Tips for First Year Teachers

This August I will begin my 20th year in the classroom--hard to believe! For many new teachers, this fall will be the beginning of their journey. After that exhausting job search, you finally have a classroom of your own! Thinking back to my first year, there were so many things I wish I had known, so I'm sharing that advice today. Newbies, this post is for you. Keeping it simple, here are the ABCs of your First Year Teaching.

Simple, practical advice for first year teachers, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

You're the new kid on the block, so instead of letting that bother you, embrace it. Don't waste energy worrying about what you don't know. Instead, learn as much as you can; don't be afraid to...


Ask lots of them! Every school has its own "institutional history," meaning their own way of doing things- routines, procedures, grading, etc. A lot of these procedures are "invisible"- teachers just internailze these procedures over time, and automatically follow them, so that's why it's important to ask about them. 

Ask a Mentor

Many schools assign a mentor teacher to first-year teachers, which is so very helpful! If your school doesn't follow this practice, seek out an approachable, veteran teacher yourself and learn from her/him. 
  • Ask to observe her/him teach and note how they deliver and pace (timing is tricky, but comes with practice) their lessons.
  • Ask them about their behavior management techniques (this is by far the MOST important skill to master your first year- If you cannot manage your students, there won't be much learning happening!)
  • Ask them how they organize their classroom (student work, files and materials can take over your classroom unless they have a proper home!)
  • DO NOT ask to have a copy of their lessons or whatever they are using to teach, unless of course they offer. The goal is for you to develop your own identity as a teacher. Each of us brings our own unique personality and style to teaching, so don't try to cheat the process by "copying" someone else. If you are not wanting and willing to invest in yourself as a professional, then teaching will never be a fulfilling career choice for you. 

Ask a Parent

It's also important to ask your parents questions. Build a relationship with them through positive communication. Many teachers start off the year with a Parent Survey which is a questionnaire about their child. These surveys communicate your concern for their child's well-being and growth. You may continue to communicate with parents through weekly newsletters, emails, text messages and or blog posts (if you have a class blog).

Ask Your Students

And don't forget about your students! Ask them lots of questions to get to know them, their interests, their passions and their dreams. This is especially important when you have students that may present behavioral challenges, but it also applies to all your students. Never assume that you know what is going on in that child's mind or life- we truly have no idea what goes on at home, good or bad.

Lastly, let them ask you questions (notice I did not say, 'question you'!) You are a rock star in their eyes and they want to know ALL about you. It is possible to balance your authority as the teacher with your role as a friend. I try very hard to hear my students out, even when I think I know what they are going to say, and many times they surprise me. Let them be heard - you may be the only adult in their life who listens to them, really listens, and communicates a sense of validation. Sometimes this requires you to dig deep into your patience pocket, but it's more than worth it.

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Finding balance for anyone can be extremely difficult, but must be a priority for a teacher in order to prevent burn out. Much like housework, it often feels like a teacher's job is never done - lesson planning, prepping materials, assessments and paperwork!!! So, how can you manage it all without feeling overwhelmed? Make a plan and stick to it!

Balance Your Schedule

You will need to put in "over time" your first year, just know that and plan for it. At the beginning of the school year, there is a lot to do, so almost everyone stays late or comes in early until they get a rhythm going. Decide which days you will stay late/come in early - do you prefer to do most of your prep and planning at the beginning of the week, or at the end?  Do you prefer to complete some work at home, or will you be distracted? These preferences are really up to you, but decide on a schedule and stick to it so that you will get your much needed rest and rejuvenation time outside of school!!!

Balance Your Goals

Rome wasn't built in a day, and that's doubly true for any classroom! In the beginning, you'll want everything to be perfect, but it won't be - it never is for any teacher, at least not for me!! Be patient with yourself and set small, reachable goals with realistic timelines. For example, decide that you will focus on getting pre-assessments done in ??? days, and they you will start guided reading. Then, you may decide to start with 1 guided reading group a day, at first. You see, there are so many routines and activities that all must come together to make your classroom function, but it all takes time. Don't rush it; that just leads to frustration. This is where your mentor teacher can really help you prioritize what's really important!

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"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn" John Cotton Dana

The best teachers keep evolving as lifelong learners like the students they hope to cultivate. Your first couple of years of teaching will be full of growth in many ways, but beyond that, commit to growing in one area each year. This echoes my advice about balancing your goals so that they are achievable and authentic. For example, in addition to several smaller goals along the way, commit to becoming a master at classroom management and building relationships as I believe this is the foundation of a positive classroom environment. Beyond that, commit to other subject areas in which you can grow as a teacher in literacy, math, or inquiry, for example. 
  • Commit to professional reading. Heinemann is my favorite publisher for professional resources. Many teacher blogs host book studies from time to time, so order your book and join the fun.
  • Commit to classes. Learner's Edge offers lots of online classes for educators at very reasonable fees.
  • Commit to professional learning in your school/district. Look for opportunities to attend workshops in your area, or simply participate in professional learning communities on your campus.
  • Commit to yourself. If all else fails, you can learn on your own! There are LOADS of great teaching blogs out there, not to mention Pinterest and Instagram!!! Back in my day, I didn't have those resources at my fingertips! Ah yes, the olden days before internet :)
  • Commit to positive thinking!
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I hope you found this advice helpful! As you prepare to create your own thoughtful classroom, I leave you with a poem that reminds me why, after 20 years, I am still proud to be just a teacher.

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