When I think back to August—the beginning of this new journey—I can still feel the heaviness of the heat and the buzz of my own excitement. I’d survived my first summer in Mississippi and was ready to take on a class all my own. Five months later, I’ve learned five big lessons from my first semester with fifth graders.

  1. Let Go of Relaxing Sundays
    Sundays in college meant last-minute homework, weekly grocery shopping, and attending meetings for various organizations. When I became a teacher, many warned me that Sundays were simply the worst. Why? I’d visualized a whole day to attack a very large to-do list—what could go wrong? Well, for starters, an entire day devoted completely to working is a sure fire way to exhaust yourself before the week even begins! But every week I tried to work hard enough so I could relax on Sundays. Now I have learned to embrace Sundays and work in moderation.
  2. Partner with Veteran Teachers
    Teachers who plan together are invaluable! Guidance from veteran teachers’ passion can make the difference in a first year teacher’s life. From day one, I have depended on these talented educators as I work towards excellence in the classroom. I look to them for ideas on how to take lesson plans from so-so to so engaging, to build a strong classroom culture, and to help struggling students excel.
  3. Engage Your School Community
    Building positive relationships with every member of the school community will help you to be the best possible educator for your students. From parents and administrators to maintenance staff and crossing guards, great things happen for kids when adults are working together, with joy and a common purpose. These relationships will ensure that your students feel loved and you have the supports you need when unexpected situations arise.
  4.  Find Your Happy Place
    I have found several personal retreats – an open road with running shoes and my iPod, a nearby nature sanctuary and, most importantly, in the little moments with my students – getting to know them as individuals, watching them grow. Though teaching will challenge you, taking the time to appreciate moments of calm will empower you to meet those challenges. The students will remind you what’s possible every single day, if you remember to let the little moments shine.
  5.  Make “Flexible” Your New Middle Name
    In my first month, I would plan epic lessons, determined get twelve different aspects of a standard done within 90 minutes! And while this commitment to rigor is positive overall, I soon realized that my highly structured approach left little room for my students to grow and be themselves. I learned quickly that things would roll over into the next day – and that’s okay. Every student is unique and has a different aptitude for accessing and understanding content. Being adaptable goes a long way to recognizing and supporting these differences.

These five tips made a tremendous difference in finding a balance in my life. It didn’t happen overnight, but after many attempts, I finally found the right balance for me. Try one, try all!