This article was written by Ben Kissam — a middle school teacher and coach in Denver, CO. Check him out on his website.
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There’s a weird point in every teacher’s career when you realize that you’re no longer a new teacher. Your actions change. Your attitude hardens. You are a completely different animal.
One day, you’re a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, first-year teacher. Then you wake up, and suddenly, you're in your fifth year. And for some reason, you’re writing emails. And it’s midnight.
Here are 10 signs that you’ve made your transition from a new teacher to a seasoned veteran.
1. You could write a short book detailing how your classroom systems work.
Year one is about getting your curriculum down. In years 2-3, you focus on improving those lessons. Much of those improvements come from establishing rock solid classroom systems.
But by year 5, you’ve seen it all. You can explain why no one gets paper before you’re done talking, citing examples along the way. There’s an anchor chart on every wall of your room containing comprehensive systems that you refer back to regularly. You kind of wish they worked at home as well as they do at school.
All of your systems work, because they have to. If every year was like year 1, you wouldn’t have made it this far.
2. You sympathize for first year teachers in the building.
Watching a first year teacher struggle is painful. You know the feeling all too well. Chances are, they will figure it out. But it doesn’t help in that moment. You do whatever you can to make your new colleague feel welcomed and remind her/him that the first year is tough.
You know you’ve been around the block when a first year teacher suggests an idea for class and you think to yourself, “Oh, bless her heart for being so optimistic”. You could list 23 reasons her idea won’t work, but you nod your head instead, and tell her it sounds great. Then you pray for her.
3. Your non-teacher friends have stopped pretending to be interested in stories about what happened at school.
They never thought your school stories were interesting in the first place, but they were nice to you for the first few years. At this point, your friends whip their phones out the minute you mention what your trouble student from period 4 did on Tuesday.
And if it’s year 5, you’re also probably sick of talking about school the second you step outside the building.
4. You’ve completely stopped going out with your friends on weeknights.
In fact, your friends don’t even text you with plans until Friday morning. They’ve learned.
5. You stop a first year teacher from crying by explaining how you coped with the same problem.
Grabbing your lunch from the fridge, you can’t help but overhear the suspicious sound of sniffles coming from a classroom. You enter, and find your first year teacher friend. She’s either on the verge of tears or blubbering. Period 2 ruined her lesson today and left her room a mess, and it all feels like too much.
Guess where you’re eating lunch today? It would be nice to answer emails, but you’ll spend the next 15 minutes telling her your own horror stories from year 1 and how you rose above them.
This is a right of passage for teachers.
6. You realize that your list of non-teaching responsibilities at school has somehow quadrupled.
Early on in your career, you weren’t asked to do much more than teach. Maybe they didn’t trust you yet, or maybe they didn’t want you to run away and never come back…. Or both.
Now in year 5, you coach swim team (even though you only swam competitively for one summer in 8th grade), you lead a weekly grade-level meeting, and you spend at least one evening a month baking cookies for your colleagues.
7. You stop saying things like, “Today was just a bad day”.
First year teachers are fiercely optimistic. They spend the whole year conjuring up positive statements to combat their real feelings towards teaching, which sounds something like, “Can it really be that hard?”
Seriously, they’re asking because they don’t know the answer.
Fifth year teachers on the other hand, are boldly reflective and realistic. “Today was just a bad day, tomorrow will be better” is replaced with thoughts like, “Well, that was a dumpster fire. But on the plus side, only 3 more weeks until Christmas break!”
8. Your college professors would be appalled at some of the outfits you wear to work.
Sure, it’s best practice to always look your best at work. But your professors don’t know you stayed up untill 11:30pm on Thursday night grading papers and only slept 6 hours while all your (non-teacher) friends were at the bar.
By this point in your career, you’ve worn jeans and your old college sweatshirt to school at least 15 times.
9. Students stop taking interest in your personal life.
As a first year teacher, kids want to know everything about your life.
What do you like to do? Who are you dating? When will you get married? Where do you live? Is it far from school?
Then one day, the kids stop asking questions. They know you're engaged. And judging by the pictures all over your desk, they know how much you love your dog.
Nothing makes you feel like an older teacher more than when a student gets awkwardly quiet when you initiate the conversation about life outside of school.
10. Other teachers also stop taking as much interest in your personal life.
Early on, they’d check in before the first bell about the date you went on the night before. They heard all your crazy college stories. Monday morning used to be for gossiping and recaps of the weekend.
Now, school is your life, you’re either married or in a committed relationship, and you do pretty much the same things everyone else in the building does. By year 5, conversations with your colleagues center around students, your lessons, treats in the break room, and how to survive until the next school break.