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!
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.
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).
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.