Advice to First-Year Me

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September 20, 2022

Kathee Lamberies is an English, social studies and reading teacher at Roscommon Middle School in Roscommon Area Public School District.

As we begin another school year, as I do each year, I reflect back on the beginning of my teaching career 20 years ago. What advice would I give myself if I could go back to my first year? 

One piece of advice I would offer myself would be to persevere! The beginning of anything is difficult, and there are many things in a teaching job that one is not taught in college, but it does get easier as time goes on.  I remember my first year not being prepared for countless meetings, professional development logs, report cards, evaluations and parent/teacher conferences. It was overwhelming the first year, but as I learned, I became proficient, and the things that confused me became easier. I would definitely tell myself:  Do not let your first year frighten you away from a wonderful profession!

Another piece of advice I would tell myself is to balance work and home life. It is very easy to get caught up in your work life and spend many hours working. However, that is how people get burned out in any profession. My first few years of teaching, I spent more time at school than at home! I know many teachers who can relate to that as well! Home/work balance is a must! Make sure to have a life outside of school. Enjoy your family, friends, hobbies, pets, etc. This will make you a better, well-rounded teacher, and your students will benefit from it.

Furthermore, first-year me should take advantage of her mentor teacher. Seek out the knowledge and experience of these teachers who have been there and can help. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance! Veteran teachers want to help new teachers. First-year me was afraid that asking for help was admitting I was not the qualified professional the school hired. I felt that showed weakness. Now, as a mentor teacher, I personally enjoy when my mentee teachers ask for my assistance, opinion or guidance, or just want to talk. That is what mentors are for, and new teachers need not be afraid to use this valuable resource.

As I reflect back on what I would tell myself, I would definitely include that this is a rewarding career, especially when a former student comes up to you years later to say hi or stops by to visit. There is no explanation for the special feeling that brings.

As an extra bonus, first-year Kathee, you will get to be a lifelong learner. Not many other careers offer a daily learning experience for you, as well as your students. Teachers have learning built into their year with professional development and other individual learning opportunities to take advantage of, as well. 

If my first-year self was debating whether to join the profession or not because they do not feel they are creative enough or cannot make a “Pinterest” classroom, I would tell them, do not let that discourage you from becoming a teacher.

It’s true, I am the furthest from an artistic person, but I have the ability to create a classroom where students want to be. It may not be the classroom that gets the “wow” when people see it, but students know they are welcome each day when they come to class. Students want you, not your decorations. They want a safe, trusting, loving place where they can be themselves and know that you will be their constant day-to-day. If you can provide that relationship, you can have four plain walls and you will be their favorite teacher.

Looking back and giving my rookie teacher self advice from my veteran teaching self makes me smile and remember all I have learned and loved over the years. I have taught first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, and the great memories definitely outweigh the frustrating ones. Teaching is the best career for me, and I look forward to more experiences to share with my first-year self!