Hanna Ashton-Lawson is a Prep teacher at a primary school in Melbourne. She is in her second year of teaching.
After surviving my first year of classroom teaching, I am entering the new school year with the comfort of knowing that I’ve done it before. While nothing can really prepare you for the size of the job (as new tasks and expectations continually unfold throughout the year), here are a few pieces of advice that I wish I could have given myself last year about the administration side of things.
Don’t expect work/life balance to magically happen in your first year
I’m realising now that even experienced teachers still set this as a goal each year. You will work hard, and you will feel tired – let’s face it – most of the time. This is why it’s so important to take the time out to prepare good food for yourself, go to bed as early as you can (that laminating can wait!), and take time out to do the things that help you recharge: exercise, a glass of wine with friends, or a quiet night in at home.
A key point on the laminating: initiate parent help!
I didn’t embrace parent helpers like I should have early on. Parents love to be helpful, and they do want to have a bit of a stickybeak at what happens once they wave their child off at the school gate. Having a visitor in your classroom can be intimidating early on, so don’t be afraid to set them up with a task in your office or another more private place away from the classroom. Parents are wonderful resources for you, and ask them for help with your book labels, laminating, portfolio sorting, or even pencil sharpening. Set up a roster with nominated timeslots so that there aren’t any surprise visits during a messy transition time!
Win over the parents
This is crucial for you to have a good year. Keep your communication short and sweet, but ensure that the parents understand that they are being heard. I encourage parents to contact me via email to arrange a meeting with me if they have any concerns, and that way I can be adequately prepared. Don’t be afraid to schedule a meeting when approached at school pick-up time, rather than allowing yourself to be put on the spot. An open communication policy will work in your favour, as it shows that you are proactive and sensitive to the needs of your students. I had an incredible year with the parents in my class last year, and their support made my first year so much easier.
Ask questions and network
I asked roughly 4 million questions last year, from “how do I photocopy back-to-back?”, to “what happens in a fire drill?”. If you have a mentor, they are there to guide you through this. If you aren’t set up with a mentor, find one for yourself. Ask your literacy coordinator for advice on your student who needs to be extended with their reading. Ask your maths coordinator for those extra tasks to send home for your student who is struggling with their ‘friends to 10’. A school is an incredible network of very talented people, so explore it and you will find those answers to your questions.
Keep your planning consistent in a way that works for you. My Createl graduate teacher daily planner was my bible last year, while other teachers prefer to plan digitally. You will end up with piles of paperwork on your desk (it is endless!), so get a filing system that is easy to manage. A small plastic drawer system can work wonders for wrangling those sheets.
Say ‘yes’ to any PD opportunities that come your way
Keep on learning and continue to add teaching tools to your practice. Don’t forget to keep a record of them as you go! It’s a tiresome job to have to remember them at the end of the year (trust me, I’ve just done it!).
Appreciate your office staff
You will be needing favours from them all year. They work extremely hard and don’t always get the thanks they deserve. Treat them kindly, and let them know your appreciation. It’s worth noting that the office staff can be some of the most powerful people in a school, and therefore can be very handy to have in your corner.
When times get tough, remember why you are doing this
In just one year, my class became like a family. I spent more time with my students than I did with my partner and my own family. You will watch them develop and blossom, and just when you have them where you want them, it’s time to say goodbye as they move on. It’s a big moment when you realise at the end of the year that your class, with these particular students, will never ‘be’ again. But unless you are teaching Grade 6, you will see those kids around in the yard and it’s wonderful to hear about their adventures. Your first class is such a special thing, and you will never forget them. The year will fly by, so relax, laugh, and celebrate the good moments!