My Transition From the Office to a Classroom

I’ve now been in the classroom for about two weeks, and I couldn’t be happier. Any anxiousness about quitting my paid office job for a semester of unpaid student teaching disappeared after my first day. I know I’ve made the right decision, and it feels nice to finally be doing what I’ve been working for.

That said, it’s still been exhausting. The students in my classroom are fantastic, and the teachers I’m learning from and working with are wonderful, but the transition isn’t easy. Office life is completely different from working in a classroom, and I’ve had to make a few adjustments. Here are a few tips on making the transition, based on my own experience:

Ask about the schedule ahead of time

Having an idea of your students’ daily schedule will help you to better plan your own day. It sounds silly, but over the years I’ve become used to eating at certain times throughout the day. As a teacher, you don’t have the luxury of eating whenever you please. Knowing when students have lunch and take electives allowed me to plan out my day and accommodate for long stretches of time when I wouldn’t be able to snack.

Knowing their schedule ahead of time also enabled me to help the students become adjusted themselves. The first few weeks of school after about two months off can be hard, and the sooner that students get into a routine, the better.

Dress appropriately

If you feel comfortable, reach out before school starts to your principal or a teacher you’re working with to find out about the dress code. Every school is different, and you don’t want to overdress and be uncomfortable or dress too casually and completely miss the mark.

On my first day, I wore one of my favorite dresses with what I had considered to be a comfortable pair of sandals. By the end of the day, my feet were aching and I had realized I could never wear the dress again. I spent the entire day on my feet and moving around, and was constantly adjusting my dress or loosening the straps on my shoes. The outfit used to be perfect for a summer day in the office, but doesn’t cut it in the classroom.

Plan personal tasks accordingly

One thing that has really thrown me for a loop is the lack of time I have for personal errands and tasks. In teaching, there’s no such thing as running to the post office for stamps on your lunch break. You might find you have a bit of time after school ends to run to the bank or get groceries, but a lot of businesses close at 4 p.m. and, even if the kids leave at 3 p.m., that doesn’t always mean you do.

The only real way to compensate for this is to devote more time to errands on the weekend. I consider myself a pretty organized person, but this has forced me to become really aware of what I need to get done on Saturday mornings because I probably won’t have a chance to do it again for another week.

Get to know your fellow teachers

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how open, honest, and helpful the teachers in my placement school are. Even teachers I might not directly work with this semester have offered their support, and it’s really clear that everyone wants to help me succeed. It’s a wonderful feeling and makes me feel even more confident in my new career choice.

At one point or another, all of the teachers I’m working with have been new. They understand what it’s like and realize that good teaching comes with experience. In an office, I always felt pressure to be perfect and on top of things. In the school where I’m student teaching, I’m encouraged to admit when I’m not sure how to handle something. It’s not only acceptable to ask questions, it’s expected, and this has made all the difference in making me feel comfortable in a new environment.

Take care of yourself

Any time you leave your job, you’re bound to feel a little out of your element. You have to get used to a new schedule, new people, and a new environment. The best thing I did for myself was to let go of some control. I haven’t been to the gym since school started, and I enlisted my husband to take over some of the things that I typically do at home.

Being in a classroom full of students all day is rewarding but tiring. Even if you’re used to working longer hours in a previous career, you’ll have so much less energy at the end of the day — especially if you’re just starting out. Ease into it and cut yourself some slack. You’ve worked hard to make this change, and it’s important to enjoy the moment without any extra pressures.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.