Lindsey Bailey (Hawai’i ‘12) teaches 3rd grade at Makakilo Elementary School in Makakilo on Oahu.

Calling all new Teach For America corps members! At the start of a new school year, we salute thousands of you as you mark the beginning of an unforgettable experience making a difference in the lives of children. In that spirit, we took to Facebook and Instagram to ask TFA alumni what advice they have for new corps members during their first year in the classroom. Here is a collection of some of our favorite words of wisdom.

On Building Relationships

Relationships matter more than anything else. Make forming deep relationships with your students and their parents as much as a priority as lesson planning. Dedicate substantial time to that pursuit–at lunch, after school, and in the mornings.

Get to know your kids, family, school, and community! The “perfect” lesson plan does NOT exist. Focus spending time on building relationships to create a strong foundation.

Call the parents of every student within the first few weeks with something good. Positive initial phone calls were great for relationship building!

Spend time with your students and families in their community so you can get to know them and they can get to know you. Reach out to a few families each evening and share little victories/celebrations from the day.

Write letters to your students’ parents each week to build relationships with parents and let them hear good things about their kids!

On Prioritizing Self-Care

Take care of yourself and be present with your children and their families. There were many times that I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning tweaking small details in my lesson plans. I wish I had spent that time sleeping and been kinder and more patient the next morning, and had the energy to call more parents and tell them wonderful things about their children, as a result.

Make sure you take time for yourself to rest and recharge after school. Go for a walk, work out, socialize with friends, or whatever you need to do to de-stress.

EAT LUNCH AWAY FROM YOUR DESK!

Read, exercise, yoga, join a kickball team, improv—whatever it is that makes your soul happy—feed that too!

Be intentional about loving yourself while you are in the classroom. Be intentional about finding places and things to love about your region. You can’t build deep relationships with your kids if you are not in a solid relationship with yourself.

On Honoring Your Students

Get to know your students beyond their academics. What do they care about? What are their dreams? Who are their friends?

Expect to learn from your students as much as you expect them to learn from you

Learning as much as you can about your students ASAP is right up there in importance with your mastery of the material you’re teaching. Making activities conducive to your kids sharing more about themselves can help you better tailor your lessons to their needs (especially with engagement), while also helping to instill in them that you value who they are and what they think or believe.

Choose to fiercely love your kids. Especially when it’s hard.

Building a strong classroom culture matters. If you feel like that is the place where you have been devoting a lot of your time, that’s okay. Strong culture will allow your progress to happen smoothly.

Get involved with some kind of extracurricular activity at school. It may seem counterintuitive to invite more commitments into your life when you’re already stretched thin, but I found it really important and sustaining to have time at school each week where I wasn’t just “the teacher” and my kids weren’t just “the students.

Play with your kids at recess, and show them you’re human. Take a dance break. Learning is fun.

Elisa Villanueva Beard

On Leaning on Others

Get to know the other teachers at your school and soak in all of their wisdom. Observe their classes, ask them to observe you, lesson plan with them; you’ll learn so much!

There are key folks in your school that will save you, one group is the custodial staff! Get to know them and let them get to know you. This relationship could unlock doors (literally) for you as you begin the year!

Observe the best teachers at your school in action. You can learn so much by watching a great teacher address a problem in class or execute an engaging activity.

Surprise people at your school with simple acts of kindness. Become friends with the secretaries and other staff members at your school! They will always know where to find what it is you need.

Don’t be too shy to befriend your colleagues! There’s a wealth of knowledge in them; don’t be afraid to tap into it.

On Doing You

Know your strengths and leverage them. At first, I remember reading “The First Days of School” and trying on a bunch of things that didn’t feel right. I realized that I just had to do me, which meant really focusing on building strong relationships and rapport with my kids, their families and colleagues, and making quirky lessons.

Your quirks are your biggest assets. Make the classroom and your teaching style represent the little things about you that students will laugh at/roll their eyes at yet always remember you by. That display of honesty will help build trust.

Find what makes you happy (and make time to do it), find what drives you to be better every single day (and remember it), don’t be afraid to admit that it’s hard (but know that you’re there because you ARE ready and you CAN do this), and never forget to find the joy that is fully within your power to create for your kids and never stop creating it!

Don’t take yourself too seriously! Let your personality shine through as your authentic self. Your students will see right through any hint of inauthenticity. And HAVE FUN! Learning is supposed to be exciting and scary and exhilarating and challenging all at the same time.

New corps members, we want to hear from you! What advice has been the most helpful to you during this first month in the classroom? Share in the comments.