Teaching is a rewarding but challenging career, which can feel impossible at times. The first year can be overwhelming and pushes many new educators to quit. Hope isn’t lost, however. As a first-year teacher, I needed some strategies to help me build up my stamina and resilience, and perhaps you, too, are finding the need for some effective coping methods as you navigate the early years of teaching. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer, but I found the following strategies to be most effective for me.
Separate self-worth and work performance
It can seem overwhelming when you look at the list of things others think you should do, look at what you’re mandated to do, and also negotiate what’s “best practice” for your classroom. To avoid feeling crushed by this sea of responsibilities, make sure that you separate your worth as a person from your ability to perform to others’ expectations.
The best way to do this is to make sure you have a certain sense of self. If you’re struggling with identifying who you are at school versus your true self, it might be good to write down the adjectives that describe you and the different adjectives that describe the “teacher you.” The most important thing is that you do something in your day to celebrate the true you and not just the teacher you, such as joining an online community based on your hobbies or going to a skills class at a community center on the weekend. Building these celebrations into your routine can help develop a separation of the critiques of teacher you and the true you.
Find ways to recover from a mistake
Another important aspect to bouncing back from a mistake is identifying what would amend your mistake. This looks different for every scenario, but developing a solution rather than acting on impulse is bound to have a better result. The best routine I found to be effective for recovery is to create a plan of action for the next time a similar situation arises. If the mistake or situation happens again, I save myself the heartache of questioning myself by using the steps of my plan.
Another critical way to support yourself during this year of trials is to recover from mistakes in a meaningful way. Identifying a method to learn from mistakes, but not internalizing them, will be incredibly advantageous, so it’s important to establish a way to regulate your emotions. This will support you moving forward and help calm you down. One method I use is mindful breathing. There are many ways to practice mindful breathing. I use a YouTube channel that has video explanations, and the practices can be done alone or with your class.
Create meaningful self-care routines
After a hard day, it’s important to have something to pick up your spirits. Self-care can mean caring for your spiritual, emotional, physical, and so on, self. True self-care isn’t a onetime fix. True self-care will have its rewards only if it’s habitual and built into your daily routine. It will also only come from activities that feed your soul.
A call to a close family member might encourage you to persevere through stress in a soul-enriching way. It’s important to build self-care activities into your daily routine. True self-care, knowing what your needs are and making specific spiritual and emotional accommodations for them, can help lessen loneliness, low self-esteem, and anxiety.
Develop an identity outside of the classroom
One idea that became apparent after talking to many veteran teachers was that most teachers who last long into their career have a strong identity marker outside of their career. Besides being a teacher, most of these teachers identified with being a homemaker, bookworm, advocate, athlete, etc.
You are more than a teacher, and identifying activities and communities that validate your identity can help empower you to overcome challenges. Finding time for these crucial activities isn’t easy, but if you can, try to build it into your routine. Create a time slot in your weekly schedule that’s nonnegotiable. By committing to these other interests, you allow yourself to find fulfillment and joy from other things. Don’t forget who you are and who you want to be in addition to a teacher.
Build a support net with your coworkers
For teachers, especially first-year teachers, isolation is real. The fast-paced environment of the school day can make it hard for teachers to connect with one another. Connecting with other teachers, however, is one of the most effective ways to persevere past burnout. Having teachers you can reach out to can be a lifesaver.
Coworkers are often the best sources of wisdom when it comes to difficult but unavoidable experiences. Experienced teachers likely have been in those positions themselves and can offer you the best way to handle them. Try sitting in the lunchroom, greeting teachers whom you cross paths with, and actively participating in work events. By putting yourself out there to connect with other teachers, you’re more likely to find others who also want to build a support network.