention (Beltman et al., 2011; Castro et al., 2010). Self-care is important in becoming an effective teacher who can overcome the emotional and institutional stresses that are inherent in this highly demanding yet rewarding profession (Doyle, 2016; Thompson, 2019).

Each of these items focuses on teacher resilience, and most have a specific self-care application:

1. A paper lunchbag. Teachers often use lunchtime to catch up on school-related responsibilities and forget to sit down for even a few minutes to focus on lunch. This paper bag is a reminder that you cannot be your best without nourishing your body, so use it to pack a lunch. It also will hold all of the following items. . . .

2. Cough drops. Teaching involves a lot of talking—more than you’re accustomed to at first. You’ll also be exposed to plenty of children’s colds and other illnesses. These cough drops will soothe your throat and remind you to take care of yourself when you get sick—and to take a sick day when needed!

3. Tissues. These go well with the cough drops because you may need them to help you through a bad cold. The tissues are also a reminder that teaching is not just physically demanding, it’s also a very emotional job. You may feel like crying at the end of the day or week. It’s okay to cry, and I even recommend it. It can be very cathartic!

4. Chamomile tea. Sticking with the theme of self-care, herbal tea is a great comfort when you’re recovering from many aliments. Chamomile does not have caffeine and is a relaxant, which will help you sleep, and we all know how important that is. The tea is also a reminder to take some time to relax and reflect on your day or week. Always reflect on both the good and the bad parts.

5. A pencil. This is an iconic symbol of education. Always have plenty of sharpened pencils ready for a full day of teaching. The most important part is the eraser. Remember that all teachers make mistakes. Don’t dwell on them for too long. Think of what you learned from the mistake, erase it from your mind, and move on.

6. Stickers. Who doesn’t like stickers? It’s always good to have a few of these handy to add to a graded assignment or just to give out to students. Remember to add some playful aspects to your classroom. Developmental psychologist Susan Engel (2015) believes that many students don’t find school a happy place to be. A new teacher can easily get trapped in the negative environment that comes from the pressures of a school’s institutional systems.

7. A bookmark. This is to remind you of the importance of sometimes stepping away from your work and curling up with a book on your comfy couch or under a tree. Read something for your own enjoyment, not a work-related book. Don’t wait until summer to engage in your other interests; they’re part of who you are. I find that I enjoy the school year more by keeping up with all my friends and interests, and I have even managed to incorporate some into my teaching.

I think it is only appropriate to conclude with some insightful advice from one of my former students, right before he graduated. He pointed out that much of teacher preparation is focused on the things we will need to do as teachers, but we don’t spend much time remembering why we decided to become one. Remember to reflect on why you chose to become a teacher.
Reference
Beltman, S., Mansfield, C., & Price, A. (2011). Thriving not just surviving: A review of research on teacher resilience. Educational Research Review, 6(3), 185–207.

Castro, A. J., Kelly, J., & Shih, M. (2010). Resilience strategies for new teachers in high-needs areas. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(30), 622–629.

Doyle, C. (2016). Teachers, take care of yourselves. Education Week, 35(21), 20–21.

Engel, S. (2015). The end of the rainbow: How educating for happiness (not money) would transform our schools. The New Press.

Thompson, L. (2019). Importance of self-care as a teacher. National Education Association. http://neatoday.org/new-educators/importance-of-self-care-as-a-teacher