Myth Busting for the New Elementary Teacher


The first day of school approaches. Sharpened pencils, neatly stacked book, organized files, and alphabetically arranged encyclopedias grace your classroom. Everything is clean, shiny, and waiting.

I picture you standing at your classroom door on the first day. You are prepared to see your students; you are ready to begin living your dream as a teacher. This is good! I feel anticipation for you.

As you head into the warp and woof of the school year, you may encounter some “New Teacher Myths.” Those of us who have taught for a few years know that falling prey to these myths can happen quickly. Join me as we bust some common myths.

Myth 1: Never Smile till Thanksgiving

Perhaps we smile a little at this outdated adage. Isn’t that how teachers functioned in the olden days? If all else fails, at least keep order? Perhaps.

We do, however, often underestimate the importance of a teacher’s smiling face and cheerful presence. While it is not always possible to be at your classroom door when your students arrive in the morning, try to make it a priority. When you are there to greet and welcome your students, you communicate to them that they are loved by you; you are grateful for their presence in your classroom and you delight in them.

Our students need to know we are cheering for them and we want them to succeed. Hugs and high-fives are all appropriate for a little person. A hug and a bit of tender care may soothe the first grader who is missing Mommy. Smiles, hugs, affirmation, or cheerful encouraging words help to establish that positive classroom atmosphere. Smile a lot!

Myth 2: Every Lesson I Teach Must Be Amazing

May I bust this myth for you immediately? This is an unrealistic expectation, nor is it possible. Your lessons will not all be grand. Some of them will flop miserably. But take heart! Tomorrow you will teach Reading and you get to try again!

Playing the comparison game may come naturally when you peek into the veteran teacher’s classroom. It appears as if she has props, visuals, and kinesthetic aids for every lesson.

First, remember that comparison is unfair. The twenty-year veteran has had two decades to grow her large, extensive collection of resources and to establish her root system. If you attempt to parrot her, you will find yourself on the path leading to serious burn-out.

Instead, ponder your day and your schedule carefully. Is there one lesson you can prepare that involves some pizazz? Preparing an extensive lesson plan for one lesson a day or several lessons a week gives you a much more sustainable goal than expecting that for every lesson.

Myth 3: I Am In This Alone

Young teacher, you may feel alone but you are never alone. Yes, that bump in the journey, that reality check may come a few weeks or months into the school term. Feelings of incompetence, panic, uncertainty, fear, or anger may surface. How are you to navigate this teaching journey well?

It is easy to cast a glance around at your co-teachers. Their classrooms are running smoothly, they know how to navigate challenging students successfully, and they have tips and tricks for teaching Math. You feel alone because you are still trying to find good classroom routines and it feels like your efforts flop when it comes to that challenging student.

Times of loneliness will come. You may find yourself alone in the school building still preparing for your History class, while the other staff members have departed. Acknowledge and embrace the loneliness. Talk to Jesus. Find a mentor or veteran teacher who can help you gain perspective during moments of reality checks. Be humble enough to ask advice; view the seasoned teacher as a resource, not a threat.

Myth 4: I Must Be Jesus for My Needy Students

Not all teachers encounter this myth. However, if you are blessed with a sensitive, compassionate heart, you will likely find this struggle is real. Perhaps your heart hurts because of a student experiencing neglect, hunger, filth, or abuse.* Some children are deep feelers but have no words to express the turmoil in their inner world. They usually go about asking for your love and attention in undesirable ways.

I know. We have all heard the stories. James comes into Miss Miller’s classroom, destined for failure. His parents are divorced, his step-dad beats him up, he’s failing in every subject, and he is sullen and depressed. Enter Miss Miller. She loves on and believes in James. In the shadow of her tender love, James begins to thrive, and soars to the top of his class. By the end of that school year, he’s even studying a second language! In high school, he still sends Miss Miller notes about how she was his favorite teacher and turned his life around. Last time she heard from him, he was attending the university with plans of receiving a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

In the honeymoon stage of our teaching career, stories like these can stir our hearts, despite the fact that they are not very realistic. We dream about how wonderful it would be—to be used in such a dramatic way in the life of one student.

Dear teacher, may I remind you that you are not the Savior? You have not been called to redeem the lives of your needy students; you are not that powerful. Yes, ask Jesus for ways to love on the dear little person desperately needing nurture and care. Times of pondering are appropriate. However, when you leave your classroom in the evening, try not to carry your troubled students home with you. (Those of us gifted with mercy are more vulnerable to this.) Place them in Jesus’ hands and then go home. Spending your entire evening mulling over student needs takes significant energy and draws from your resources. Your job is teaching academics, not being a savior.

If God chooses to use you in a dramatic way in the life of a student, He may do that. But you should not seek that dramatic moment. Be faithful in showing love, kindness, and patience, and then focus your energies on preparing lessons and teaching well.

*If you know for certain that a student is experiencing sexual abuse, you are a mandated reporter because you are a teacher. Talk to your principal about the system your school has in place for handling situations involving sexual abuse.

Myth 5: Your Students Should Not See You Cry

It makes them feel uncomfortable, doesn’t it? After all, you are their teacher and you need to remain in control and in charge, right?

I recall an experience I had when in grade school. During one morning singing period, our teacher burst into tears! Initially, I thought this was funny, seeing the teacher cry, but that feeling was soon replaced with discomfort, as she continued sobbing in front of us. Nothing I could do would make her stop crying, and I came away from that situation with a vow that “I will not let my students see me cry because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.”

I have, however, been surprised by some of the conversations we had as a class during moments when I felt emotionally weak. One morning, shortly before the school day began, I received some disturbing news. With school was beginning in 10 minutes, I needed to get in front of my students, tears or no tears. Rather tearfully I greeted my class that morning and attempted to continue with my plans for the day. As I was herding students and chairs out of the building for our outside class, one of my boys paused beside me at the door.

“Miss Kuhns,” he said, “What are you going to sit on?” I paused, realizing that I had forgotten to bring my stool with me, which is what I perch on for outside classes. “I will go get it for you,” he offered, heading back to our classroom.

Perhaps my tears called forth a bit of manliness from my second grader that morning. I have discovered that times of emotional vulnerability can turn into times of sweet classroom bonding when I am willing to be real with my students. If the tears come, embrace them and let your students love on you. They need to know that you are a real person too.

As you encounter these myths or others on your teaching journey, I pray that you will be strengthened for the journey. May the Master Teacher bless you with wisdom and confidence!

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