Making it Through the First Day

My best advice for a new educator on their first day of school? Just get through it.

I’m serious.

Educators spend years preparing for their first day with their own class — studying their butts off, shadowing mentors and preparing lesson plans. But classrooms can be unpredictable, and the first day often doesn’t go as planned.

I’ll never forget when I walked into my special education classroom for the first time. I was a nervous wreck. I looked at my caseload of the ten students and I originally felt comfortable with it. Then I started reading through their IEPs (Individual Education Programs) and that’s when the nerves set back in.

Even though the IEPs gave me a good idea of the students’ strengths and weaknesses, you never know what kind of day you are going to get in a special education class — or probably any class. And that can be stressful for any educator, but it’s probably never worse than your first day.

Looking back, there are a ton of things that I wish I’d known to make my first day, and even my first year, a little easier. Here are three I think any new educator could use:

  1. Make sure you are adequately supported. It can be difficult as a new hire to voice your concerns, but you need to know that you are properly supported. And that starts before the students arrive. If you have a staff mentor who is not really mentoring you during training, tell your administration. That was crucial for me as a new teacher. I had a mentor teacher who took time before my first day of class to model things like IEP meetings and parent meetings, so when it was time for me to do the real thing for the first time, I did so with much more confidence.
  2. Stick to your schedule. Things will constantly come up throughout the school day — other colleagues will need assistance, parents will want to meet with you, the administration will need your time. These distractions won’t wait for you to get through your first day, so being clear about your schedule with your administration and fellow educators is crucial. It will help ensure you have the time you need to plan and give you the time to support every student in your class.
  3. Meet everyone. And I mean everyone — from custodians to the cafeteria staff to the guidance office to the front desk. Everyone in your school is a resource, whether they have been there for years or just started. Make sure you try to meet people across departments and roles during the days leading up to the start of school. You can always learn something from someone else and knowing you have a variety of people to reach out to during your first day, and later on in the year, can be really reassuring.

Taking steps to ensure you have the proper support and time management plan can help you start your school year off on the right foot and lay the groundwork for the year to come.

And whatever happens, remember — just get through it.

Every bad day has an end, and you’ll only come out more experienced and better able to support your students.

Henry Watson

Henry is a special education teacher at Kenneth Gardner Elementary school in South Carolina. He has been teaching 3rd and 4th grade special education (self-contained – all subjects) for four years. He was selected as the 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year for his school/county. He is a proud member of Teach For America (2014 Alumni) and very active in SCEA (South Carolina Educational Association). One quote that continues to motivate Henry to teach is “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela