By Kiersten Perks

Kiersten Perks is a first-year teacher at the LEAP Academy University Charter School and a member of the Leap Academy Teachers Association. She was previously the vice president of NJEA Preservice.

Hundreds of thousands of articles have been written for and about new teachers, but I have yet to find an article that correlates with my first-year experiences. The advice articles I have read make my eyes roll because I just cannot relate to them.

For example, nearly every article for new teachers says to get rest, exercise and eat well. They all say to take care of your body.

I wish they didn’t say that.

I never exercised before I became a teacher, and I am a stress eater, especially when it comes to sugar. The only rest I’m getting is when I collapse at the end of the day. That’s how I’ve always been. This kind of advice makes me feel pressured to do something that I never did before becoming a teacher.

Somewhere in an article, it should say: “Don’t try to do everything that first-year advice articles suggest, especially if you never did such things before you were a teacher. Your first year of teaching will probably not be the year that you become a vegan and run your first marathon.”

The next item on the list of things I wish I had read about somewhere is advice about my certification and the importance of my collective bargaining agreement. A first-year teacher feels the urge to volunteer for everything, including things that aren’t in your contract. Contracts are written the way that they are for a reason and your fellow members who came before you negotiated the contract to protect you and your teaching license.

Don’t try to do everything that first-year advice articles suggest, especially if you never did such things before you were a teacher. Your first year of teaching will probably not be the year that you become a vegan and run your first marathon.

The worst advice I ever saw in a teaching article was, “Be naïve and idealistic.” Getting a teaching license in New Jersey is very difficult and you must protect that certificate. Do not be naïve! Fight the impulse to throw yourself into something before thinking it through and getting sound advice from seasoned colleagues.

Naiveté leads me into another tip that can make or break your teaching career. Have a representative present with you if you ever have to meet with an administrator regarding disciplinary action concerning you. Know who your building representative is—sometimes called an association representative or AR. If you find you need to email or write to an administrator over an issue that raises any concerns for you, talk to your AR first. Cover your bases from the beginning so that if for any reason you need assistance, your situation is well-documented.

My final thoughts on being a first-year teacher? It is nothing like student teaching. Student teaching is about following the direction and guidance of your collaborating teacher and your college adviser. 

As a first-year teacher, you have more autonomy. It is mostly about just doing the very best that you can. There will be days where you wonder what you were thinking when you chose this profession, but you’ll be in good company because nearly all teachers have asked themselves the same question at many points in their careers. Sometimes you’ll feel like you climbed a huge mountain only to find yet another mountain, and it’s bigger than your first one.

Climb it.

Get annoyed, get frustrated, but climb it.

This is your career. You made it this far and you deserve to admire the view from the tallest mountain you can find. The scenery will make it all worthwhile.

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