Teaching Struggles: Learning How to Survive the First Year

By: Barry C.

Though I had taught for years in different venues and different countries, one of the biggest struggles of the first year of teaching in a public school was managing everything—time, classroom, planning, behavior, parent-teacher relationships, and getting homework folders/weekly folders done. Plus, all the different professional development things my county required of me, as well as getting evaluated often was overwhelming at best.  I felt like the students in my 4th grade class knew my weak spots and capitalized on them. I felt they could tell when I did not know what I was doing and made the most of it.  I have to admit that twice that first year I cried myself to sleep.

The assistant principal noticed my stress with trying to “manage” all these things and simply came to my room often and sat in the back of the room taking notes–not a “formal” evaluation–but she offered pointers to help me do things better because she knew I was working hard. She helped me learn to work smarter.

Lean on Others

I also learned to utilize the experience of my grade level team.  I know some of you are the ONLY 4th grade or 1st grade teacher so you don’t have a team to help you, but there are probably other teachers who’ve taught your grade level at least once with whom you can bounce off ideas.  I remember the first time I tried to teach long division to 4th graders–something I knew–and thought, “How hard can this be since I’m so good at it?”  It seemed a disaster because I had a lot of blank stares from my 4th graders.  Later that day I went to a fellow teacher and asked her how she taught it. I picked her brain and got some more ideas on how to approach long division with my students.  The next day I talked with a different teacher and got some ideas from him.  The next day, my colleague from across the hall had another teacher in the room with her who was teaching that hour and I begged her to come to my room and to simply teach long division to my students as if it were their first lesson and to just let me observe her.  She was a master teacher and I got lots of ideas from her.  I think, after this, I became better at teaching long division. I guess the point here is not to be afraid to ask for help.  You ARE new, so don’t be shy to ask for help from veteran teachers.  They, most often, are too happy to help.

Leave it in the Classroom

One last thing I began early on was NOT to take anything home with me.  Mostly because it never got done, and two, I had a life outside that classroom.  So I’d go early and stay late, but I walked out the door with just my car keys.  I don’t know what other teachers would say to this, but I felt I gave 100% for the time I was there–even by going early and by staying late, but that “my” time away from school was also important so that I could offer my school and my students my best when I was there.

Learn Balance

The main “job security” a teacher has is that there will never be a time when there’s not “something else” you can do.  That is, you could work 14 hours a day, six days a week and still never get it all done.  There’s always a stack of papers to grade; there’s always a lesson you can improve or enhance; there’s always a student whose parent needs a note; there’s always another book about behavior management or lesson planning or time management or whatever that you can read.  In this, the “something else” you could do–yes, in this you have “job security.”  There will always be something else to do.  Learn balance.  Know that you will improve as you gain experience.  Know that it won’t always be stressful.  When you do something well, thank the Lord and rejoice/celebrate.

Hang in there!


Need Encouragement for the difficult days:

Is parenting and teaching overwhelming at times? Do you ever feel caught in an emotional undertow?

Three Days at Sea: Soul flotation when the waves are pulling you under



Coming to a Bookshelf Near You


First Year Teaching Struggles (download article here)

Note: The Education Cafe Manager recommends checking out this link: Articles for New Teachers.


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2 thoughts on “Teaching Struggles: Learning How to Survive the First Year

  1. Loved the openness and honesty in this post! The balancing act is a tough one for all teachers, young and old, seasoned and new!

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