When I first started teaching, it was very taboo to talk about any struggles, anxieties, or perceived shortcomings. So much so that when a fellow new teacher, Jordan, and I finally admitted to each other during lunch that we felt like we had no idea what we were doing, we laughed so hard we cried. At that time, there weren’t other teachers on social media talking about where they missed the mark or how hard teaching was. We assumed it was just us!
Luckily, teacher culture has come a long way in vulnerability since I started. Even so, new teachers can feel overwhelmed, especially with how much teaching has changed in the last few years. We asked our teacher audience to tell us their biggest fears from their first year of teaching, and here’s what they said.
Fear #1: Parents
“The anxiety of parents about their children’s achievements.”
“Parents! Particularly parents who were also teachers. I felt like an imposter and that they knew I didn’t know what I was doing!”
“Talking to parents! Kids are easy.”
What to read:
- 5 Smarter Ways of Dealing With Helicopter Parents This Year
- 9 Templates for Responding to Tricky Parent Emails
- How To Survive Even the Scariest Parent Conferences
- 9 of the Biggest Parent Communication Mistakes (Plus How To Fix Them!)
- Small Talk 101: How To Talk to Parents (or Anyone Else in a School!)
Fear #2: Coworkers and administrators
“The principal who called me into his office to defend myself against gossip he supposedly heard about me (and wouldn’t reveal the source).”
“The veteran teachers. They all were at 25+ years.”
“The AP always coming in my worst science class and never coming to observe my PE classes. Kids didn’t care if she was there and or maybe acted up because she was there. She told me to wear a skirt over my shorts. I had two 9th grade science classes in the afternoon with no time to change clothes. Most of the time I brought pants to wear over my shorts.”
What to read:
- Check out our advice column for tons of questions about colleagues and leadership. If you don’t see your question, write in!
- Post in our We Are Teachers HELPLINE group (you can ask anonymously!)
- 7 Ways Bad Principals Drive Good Teachers Out
- Is Your School Using Toxic Positivity To Exploit You? The 5 Biggest Red Flags
Fear #3: Classroom management
“That the kids would realize I can’t force them to listen to me.”
“I taught high school and there were kids a couple of years younger than me. It was intimidating at first.”
“One child in my class. Almost left teaching because of them.”
What to read:
- Is Your Class Out of Control? 11 Teacher-Tested Quick Tricks You Can Try Tomorrow
- 22 Brilliant Classroom Management Strategies and Techniques
- The best classroom management tips for kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, middle, and high school
- 11 of the Biggest Classroom Management Mistakes (and How To Fix Them)
Fear #4: The whole, uh, teaching part?
“Not having the support I really did need. All I was told was how poorly I was doing, that nothing I was doing was right. It was torture, and I’d never wish that on anyone.”
“The task! I taught five out of six classes, all with 36 to 39 students that were below and far below grade level. Just figuring out how to teach 7th and 8th graders who read on a 2nd-to-4th-grade level to read was overwhelming. This was east Austin in 1967.”
“Not being able to teach the way I wanted to teach. Really didn’t like feeling pressured to go against my instincts.”
“To fall into the trap of teaching in the same way I was taught.”
“That I had no teaching materials provided by the school. I was told to use dictionaries.”
What to read:
- Check out these informational articles on UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and inquiry-based learning
- 30 Instructional Strategies Examples for Every Kind of Classroom
- The 12 best resources for PD and the 12 best education conferences
- The Big List of Free Teaching Resources for All Ages and Subjects in 2023
- Plus, be sure to search our site for tips and information by grade level and content area!
Fear #5: The overall pressure and responsibility
“That none of my 4th graders could read. It ended up being a fantastic experience. Mrs. Garcia told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as I got those kids to read. They couldn’t even read simple books. At the end of the year, my lowest was on a 3rd grade reading level and my highest was on 6th! We had so much fun! Oh to be allowed to do what I know works.”
“Shutting the door that first day and realizing, ‘Oh, crap. It’s just me and these kids and I am the one responsible for allllll of you.'”
“Being worried I’d break them or irreparably harm them because of some mistake I made. I teach high school.”
“Not being confident in my abilities or skills.”
“The feeling of being in charge of and responsible for all of these young minds.”
“Messing up in general. My first two weeks, I had a mom on a phone call about her son’s behavior in music class, sobbing as she asked me, a 22-year-old girl fresh out of college, why her 14-year-old son was misbehaving and what she was doing wrong. I almost quit right there, I felt so out of my league.”
What to read:
- Teachers, How Can We Care for Our Mental Health Right Now?
- 9 Very Basic Things Parents Who Support Teachers Always Do
- 29 Apps to Combat Teacher Anxiety and Stress
- 8 Classroom Tasks I’m Not Doing Anymore for My Students
Quickfire round: random yet valid fears
“Learning 125 names!”
“How to fill in gaps of extra time.”
“That over a third of my 9th graders were convinced that mermaids are real. It also gave me a great sense of purpose as a social studies teacher who gets to teach them to evaluate argument and evidence.”
“Germs. I learned to fear germs.”
“My potty mouth. In the first month, nine times. Fifth graders laughed and said, ‘It’s OK; we’ve got your back.’ I love my job 24 years later.”
Lunch with Jordan that day helped me turn a corner my first year. While it changed absolutely nothing about my teaching, my students, or my circumstances, it did show me I wasn’t alone with the scary thoughts in my head. There’s comfort in discovering pain is shared. Other people have been here. Other people have made it through.
I hope these teachers’ comments can be that for you.