The Life-Changing Secret I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Teacher

Jun 21, 2021

Think back with me for a second on what it was like for you as a first year teacher. 

Is it the excitement you are remembering? The anticipation? Or maybe it’s the overwhelm? The feeling lost and confused part that comes to mind? 

If we’re being honest, for most of us it’s probably a combination of these things. In the beginning, we are flooded with so many emotions as our dream of actually having our own classroom starts to become a reality. It’s only after making it through that first year, and the subsequent years that follow, that we begin to see and understand things through a different lens.  

What if you could go back to that new teacher you once were… what would you tell yourself? 

Leave school at school.... Stay out of the teachers’ lounge… find a mentor teacher. All solid [and well-meaning] advice, meant to keep you focused, help you grow as a professional, and avoid teacher burnout. 

But one piece of advice you won’t often hear [which will also serve to keep you focused, help you grow as a professional, and avoid teacher burnout] is learn how to flex your autonomy.

au•ton•o•my: your ability to act on your own values and interests

In a system where autonomy and independence is so often limited for those of us on the front-lines of education, learning how to flex the autonomy you DO have gives you the power to intentionally shape the classroom experience you provide for your students

When we purposefully design our classroom experience, that’s when the magic happens.

And when I say *design* our classroom experience, I’m not just talking about picking out a fun theme with coordinating colors and cute posters on the wall. 

Designing your classroom experience (key word here) goes way beyond aesthetics. It should be intentional and purposeful. It begins with figuring out what your Teachure Trademark is and that requires some upfront work. I walk you through this process in my Discover Your Teachure Trademark mini-course [by the way, it’s completely free!].  


My First Year Teacher Throwback

When I think back to when I was a first year teacher, the first thing that comes to mind is: I want a job. Pretty basic, right? But that’s the truth. After a semester of student teaching, not to mention 4+ years of university, I was raring to go by the time I had my diploma in hand at graduation. 

Once I landed my first teaching job, all of those emotions I described at the start of this post were definitely there for me. 

I was indescribably excited to FINALLY begin this teaching journey I had prepped years for. I couldn’t wait to meet my students and dive right into setting up a classroom. 

And the first day I walked into said classroom, well that’s when the overwhelm kicked in. A few tables and bookcases pushed against the wall. Stacked chairs in a corner. A wall of half-empty storage cupboards with the leftover resources nobody had claimed after the last teacher in my position left. Cue, the feeling lost and confused

All I remember thinking is, “where do I even begin??”. 

I spent that entire first year just trying to get my footing. Teacher prep programs give you all the pedagogical knowledge you might need for the job. Student teaching gives you the practice. But even both of these combined failed to provide me with the direction I needed to just get my own classroom started. 

Fast forward to the next year, and the two years that followed that. Of course, you figure things out as you go. You learn the ways and workings of the system. The feeling lost and confused part starts to fade. But [at least for me] the sense of overwhelm never really went away. 

I was inundated with the stresses of teaching. 

Increasing job responsibilities. New things to constantly learn and keep up with to stay current. It felt like we were constantly chasing new “shiny objects” instead of focusing on the things I felt really mattered. Not to mention, a negative school culture that nearly crippled me as a naive “newbie” teacher on the block.

By mid-year four, I was at defcon one. I dreaded going to work everyday. Pretty much any little thing sent me in a spiral of negativity that I couldn’t seem to shake. 

I took up meditation. I armed myself with mantras to recite throughout the day as a way to keep me calm and offer even an ounce more strength so I could keep pushing on. 

 But still, I found myself becoming disconnected and uninspired. I was burnt out.

It was the summer before year six when I found the secret sauce. 

This was at the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020. I had already been a full-time virtual teacher for about a year [coincidentally]. With the onset of the pandemic, the majority of my fellow teachers around the world were moving online, as well. 

One resource that exploded in popularity at the time were virtual classrooms. These were basically digital classroom spaces that have the look and feel of an actual classroom. The best thing about virtual classrooms is they can be designed in pretty much any way you could imagine and can be used to deliver pretty much any content you want to cover. 

So I began creating virtual classrooms with an ‘Around the World’ theme. Travel and learning about different places and cultures is a passion of mine. So creating these classrooms served as almost a stress-reliever. It was a way for me to be creative and put something together that I was truly passionate about. Not to mention, passionate about sharing.

I decided to use these classrooms as part of my weekly routine for the following school year. For the first five minutes of class each day, I would take my students on a trip around the world and expose them to faraway places and ideas they might not otherwise have been presented with.

Now, let me just say this. I taught 9th grade special education. Learning about travel and culture and world issues was not in my curriculum, nor was it on my list of to-dos from my administrator. 

But having some sort of bellringer, some sort of activity or prompt to launch the class and get the juices flowing, now that was something that could rightfully fit on my lesson plan.

So that’s what I did. I found a way to incorporate this passion of mine into my daily teaching practice so that I could share something I was enthusiastic about with my students. 

And guess what…

This part of my class was nearly ALWAYS where I saw the most authentic engagement from my students. [Keep in mind, I’m a virtual teacher and we don’t require the use of webcams/microphones/chatting, so when I can get kids turning on their mics and participating in the chat box, it’s a HUGE win!]. 

So why is it that this part of our routine stirred up that authentic engagement? 

Is it because my students were naturally world-seekers like myself? Is it because the content was the most engaging stuff on the planet? 

Not entirely. The truth is, my enthusiasm overflowed during this part of my teaching. This was content I valued, felt purposeful, and I was passionate about sharing. My students FELT this. It resonated with my students and piqued their curiosity.

This, ladies and gentlemen, was me realizing how to flex the autonomy I had as a teacher. This was me discovering my Teachure Trademark and bringing it to life through my classroom experience.

 

Teacher’s Guide to Flex Your Teacher Autonomy

 So, how can you make sure you are flexing your autonomy to the max? 

The first step is to get down to the nitty gritty of what inspires and motivates you as a teacher. 

Once you identify the core principles that serve as the driving force within your classroom, based on what inspires and motivates you, then you have the foundation of your Teachure Trademark.

Your Teachure Trademark is essentially the unique learning experience you bring to your students, based on your own unique values, passions, and purpose for teaching.

You can start flexing your autonomy once you identify what drives you as a teacher, dive deeper into this and develop your Teachure Trademark, and ultimately bring your vision to life for your students through the classroom experience. 

Read on for an outline of what this looks like. 

 

Teacher Tip #1: Identify Your Values

Identifying the values you hold as a teacher and for your classroom helps to determine the makeup of your classroom experience. 

Is your classroom rooted in responsibility, with student jobs and a detailed system for students’ individual daily task completion? Or maybe your classroom is rooted in collaboration and contribution, where the name of the game is teamwork and your instructional strategies are designed around this. Or maybe the backbone of your classroom experience is service and you design learning activities that help students put this value into practice.

Can you see where I’m going here?

By identifying what you believe to be the most important values for your students to be exposed to, you can then begin to mold your classroom experience accordingly.

Now, google “values” and you’re likely to come up with a laundry list of worthy principles that feel necessary for students to learn in your classroom.

But the goal should be to think seriously about which values you most wish to impart on your students. Which values are MOST worthy of being the foundation of your classroom experience?

Once you identify your top values, you should dig a little deeper into them by considering why they are so important for your students and what they look like in action within your classroom.

I help you do this in Day 2 of the Discover your Teachure Trademark mini-course --- check it out here. [by the way, it’s free!]

 

Teacher Tip #2: Identify Your Passions

The next thing you’ll want to do is identify your passions as a teacher; or in other words, the things that excite and inspire you.

 

 Your passions are what bring about pure sparks of joy in your life. When you discover (or rediscover) what lights you up in the classroom, that’s when the magic happens!

Just like with your values, identifying what you are most passionate about helps to determine the makeup of your classroom experience.  

By identifying the sources of what sparks joy for you, you can then continue to mold your classroom experience accordingly.

This is what I did in the experience I shared before. Travel and culture and world issues are things that spark joy for me. So I found a way to mold my classroom experience to include these passions in my teaching practice. I did that through the virtual classrooms I created and used with my students on a daily basis.

As teachers, it can be beneficial for both ourselves and our students to bring our passions into our classrooms. When you teach from a place of passion, you provide your students with a magic that only you are able to show them.

