12 tips for new secondary teachers

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Congratulations to all the new teachers who will be starting their professions this fall. Teaching is a career that can be the most rewarding, yet the most taxing--especially for first-year teachers. Here's some advice to help you get through preparing for your first day and how to get through your first few weeks. You can also check out the hashtag #dearnewteachers on Instagram to find other pieces of wisdom from the teaching community. Special thanks to my friend Sara from Secondary Sara for starting the hashtag and organizing the Instagram loop!

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1. Don't worry about making your classroom look perfect (at least not right away). I made the mistake of spending way too much time decorating my room my first year that I found I wasn't nearly prepared enough for actually teaching. I was freaking out because I had the absolute ugliest room and just a week and a half to prepare for the first day. I spent so much time arranging and rearranging desks, applying and reapplying borders and bulletin board paper, and hanging posters that usually fell off the walls by the next morning that I hadn't really sat down long enough to plan out my first few weeks of teaching. What I learned from the experience is that making a connection with my students and planning engaging discussions and lessons was far more important than making sure I had a cute border around my bulletin board.

2. Make friends with the secretaries and custodians. We teachers rely on our support staff for so many things and they don't get nearly enough credit for all the work they do behind the scenes. Take the time to get to know these people. Ask them about their families, what they like about their jobs, what frustrates them, etc. Be genuine--they can see right through someone who is just buttering them up so they can ask a favor. Remember them before holiday and summer breaks with a gift card, their favorite drink and/or snack, or just a handwritten thank you card.

3. Invest in a good (and comfortable) pair of shoes. I cannot say this enough. You will be on your feet more than you ever have. There is nothing worse than having blisters and having to put on shoes the next day and be on your feet all over again. I have found that Crocs (YES, I said Crocs) make the cutest dressy/casual shoes that are the MOST comfortable I have ever worn (see pics). Regardless of the brand, make sure the shoes have some padding on the insole and sides and straps that won't rub and cut into your feet with wear. Your feet (and back) will thank you!

4. Ask for help. Hopefully, you will be assigned a mentor who is helpful, but if not, do not be afraid to ask people for help. Go ahead and call on your family members, your new coworkers, and/or your former teachers. Every single one of these people wants to see you succeed. And if the people you are asking aren't being helpful, keep looking for someone who is. Believe me, these people are out there.

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5. Photocopy in advance. Don't wait to make copies the morning of the first day because there will be several other teachers who tend to wait until the last minute and that usually causes the photocopier to malfunction. Plan in advance and have copies made so you aren't rushing or panicking at the last minute. Also, try not to make TOO MANY copies way ahead of time, as your plans may change. I remember one year I thought I was so organized and had copies made for an entire semester. My plans changed so much that I ended up not even using half of the copies I made. Planning for a week or maybe two at the most should be sufficient.

6. Learn how to unjam the photocopiers. Unless your school has a policy against unjamming the photocopier yourself, learn how to do it yourself. Go ahead and have someone show you the first time it happens (believe me, it WILL happen). But pay attention and try to do it on your own the next time. The secretaries (or whoever resides over them) will thank you when they won't have to be interrupted to do it for you. Even though this advice seems to go against #4, there's a difference between asking for help once and then doing it yourself and asking for help EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.

7. No matter what you've heard about your students, don't prejudge them. I remember my first year at a new school when I had several people tell me I wouldn't be able to trust my students with some of the things I had on my desk and that they were a pretty rowdy group. Turns out, they were one of the nicest groups of kids I had ever taught. (And they never stole, broke, or messed with any of my stuff.) I didn't listen to these people mostly because I wanted to be able to form my own opinions AND I didn't want to sit and fret the rest of the summer about what a terrible group I would have. The truth is, students who may be awful for other teachers may be wonderful for you. Having a positive attitude--believing in the BEST of your students--is going to bring out the BEST in them.

8. Get to know your students. On the first day (and every day), greet each student at the door. Learn their names and what they like to do for fun. Attend their extra-curricular events, whether it is volleyball, football, academic bowl, or their choir concerts. You will see them in another light and it will mean the world to them to see you there. When they know you care about their lives outside of class, they are more willing to put forth an effort in your class.

