Positive thinking, patience, and piles of paperwork: New teachers describe a first year like no other

By Kayla Provencher

The first year of teaching can be a wild ride under the best of circumstances, never mind in the middle of a historic pandemic. For all teachers, the first years revolve around constant learning, adapting, and finding a rhythm in teaching style. But what does that mean in a time of change? We asked two new teachers — a student teacher and a first-year teacher — what this school year was like for them. Here’s what they had to say. (Their answers have been lightly edited.)

Megan Estes
Fourth grade student teacher, Somersworth

What has this year been like for you as a new teacher? 

It’s been both exciting and challenging. I think my classes prepared me for teaching, but nothing compared to actually living it. I have been learning so much and asking as many questions as I possibly can. It has been difficult being a remote teacher during my first experience teaching, but I hope it’ll make me more marketable, and I am learning a lot of new things about incorporating technology into my teaching. 

Being a new teacher has made me moldable. I have been soaking in all the amazing things that my cooperating teacher does, and I have become a more compassionate teacher. My cooperating teacher has been teaching for 25 years and is a social emotional genius, and has taught me so much about growth mindset, zones of regulations, and just being a compassionate and understanding ear for the kids. 

What practices have helped you adapt to remote learning?

Being patient with myself and the students. We all have 1,000 links to navigate to different meetings, and a lot on our minds. Giving myself grace when I lose track of time and am late to a meeting and giving the kids grace when they do the same is so important in remote learning. 

Do you think being a new teacher has helped or hurt you during this experience?

I think a little of both.  It has helped me to be more flexible and to better understand where these students may be coming from, as we can see their daily home life in the background of their video calls. It also hurt me a bit because I did student teaching to see if I wanted to be a classroom teacher, or do something else with my degree, and I really never got the experience of teaching in a classroom.  

What’s the most difficult thing about being a new teacher during remote learning?

The most difficult thing is not seeing the kids in person. Some are home alone all day and you can tell they are craving human connection. As much fun as you have with them on Zoom, it isn’t the same as being actually present with someone, and it is only one hour of the day. 

Do you have any recommendations for people entering the field?

Be patient with yourself. Coursework on how to teach is helpful, but it doesn’t teach you everything. Also, as hard as it can be, try to not bring work home with you. I have spent days grading and teaching from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. and it’s not healthy. Remember that you have your own life and deserve to live it outside of what you do for work. 

Brett Wilson
First Year Special Education Teacher
Merrimack High School,  Merrimack

What has this year been like for you as a new teacher? 

It has been an interesting year to say the least. My high school began a hybrid with a remote school option. This operated as two different schools in a way. I am primarily a hybrid teacher. 

Being a new teacher I do not know anything different compared to other years, because I do not have a true style, or habits, good or bad. I think new teachers have it easier than veteran teachers.

I know it has helped me learn by being ‘thrown to the fire.’ I have been told things are more difficult than usual, especially as the school goes back and forth between remote and hybrid learning, and constant change. 

What practices have helped you adapt to remote learning?

 Because I am a part of special education, during times of remote learning I have voluntarily entered the building to work with students with autism on site. However, I still had to teach students remotely, too. I tried to really dig into building relationships even more than in the classroom. I had more of an opportunity to talk to students one on one in Zoom calls where we could get more in depth about their individual performance without their peers hearing about their difficulties or failures. It has also given me the chance to have a lot of contact with my own caseload through e-mail and Zoom. 

The most important part of doing remote learning is entering the experience with a positive attitude. It is OK to say “I would rather see you all in person” to your student, but it is good to follow up with all the positives. Like sleeping in, being home for lunch, you can work out during study, go outside, have class outside,(I even worked outside on my remote Fridays) and you are not just sitting in studies. 

Also, be organized. When you as a teacher are going back and forth between being in the building school and remote school, it is important to keep all of these moving parts straight. The best way is by using technology! Use an online calendar:  It cannot be lost, it can be accessed on your phone, computer and anywhere. 

And take time for lunch! I know, it sounds silly but it is really easy to work through lunch while being remote. Make sure you take the time to eat. It is a nice way to combat burnout in a year that burnout began in November for many teachers.

Overall, be open to change, and prepare for change. 

Do you think being a new teacher has helped or hurt you during this experience? 

I think being a new teacher was a huge help. I feel like I have grown so much as a teacher under the pressure, although the rookie mistakes come that would happen anyway.   

Veteran teachers had to go back to basics, break everything down, while still giving students a thoughtful and strong educational experience during a pandemic. 

This is a difficult feat for teachers in the science field especially. But it also affects all of the courses because our school’s hybrid schedule is two days (A group) and two days (B group) and a flex day. Teachers have lost a dramatic amount of time only seeing students for a single block period a week whether hybrid or remote. 

What are some positive things you have learned from this experience?

Strong relationships can still be made with fellow teachers and students.

Technology can actually make things easier, and more fun. One of my favorite projects I have seen from a teacher is creating a 1920s Instagram. They took pictures from the Internet into a makeshift Instagram account with funny blurbs of history or slang. I don’t know if that project would have happened last school year. 

Do you have any recommendations for people entering the field?

Have an open mind. Be ready to go above and beyond while you are in the building or at home during the pandemic. 

Give yourself a solid time to stop. There is always something more to do when you work from home. Give yourself a time to stop and put work down for the night (unless there is a major deadline the next day). Mine is 3:30, that is 1 hour and 15 minutes from the closing bell. This is a powerful way to prevent burnout. It is easy to get caught up working until 8 o’ clock. The brain needs a break. 

When interviewing, ask if there is a mentor program. This is a huge help and will give you a person to go to when you have rookie mistakes or constant questions (how do I order supplies? how do I create a meeting? how do I get a stapler?) at the start of the year. 

What are some of the biggest changes to education you are witnessing?

In special education the huge push to paperwork being done online, using Zoom and (document sharing technology). This is just the start as well, I believe there will be even better ways to use technology.

I think the next step for special education and technology is to find a way to evaluate students accurately over online means. 

In education in general, students’ access to technology has been made top priority all over the state. Schools who did not provide technology like laptops, or Chrome Books, have found the funds, or used grants to make this available to students. This is a huge advantage to students who do not own the necessary technology, or Wifi. 

Anything additional you would like to add? Recommendations?  Other comments or advice to other educators?

Although COVID has taken a lot away, continue coaching, continue your club for students, find ways to have students be together and give them something positive to be a part of. 

Stay positive, when something does not work, do not take it to heart, learn from it, and move on. I think that is a good way to be no matter how chaotic the world is.