5 Tips for First Year Teachers

Dear first year teacher,

Welcome to the world of teaching. You most likely have just come from the whirlwind of student teaching. You think that was hard? You are now completely responsible for twenty something little humans. I want to remind you, YOU CAN DO THIS. You have been prepared for this. Unfortunately no amount of classes, practicums, or training can truly prepare you for taking on your own classroom. It just can’t. You can compare to your student teaching, you can hear ideas from co-workers-people will be so eager to tell you the right way to do something. Let me tell you a secret: there isn’t really a RIGHT way to do something. Of course, there definitely are wrong ways. But as long as you navigate away from the wrong, it is up to you how to find your groove of what the right way is.

As you step into your classroom for the first time and brainstorm how to make it your own, it will be completely overwhelming. Your mind will start to race and your heartbeat will follow suit. If the tears struggle for an exit, let them come.  You look around and you see a drab classroom and it seems impossible to imagine anything could come out of it, that children could learn in such a place.

You eagerly look up blogs on how cute your classroom could be. You pursue Pinterest, search the Dollar Store, tear apart Target, “wish list” everything on Teachers Pay Teachers. All of that is wonderful, and there are some amazing ideas out there, thanks to the wonderful people who take the time to post their talents on the internet.

But I want to remind you to slow down. It is SO easy to compare yourself to what others have thought of, and suddenly you think it MUST be that way. It doesn’t have to be. Take ideas from other teachers and make those things into your own. Don’t make the mistake thinking you can’t be original, or you can’t put your own spin on things.

I recommend living by the rule: simplify. Teaching is hard enough work. KEEP IT SIMPLE. By “it”, I mean the parts of teaching you can control.

Here is a list of important things to think and expound upon as you prepare for your first year teaching. (Each section I will go more into detail in future posts).

1. Have a behavior management plan

This is number one because without it your classroom is more susceptible to frustration and possibly failure. Your school may have a school wide behavior management plan, or you may need to make one yourself. In my school we use PBIS as our school wide behavior management system. You can learn more about PBIS here. On top of the school wide behavior system, it is so important to have a classroom behavior plan. If it corresponds with your school, great. Just remember it needs to be something that will work for you. I am a simple person, I get overwhelmed easily. I need simplicity or honestly I forget to do it. I use a clip chart in my classroom, but I made it a miniature one (inspired by this lady). I did this for two reasons:

a. The big clip chart created a problem my first year teaching. It was humiliating for students when they moved their clips down. I watched them crumble when they were told to move their clip down and all of their peers watched. It didn’t matter that I praised them after and they moved it up quickly. They were embarrassed.

b. The other reason I use a miniature clip chart is for the size! It is portable. I take it with me to assemblies, I carry it while I am walking around the classroom, or walking students throughout the school.

On the clip chart I have miniature clothespins, you can find those at Walmart in the craft section. They break once in a while, so get enough for replacements.

I assign each of my students a number at the beginning of the year for privacy on the clip chart and their cubbies. You can get a copy of the clip chart from my TPT store here. It is editable, so you can fill in each color however you want

2. Simply organize

I am the worst at organizing! I’ve always thought: Wow, I am really good at organizing my clutter! This is where simply organizing comes in. (Now if you are a great organizer PLEASE comment below and help me and others with your brilliant ideas!) For me, I have to organize my classroom in a simple and easy to access manner.

Pick a system and stick to it! That’s always been my biggest problem. I’ll create a space for math tests passed back and then I won’t put them in that space.

I also started to organize my materials by subject. My filing cabinet is by subject. My shelves of manipulatives are by subject. This is helpful for the last minute lesson idea, for kids to grab a center and go, etc.

3. Get to know your curriculum. Don’t be overwhelmed by planning for the entire year. Just get to know the lessons you will be teaching for a week, two weeks at the max. It’s hard to plan farther than two weeks when unplanned assemblies pop up, fire drills happen, and students have off days. It’s important to have flexibility in your planning.

4. Ask for help. When I graduated college I was reminded of the phrase some teachers live by: “beg, borrow, and steal”. Beg other teachers for copies and lesson ideas, borrow ideas and make them into your own, and steal ideas you may see and want to replicate. Although always give credit where it is due! My first grade team has helped me beyond anything I could have done on my own. You don’t have to be on your own.

5. It’s ok to say NO. After my first year teaching I learned to be strong willed. I now have no problem standing up for myself when I feel overwhelmed. The beginning of the year will come and go and it is so easy to take on too much. If you are prone to anxiety, like myself, it is important to know your breaking point. There will be faculty expectations, extra meetings, parents pressuring you, social media ideas pressuring you, PTA expectations, and the list goes on and on. Just say no. Be respectful, volunteer when you can. But it does not make you a bad person to stand up for yourself and take care of YOU. Your students will pick up on your attitude each day, don’t bring them down because you took on too much and didn’t make them your priority.

I plan on more in depth posts on these 5 topics in the future. Hopefully these help for those of you venturing in to the wonderful career of teaching! Rely on your teaching peers, we are here to help each other, not one up each other.

And there is always room for humor: