First Year Teaching Advice

When I got the call for my first teaching job, I was so excited that I cried in the middle of my summer job at the pool. I knew I was ready to become a teacher, after years of working with kids, two student teaching internships, and a Pinterest board full of ideas. But when I first stepped into training, my head began to swarm with all these new responsibilities. It was so hard trying to remember everything I had to do- check AR, take attendance, tie this kid’s shoe, submit lesson plans on time, write the objective before each lesson, grade papers, keep up with data binders, parent emails, staff meetings, the list went on! The first month was a blur and then I was up to my head with all the teaching responsibilities. I became very frustrated at school because I was having to stay late at school, grade on weekends, and thought about my students 24/7. It felt like I never got a break. But, the year got better, I started to get in the swing of things, and soon teaching became like second nature. At the beginning of every school year, I still get those same feelings of anticipation, excitement, nerves, and stress. However after 5 years of teaching, they start to go away much sooner!

 I could go on and on about the difference positivity makes in your teaching career. Remember how I felt the first few months of my first year? Keeping a positive outlook and mindset was the main thing that got me through that year. (and wine helped too…) Surround yourself with a like minded positive teacher tribe, who lift each other up, instead of bringing each other down. They don’t even have to be in your grade level or subject area. If you are around positive people, you will be more positive yourself. There are always going to be negative teachers or administration or parents. If you radiate positivity and a good attitude, you just may “rub” off on them. Be positive with your students, show them that no matter what they can succeed. Positivity makes a difference!

This one may sound cliché, but building relationships with your students, their parents, administration, and other teachers is SO important! Don’t be afraid to seek out help from other teachers or administration. I know it was hard for me to ask others for help, because I always felt like I had to prove something my first year teaching. I became close with the other teachers on my team, so I always had someone to vent to, share ideas, and just teacher talk with. You might not get along with everyone, and that’s okay! But just remember the first tip- Be positive and try to find ways to connect with them, even if you just share a favorite food or music style!

Building relationships with the student’s parents makes a difference. I know my first year (and every year after, let’s be honest- I look like I’m 22 still), the parents seemed a little worried because I was so young. One Grandma who came in for Meet the Teacher asked me, “Where’s the teacher?” because she thought I was an assistant or someone’s older sibling. They couldn’t believe I was only 22 years old! I made sure to build positive relationships with the parents by sending home newsletters, sending home happy notes, positive phone calls, and just friendly chatting when I saw them in the hallway. The parents weren’t so worried about me being young as the year went on.

The relationship with your students can kind of be tricky. The main key is to base your relationship on respect. If you show them that you respect them, they will respect you back. My first year, I was too lenient with my students because I wanted them to like me. As the year went on, their behavior got worse, as did my classroom management. Trust me, they will like you even if they get in trouble sometimes. I set strict standards and am not wishy-washy when it comes to my classroom expectations. However, I still have fun, make them laugh, do the Go Noodles with them, and even play with them on the playground sometimes (well, maybe not when it’s 100 degrees). One of my students told me that her favorite day was the day I swung on the swings next to her and we sang a Taylor Swift song. Every Monday morning, we take turns sharing something fun we did over the weekend. Getting to know your students and learning more about them helps you build strong relationships.

During my first year teaching, I had a college friend do some observation hours in my classroom. One particular day, she happened to see my worst day of my entire year (probably career too) teaching. Seriously, I was Captain of the Hot Mess Express that day. It was one crisis after another- cancelled specials, failed lessons, technology issues, constant disruptions, tears, and throw up (twice…). I was about to cry myself! I remember thinking how awful of a teacher she must think I am, that I have no clue what I am doing, and there’s no way she learned anything today. At the end of the day, I apologized for my no good, very bad, horrible day, but she was thankful. She knew her first year would be anything but perfect. Watching a first year teacher made her realize that her first year teaching was not going to be like her other observations, where everything ran smoothly. It gave her a more realistic picture, than the other teachers she had observed.

Don’t compare yourselves to other teachers, especially veteran ones. I remember doing observations/student teaching, thinking this is easy. It is a whole other world when it’s just you in front of the classroom. Going into my first year, I was constantly comparing myself to other teachers, thinking “Why can’t my class look like that in line?”, “Why aren’t my students reading at grade level like that teacher?” “Why can’t I think of lessons like that teacher?”, “How does that teacher leave at 3:00 every day?” Rather than comparing, try to observe other teachers- Watch their classroom management techniques and try it in your room. Ask an experienced teacher to come in your classroom and walk you through it, decide on procedures, and help you organize everything. I did this my second year and it helped me immensely. The teacher asked what every little thing in the classroom was used for, talked me through procedures, and helped organize my paper flow (things to be graded, copied, sent home, filed, etc)

One thing I highly suggest your first year is to take time to observe other teachers. I know you did a lot of observations as a college student/student teaching, but it is different when you have your own classroom. If you’re still in college, make sure one of your observations is a first year teacher. It gives you a realistic picture of what your first year will be like, rather than observing a veteran teacher who’s got it down.   

My first year I spent way too much time on little things that don’t matter and wasted so much valuable classroom time. While you are getting your first classroom ready, don’t spend all your time making crate seats, copying that perfect bulletin board on Pinterest, or trying to create a TPT-worthy worksheet. Just focus on making a happy classroom, where students love to come in and learn something new everyday. I hardly remember what my classrooms looked like growing up, but I do remember what I learned and how my teachers treated me. One tip is to use a timer when students are in your room and when they are not. I use a timer during centers, so that I do not lose track of time or run out of time. Also, when you are working on a bulletin board, or lesson planning, use a timer so that you don't spend too much time on one thing. Make a to do list, budget your time per task, and get to work. If I am trying to get something done in a time crunch, I make sure I have no distractions (lock your door, no cell phone, no eating) and just do it. I have a whole blog post on how you can be a more organized teacher and use your time wisely. 
Sometimes, it is better to just let things go. If a lesson does not turn out the way you envisioned it in your head, it's okay. If an observation goes awry, that's okay too! Don't spend all your time worrying about every little detail and rather focus on the big picture: Are my students learning what they need to?

Nothing will go exactly as you had planned. Don’t stress over messed up lessons, chaotic centers, upset kids, bad test scores. Just let it go! You cannot control everything in your classroom.

There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be days where you go home, change into your pajamas, and eat ice cream for dinner. There will be days where you almost start crying because you are just so proud of your students. Let go of the bad days and remember the good ones.

You are ready for your first year teaching. Good luck with your first year teaching. It is one you will never forget! 

1 comment

  1. This was absolutely AMAZING! I'm so thankful for veteran teachers like you that #keepitreal. I would love to host soon to be teachers this year during my own first year!