I’ve seen numerous first-year teachers setting up their classrooms this week. I also got a memory this week of setting up my first classroom, which was surreal. Six years ago, I took a leap of faith, left corporate America, and followed my dream of becoming a high school English teacher. It has been the most rewarding career to date. I’m so glad I took a chance and made it happen. I also have witnessed numerous excellent teachers leave the profession, and it makes me sad. I’m sorry that my babies are just starting school, and we don’t know the state of what the school system will look like in the next few years. However, we will adjust, and I pray changes are made for the better soon.
I complied a list of things I learned and wished I knew as a first-year teacher in hopes of lessening the shock and stress of the first year.
- Get a Mentor ASAP. It is vital to have a seasoned teacher as your mentor. Sometimes, the school will appoint one. If they don’t, ask someone. It should be someone within your department, if possible. Ask the admin if you can shadow and watch your mentor do a lesson. It may be more challenging to do this year but ask anyway. Watching a veteran teacher present a lesson is a game changer. If you can’t find a teacher, ask the admin to do one for you. I even had a mentor teacher that put our classes together for a class period so I could watch her teach a lesson. It was better than any PD I sat through.
- Get to Know Your Admin. They will probably change every year, but get to know the people that you report to.
- Be a Team Player. Get a partner that you can share the workload with. If you are working on the same assignments, take turns making copies and doing lesson plans. One week you do the lesson plan, and they make the copies or vice versa. Just come up with a plan to split the workload.
- Don’t Try to Be Perfect. There is pressure to want to prove yourself in the first year. Don’t! This is the year that you are expected to make mistakes. Use it as a learning experience and take the pressure off yourself to get it right.
- Try to Master Only One or Two Things. There will be a lot of things thrown at you the first year. Don’t try to master all of them all at once. If you try to know Everything, you will fall short on Everything, if that makes sense.
- Don’t Try to Be The Cool Teacher On The First Day. Honestly, the majority of the first semester. You will regret it second semester when your kids get extra comfortable with you. If you try to be the cool teacher too soon, your classroom management will suffer. You can relax toward the end of the first semester. They will see you as the cool teacher who doesn’t play.
- Have a Work/Life Balance. – You will never have enough time. That is the life of a teacher. Choose what is important and leave all the other stuff for later or never. Don’t take anything home.
- Don’t Try to Grade Everything. Some things need to be participating grades. If you are in secondary, utilize group grading on some assignments.
- Spend the First Week or Two Getting to Know Your Students. Do the ‘get to know you’ worksheets and take time to read them. When the student comes in the next day, if you have something in common with them, tell them. For example, I read that you like watching Marvel movies; I love marvel too.” If you like a student’s hairstyle, tell them. Also, plan to attend at least one sports event, especially homecoming.
- Be Consistent And Fair. – Be consistent with your rules and expectations. Don’t play favoritism. You will have a favorite student, but don’t make it obvious. Don’t bend the rules for them. Don’t try to be their friend either. They’re still kids.
- Plan to Meet Their Needs In Other Ways– This is optional but helps, especially if you are a secondary teacher. I used to keep baby wipes, lotions, sanitary napkins, snacks, and spray deodorant in my classroom. It helped with student hygiene and hunger. Some students don’t have a way to take a bath at home. Some students come to school hungry, and the school lunch doesn’t fill them up. They have resources at school, but sometimes, meeting their needs in the classroom is easier. Just be mindful of student allergies, school rules, etc.
- Be Your Authentic Self– This is so important. It doesn’t matter if you are quirky, serious, or you have a peculiar personality. Students appreciate it when you are being authentic. Don’t pretend to be something you are not, especially in high school; they will read you quick, and it will be hard to build community.
I hope this helps! Teaching is not an easy career, and I’m not going to pretend it is. However, it is one of the most rewarding careers. You are literally shaping the future, one student at a time.
Have a fantastic school year!
If any veteran teachers have something to add to the list, comment below.