As a new educator, I would often talk through lesson plans with my colleagues to get their advice. I remember one conversation in particular, where I discussed a project I had spent hours preparing with one of my peers. After I finished outlining my whole plan, she looked me in the eye and asked, “And what are they learning?” It was a simple question, but one I couldn’t answer. I had spent so much time thinking about how to make it engaging that I forgot the main point of the lesson. She gave me a gentle reminder that the main point of a lesson is simply for the kids to learn, and you don’t always need to dress it up with bells and whistles.
When I became an educator, I needed to find a community that could give me the advice and support that is so helpful for first-year educators. I am a fifth generation teacher and grew up surrounded by educators, so people often assume it was easy for me to transition to becoming a new educator myself. But they are wrong. While everyone in my family was a great source of support, none of them taught the same subjects or even grade as me. I had to look elsewhere for curriculum and classroom advice, and I came to rely on my colleagues as an essential family of supporters. They have proved invaluable to my development as an educator, and I would recommend every new educator to find their own group of fellow teachers for encouragement and guidance.
In addition to getting help with lesson plans, it’s also important to have a group of people that you can interact with socially. You don’t necessarily need to hang out with them often, but having a group of people who are kind, want to collaborate and check in on you is so meaningful. I encourage all first year teachers to invite themselves to lunch and to ask to sit with colleagues as a starting point to build those connections.
That group of people, who are going to hold you to a higher standard but are also going to encourage you, is priceless. My teaching career has been molded by colleagues that I met at the very beginning and still talk with all the time 17 years later. Some of them have since retired, but they are still resources I can email to ask, “What do you think about this idea?” or, “Have you read this article?” or, “I’m thinking about teaching this book.”
As a first-year educator, don’t be afraid to reach out and work to find your group. After all, this will be the group of people that helps you get through the long nights and helps you celebrate your classroom victories. Ask questions and ask for help, and you will find the guidance you need to succeed and be happy in a job that can be tough. If you don’t find your family within your school, consider reaching out to educators online to find more like-minded peers.
There are lots of routes to try, starting by connecting with your local union affiliate, which can provide a community of support as well as opportunities to attend meetings and workshops, learn how to seek grants, and take advantage of career-advancing leadership development trainings — including NEA’s excellent group-based Professional Learning Communities.
And I can’t urge you enough to sign up for NEA’s edCommunities if you haven’t already. It’s free and open to all NEA members, a safe space where you can connect directly with fellow educators who have already or are currently going through what you are. You’ll find learning events, classroom-ready resources and materials crowd-sourced from thousands of veteran educators and above all, a simple way to collaborate with share with like-minded people working to improve education and student success.
Finally, if you enjoy social media, it’s always worth tracking education hashtags like #edchat, #ntchat and #t2t. And I’m sure there are many more if you poke around.
With your “squad” at your side — however you find them — you will have resources to share, people to vent with and a strong support system for your entire career.