9. Keep copies of your first day/week handouts for new students who join your class late.  Whatever you hand out to students the first day/week (your syllabus, get-to-know-you activity, reading list, etc.), have extra copies on hand for those students who join your class later in the semester. Even if it seems pointless to give those students an icebreaker activity two or three or twelve weeks into the semester, it's still a way for you to get to know them.

10. Be consistent. This is one of the hardest things for teachers and something you have to work at every single day. Being consistent means making an effort to treat your students fairly, whether it is with participation in discussions, consequences for breaking the rules, or the amount of homework you dole out each day or week. Students need consistency. It's essential that they know their boundaries so they know what to expect. Establish your rules and procedures, then stick to them. For example, if you normally give out 30 minutes of homework each night, don't all of a sudden assign three hours one night to try to make up for your own poor planning (and we ALL plan poorly at times...so don't get upset when it happens).

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11. Expect the unexpected when it comes to planning. Along with consistency, planning and pacing your lessons will probably be one of the hardest--if not THE hardest--thing you'll find with teaching. So often, we'll have a perfect week planned out for all our classes, then we find out that there's a guest speaker one morning, half your students are gone the next day for a field trip in another class, and on the day you planned a test, there's a pep assembly for the sports teams. The time you spent planning this perfect week has been wasted. My advice: be flexible! (And try not to spend too much time planning because your schedule WILL be disrupted. Guaranteed.) I remember one year planning to finish a novel right before winter break so we could take the test before we left. Guess what? We ended up having snow days and there was no way we could finish it. My poor planning made it harder on my students when it came time to test over the novel. I learned that if I shoot for finishing a unit two weeks before break, we tended to finish it right on time. Every teacher is different and every class of students is different and will require adjustments in your pacing and planning. You just have to be flexible and go with what works for you.

12. Be confident AND humble. As a first-year teacher, you have a lot to offer students. You are younger and have a lot of energy, you have a fresh perspective on teaching, and you can probably relate to the students better than half the staff. Do NOT allow other teachers to make you feel as though you are inferior or not equipped for the job. Believe in yourself and know that you ARE qualified to be a teacher. At the same time, be humble when a veteran teacher gives you sage advice. Don't be too confident to think that you don't need other's advice when they give it. If I hadn't listened to the advice of the veteran teachers, I would probably have a lot more "don't do what I did" stories to share. Also, realize that not all the advice you are given is good advice. But even so, THANK that person for the advice. You don't want to make enemies on the staff, so be humble when they try to be helpful.

Here's a bonus tip:

13. Hang in there. It DOES get easier!

What advice do you have for new teachers? Post in the comments below.

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New Books for Your Classroom Library

I've had more time to catch up on young adult literature over the past several months, so I'm sharing some of my favorites with you--and some that I am highly anticipating--that are essentials for your classroom (or school) library. (Click on the images to purchase via Amazon associates links.)

I wrote about Tomi Adeyemi's book Children of Blood and Bone on my other blog here. It's a different take on police brutality--one that infuses the theme in a fantasy world. (Read my post for more specifics about the plot.) It's also going to be a movie and I guarantee the special effects will be spectacular. Children of Blood and Bone is the first in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy and you'll definitely want to pre-order the second and third books for your classroom, as well. They are due out in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The novel features three different narrators on the same journey but all with different perspectives. It's definitely my favorite book I've read this year.

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira is told in third-person limited point-of-view from the perspectives of two characters: Marilyn, a white 17-year-old in the 1990's who falls in love with a black man, is one perspective and Angie, her 17-year-old daughter in the present, is the second perspective. Angie never knew her father, so she leaves home to try to find him. It's a touching mother-daughter story that also deals with racism and coming-of-age. If you liked Dellaira's Love Letters to the Dead, you'll love this novel.

Last year I wrote about reading Angie Thomas's book The Hate U Give here and here. If you haven't added it to your classroom yet, you need to immediately. It's an excellent and relevant novel about a teenager who witnesses her friend brutally shot by a police officer and the aftermath that ensues in the community. It's the perspective we never get to see on the news: that of the victim's friends and family. The movie has wrapped up filming and is in post-production. It will probably be released sometime in 2019.

