5 Tips for Handling Rookie Year Stress

You’ve made it! Your first teaching assignment. The beginning of your rookie year is full of excitement and promise. It’s also full of surprises.

The stack of papers to be graded suddenly towers on your desktop and threatens to crush you alive. Administrators are calling you to meeting after endless meeting. You can’t use your planning hour to plan. Instead, your time’s consumed preparing materials, calling parents and completing an endless stream of paperwork. The pressure’s piling fast.

You can get through it. Here’s five tips to help you manage your rookie year stress.

Understand it Gets Better

Your first year is a learning experience. Nothing in your education can truly prepare you for this. A torrent of procedures and responsibilities is thrown at you before school even starts. It can be hard to keep track of it all. Understand you are not alone. Even the best teachers feel information overload in their first year.

As if that isn’t enough- you’re in a rush to craft your lessons. The struggle to keep up with planning can be difficult for any rookie. Don’t worry. As your career continues you’ll build up a repertoire of effective lessons and resources that will make life much easier. By next year you’ll be improving your lessons instead of making them from scratch. It’s natural for to feel overwhelmed with planning in your first year, but it will get easier.

Find Time to Meet with Mentors

Many schools assign you a mentor for your first two to three years. These mentors can be effective sources of information and support- but they may not be the best fit for you. If you’re lucky enough to have a mentor you find helpful, do what you can to maintain that relationship. Still, there are lots of teachers in your building with a wealth of experience and skill. There’s no rule that says you can’t reach out to them too.

If you’re having trouble with a specific skill, ask your administrator what teachers do that well. Seek them out. Most teachers are glad to share what they’ve learned through the years. They’re a great source of support for any rookie.

Focus on Efficiency

Here’s where seeking out mentors can be useful. The responsibilities and workload you’re facing can seem, at times, unmanageable. Yet some teachers are managing. Over the years they’ve developed practices that help them handle their work efficiently so they can focus on what matters most.

Seek out tips for handling the first year lesson crunch, grading, parent communication and other challenges. Between veteran teachers and a host of online resources, you’ll find plenty of advice for streamlining your workload. These systems will go a long way towards easing your stress.

Tap into Your Love of Education

When the pressure’s mounting, take a moment to reflect on why you’re here. You’ve worked hard to get to this point. This is the chance you’ve always wanted- the chance to make a difference in the life of a child.

If you’re feeling down, take a piece of paper and write the answer to the following: “I am a teacher because…” You chose this career for a reason. Don’t lose sight of your calling.

Setting Time for Yourself

All too often we block out time for our responsibilities to others but ignore our responsibilities to ourselves. Education has always been a challenging field. Every year, it seems, those challenges grow. For teachers who are passionate about their profession, it’s easy to fall into the trap of giving every free moment to your work. That’s not healthy.

Block time on your schedule for yourself. Treat it like any other appointment. Don’t feel like you’re less of a teacher because you decided to see a movie on a school night.

If you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t live a balanced life, it will show in the classroom. Your fatigue will tempt you to cut corners. If you’re not sharp, you’ll miss a class management cue. Your students watch you very closely. If your energy wanes they’ll lose interest as well.

Burnout is real. Too many outstanding educators are leaving the field exhausted. Please- take care of yourself. Your students need you.

Jeffrey Heisler is an educator, writer, and humorist. He has a MA in Special Education and has taught students considered at-risk in residential placement facilities for more than 14 years. He has experience in a variety of school environments, from small rural schools to large urban districts. Jeff’s also a columnist and freelance writer appearing in newspapers as well as books such as Chicken Soup for the Teenaged Soul IV.

More of Jeff’s thoughts on education and other topics can be found on his website. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr.