You’re only a first year teacher once. To those who are just wrapping up year one – this one’s for you. Forget for a moment the Flair pens, sticky notes, and color-coded bins. This is about the unsung supplies that have made this year possible.
1. Gel insoles. Lots of them.
It takes about two of the First Six Weeks for you to realize that none of your shoes are up to this job: the hours on your feet, pounding concrete floors and running metal-edged stairs to the tune of forty flights a day. You keep threatening to wear a pedometer to work but it’s too overwhelming to figure out where to get one, especially because your knees and lower back are aching.
So you hit the drugstore, swap out the insoles and try to remember to stretch before bed. In the process you conclude that gel insoles should be on the list of pointlessly gendered products, and that given the price per, you really should be buying them in bulk.
2. Your college sophomore eating habits
Speaking of overwhelmed – it takes most of a school year to get the hang of the cook-on-Sunday, bring lunch all week routine. It’s against your principles and your budget to seriously consider spending $40 to $60 a week on lunch, so you get creative: a $2 grilled cheese and canned soup heated up in the staff room microwave; vacuum-packed pockets of Indian food; then one really stressful day comes and you get instant ramen – curly noodles, foil seasoning packets, the works – and you realize your sophomore year of college self has somehow returned with a vengeance. You should have seen it coming, seeing as comfort for the last few months has come in the form of soda and salty snacks, generally consumed at the inappropriate hour of 10am. Hey, it’s your long prep!
3. Allergen-free protein bars by the box
Efforts at nutritional reform start with morning eats. This 1pm lunch time is not working for anyone, child or adult, and morning snacks that are not Smartfood popcorn are, shall we say, warranted. You quickly learn just how many “nutrition bars” contain, or are based on, nuts and other verboten items. To date I know of only four Luna Bar flavors with no nuts, one of which contains coconut. Considering the supermarket markup, this quickly becomes an online order. And then an Amazon subscription. (Just wait ’til I work in a soy-free school!)
4. A news digest that delivers before 7am.
So you want to keep up with the news while teaching full time, huh? What do you mean, Twitter is not reliable? And you want to read it on your phone on a train line with no cell service? A friend lets you in on The Daily Skimm a few weeks into the year, but there’s a catch – it doesn’t hit your inbox until after you’re underground. That’s right: 6:50am is too late for this teacher. Cue the New York Times Morning Briefing subscription. Between the two, you get enough eyebrow-raisers to last you all day.
5. A kid-proof coffee mug
You knew that the bonds and memes linking teachers and coffee run deep. But you didn’t know the risks involved in ceramic, and even in travel lids. Your coffee will be tipped over when you leave it next to you at the meeting rug. It will fall from tables, from bookshelves, from the top of hallway coat cubbies. It will get flung to the ground as you run from one end of the yard to the other to break up a fight – and even the sturdiest travel lid will be out for the count.
6. A workout routine
You can sub in whichever item(s) you actually got to from the self-care list. I started doing body weight-based strength because it didn’t require a gym or any equipment. I figured endorphins and extra muscle endurance would be helpful (see #1). But regardless of the actual activity, having one thing you do for yourself during a first year or any year goes a long way. Sometimes it’s watercolors. For some people it’s yoga, or knitting, or prayer. Sometimes it’s watching The Clone Wars animated series (went there, I did). Do it, any of it. It’s all good.
7. Teacher Twitter
These are the people who, from hundreds or thousands of miles away, show and inspire you that somehow you can do this teaching thing. They prove that joy is possible, that resistance is not futile, that sass is necessary. They fight the good fight every day. They share words of wisdom right when you need it. Some people I now awkwardly feel like I know a little bit and/or want to keep up with for my own good as an educator: @DrSubini, @MrTomRad, @TheWeirdTeacher, @xianb8, @ValeriaBrownedu, @andrewhume, @okaikor, @biblio_phile, @ShanaVWhite, @alainadaniels, @mdawriter, @RafranzDavis, @eveewing, @ChrisEmdin, @ChrisThinnes. Thank you – you are my second and ongoing teacher education.
8. Your friends, and your teacher friends.
Even when everything felt like a mess this year (and repeat readers know I’m all about mess), there was a day when my grade team got together and went for a walk to the park. Sitting on a bench laughing at each other’s non-school stories with hot drinks and sweet snacks, everything felt momentarily okay. We could do this. It’s a feeling much like a sugar rush, and it lasts about as long, but it’s one to hold on to. And as for friends and family and significant others who listen to countless stories and dry a lot of tears: thank you. Clearly no one does this alone.
See above. How else do you think all that grade level planning gets done?
As if being a new teacher weren’t enough, a first year comes with its own pressure to make it good, make it special. I am the last person who wants to admit when a thing can’t be done right, and I’ll say it outright: First year teaching can’t be done all right. You take your licks, you have some wins, and you mess up. Then you forgive yourself, and learn. I’m grateful to a whole mess of children and adults for being part of that process.