Her next book, On the Come Up, will be released June 5 of this year. This story is about 16-year-old Bri who aspires to be a rapper. Her father lost his life just before he hit it big and she's determined to make it despite all the odds that are stacked against her. It's sure to be an inspiring story about perseverance your students will appreciate.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is the story of Justyce, an intelligent, well-rounded teen who finds himself the victim of police profiling and injustice.  He writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in an attempt to deal with his feelings and wonders if things have even changed since Dr. King's death. Dear Martin, like The Hate U Give, gives readers a new perspective on current events, showing the other side of the story the media tends to ignore.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a different take on the fantasy genre; Alice's grandmother, who was the author of cultish dark fairytales, dies then Alice's mother is mysteriously taken by someone claiming to be from Alice's grandmother's fictional world. Alice is just 17 and must befriend her grandmother's superfan to try to find her mother. It's dark, creepy, and mesmerizing--definitely characteristics your students love.

Bear Town by Fredrik Backman (author of A Man Called Ove) is about a struggling small town, its successful hockey team, and a rape scandal that could destroy practically everyone. It's a serious novel that tackles the serious issues and moral dilemmas in an honest and compelling way. This is more appropriate--and a must-read--for high school students.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton begins like a normal young adult fantasy novel in which beautiful girls are treated lavishly but turns into so much more. It's deep, thrilling, and tackles tough issues along the way. Because of its cliffhanger ending, this is definitely the first of a series.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway is another multiple-perspective novel that tells the story of three teenagers (who are siblings) who were separated as infants but find each other and reconnect as a way to deal with the different losses and struggles each has faced. If your students like the tv series "This is Us," they are sure to enjoy this heartfelt novel.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez is another book that deals with parent relations. Julia's older sister was the "perfect" daughter, taking care of her parents and doing everything they asked. But when Olga dies in a tragic accident, Julia struggles to deal with not only her loss but the expectations her parents have for her. She learns secrets her sister had that reveal maybe she wasn't so perfect after all. It also gives an inside look at children with immigrant parents and the struggles they face growing up in America.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo uses a novel-in-verse style, which flows with emotion. Xiomara is a teen who is caught between following the rules of her church and parents and following her own desires. Teens will relate to the frustrations and passion in this unique coming-of-age novel.

Scythe and Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman are the first two books in this powerful new Arc of a Scythe series. Set in a seemingly perfect world where there are no diseases, no war, no hunger, and no misery, two teens must become Scythe apprentices and learn how to control overpopulation by taking the lives of others. This series opens up so many new questions of ethics and boundaries. It's so hard to put down once you start reading!


Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Emily Carroll is a must-have in your library. It's the graphic novel you never realized you needed until after reading it. I loved the book and after hearing it would be a graphic novel, I thought it was an odd choice. But it proved me wrong; it's just as powerful (maybe even more so) as the novel.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland was just released this week. Set in a reimagined post civil-war America, the North and South must join forces to take on a new enemy: the zombies that rise from the dead to kill them all. Ireland tackles the topics of slavery and racism in such a different way, it sticks with the reader.


Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is the third (and final!) book in The Illuminae Files series and was released last month.

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray is the sequel to Defy the Stars and was released this week.

Rebound by Kwame Alexander is a companion to his novel The Crossover and was released this week.

The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth is the sequel to Carve the Mark. It will be released next week (April 10th).

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas is the fourth book (or should I say 3.5--it's a novella and an "in-between" book) in the A Court of Thorn and Roses series and will be released May 1st.

War Storm by Victoria Aveyard is the fourth and final book in the Red Queen series. It will be released May 15th.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer and will be released October 2nd.

Share the books you've been reading or any that are must-adds for your classroom library in the comments below. 

You can also follow me on Instagram (@mrsorman) to keep up with my latest reads.

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I teach high school English in Illinois; enjoy family time, baseball, collecting PEZ dispensers, and talking about anything related to my favorite books. They include The Hunger Games trilogy, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Chaos Walking trilogy, and anything written by Amy Tan.

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