 Because the truth is, as teachers, we (and you!) bring things to the classroom (passions included) that ONLY we (you!) can bring. And for this reason, no one can teach or do the job like YOU do it 

I help you do this in Day 3 of the Discover your Teachure Trademark mini-course --- check it out here. [totally free!]

 

Teacher Tip #3: Identify Your Purpose

Once you’ve identified your values and passions, you’ll want to identify your purpose as a teacher.

Your purpose is likely an extension of the values you hold most important in your classroom, as well as the passions you bring as a teacher.

I’m going to take a guess and say you probably have bigger goals for your students than just showing mastery on a bunch of state standards. 

It’s important for you to dig deeper and ask yourself, what do you really want your students to walk away from their time with you having learned?

This can look like short-term goals you have for your students, by the time they leave your classroom. Or, it can be more long-term, and expressed as a vision statement and part of your teacher identity.

The key is to align your purpose with the values you feel strongly about exposing your students to and related to what you are passionate about in the classroom.

I help you do this in Day 4 of the Discover your Teachure Trademark mini-course --- check it out here. [yep, it’s free!]

 

Teacher Tip #4: Identify Your Big Five

Once you’ve identified your values, passion, and purpose, you can bring these elements together to formulate your Teachure Trademark.

The simplest reminder of your Teachure Trademark is something I like to call your “Big Five”. Your Big Five represent the principles that are the foundation of your classroom experience.

Here are my Big Five, as an example: Creativity. Tech Literacy. Growth. Tolerance. Culture.

Once you have your Big Five, as you consider designing each aspect of your classroom experience, you should always refer back to your Big Five and ask yourself, how is what I’m doing in my classroom aligned with these words?

In Day 5 of the Discover your Teachure Trademark mini-course I help you narrow down your Big Five and develop an action plan to make them a reality of your classroom experience --- check it out here. [100% free!]

 

Teacher Tip #5: Design Your Classroom Experience

Once you’ve got your Big Five and you’ve honed in on your Teachure Trademark, you are ready to design your classroom experience. This is where flexing the autonomy you have comes into play.  

Doing so will require you to analyze all parts of your learning environment so that you can identify where to exercise your autonomy.  

But don’t fret, it’s not as hard as it sounds! 

Going through this process will not only help you ensure that you are making your Teachure Trademark a reality every single day, but it will help you feel so. much. more. prepared. Because you’ll have it all thought out.

If you’re thinking, gosh I don’t know where to even start with coming up with all the parts I need to consider for designing my classroom experience. No worries there, I’ve already done that work for you!

 I like to think of the design process as following a teaching blueprint framework of sorts. This is exactly what I walk you through in The Teachure School

In The Teachure School, I'm taking you from teaching blueprint to full on launch plan. 

I’ll walk you through the framework and guide you as you decide which elements you want to focus on first in order to see your Teachure Trademark mirrored through your classroom experience. 

By the end, you’ll have a launch plan ready to go so that you can bring your Teachure Trademark to life in as many aspects of your classroom as you wish. 

 

Flex Those Teacher Muscles

 It’s time to pump up those arms now and flex your teacher muscles!  

Now you know how to flex the autonomy you have as a teacher in order to facilitate a more purposeful and cohesive learning environment… not to mention one you will be absolutely enthusiastic about day in and day out. 

This is why my *secret* is life-changing… because flexing your teacher autonomy means knowing what you have control over and influencing that control in a way that lights you up. 

Being enthusiastic as a teacher is where the magic happens.

And let me just say this: nothing matches the level of enthusiasm a teacher has when they truly believe in what they are teaching.

Whether you are a first year teacher just embarking on your teaching journey or a veteran teacher who’s been around the schoolyard a time or two already [so to speak], it’s never too soon or too late to Discover Your Teachure Trademark and make it your reality. 

 


 

Are you ready to discover [or rediscover] what lights you up in the classroom?

I've got a mini-course to help you zero in on what drives you as a teacher, which is something I like to call your Teachure Trademark. Oh, and I'm giving it away totally FREE because I believe what this world needs is more inspired teachers rooted in their purpose!

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