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Tips for a First Year Teacher

Photo by Christopher Sessums (flickr.com)

Have you just landed your first teaching job? Chances are you are excited and nervous and feeling a bit in over your head. Never fear, we have some of the best advice for new teachers from teachers who have been in the trenches. The advice today comes from Liz, a High School Teacher in Indiana and Karen, a 1st Grade Teacher from Tennessee. These teachers have some amazing tips to get you started on the right foot.

First Things First
If you do not take care of yourself, your first year of teaching will be ten times harder than it needs to be. “When you’re a busy teacher, the temptation to skip meals and skimp on sleep is strong,” says Liz. “Resist the urge to stay up ‘just a few more hours’ in order to create perfect lesson plans. The most perfectly planned class period will still flop if you lack energy, feel grumpy, or can’t think clearly. On the flip side, when you are energized and sharp, even ‘winging it’ can be somewhat successful!”

Liz also recommends developing a healthy sense of humor. “First-year fiascos abound, so learn to capitalize on them. When appropriate, laugh at your mistakes. Let your kids catch you laughing at yourself. Laughter alleviates tension while creating a fun moment for your students.” Above all, she says, be realistic. “During your first year of teaching, it’s tempting to nurture your dreams of the ideal classroom. But it’s better to make sure your expectations are realistic. Thinking about improvement is positive; dwelling on shortcomings is not,” Liz explains. “Don’t be afraid to evaluate your performance as a teacher. Focus on one area or one subject or one day at a time. If you feel overwhelmed about which area to focus on first, get input from a trusted colleague or supervisor.”

Photo by laffy4k (flickr.com)

Seek Advice
Karen is also a strong advocate for reaching out to other teachers for guidance and tips. “When I began teaching fifteen years ago, one of the hardest things for me to do was to ask for help from colleagues. I was afraid they would see how inexperienced I was and judge me as incompetent. I have since learned that asking for help is one of the strongest and best things I can do for my students, my fellow teachers, and me. By admitting I needed help, I allowed others to feel helpful as they shared their wisdom and experiences, which I, in turn, could use to benefit my students,” she says.

“Nowadays, although I am a seasoned teacher, I continue to ask my fellow teachers for guidance. For example, when I began a new teaching placement (which can feel like a new job entirely), I asked my new teaching partner for any suggestions she knew worked best for first graders,” Karen explains. “She had wonderful ideas that helped even a veteran teacher like me grow. In addition, I offered her ideas from my experiences; we shared ideas and each of us learned from one another.  If, as a brand new teacher, you think the sharing will be a one-way street, think again,” she says. “Remember, you may be more aware of cutting-edge research and techniques than your teacher-colleagues. I, for one, am always eager to pick the brain of a new teacher for exciting and innovative teaching ideas.”

Photo by mrserica (flickr.com)

Outside the Classroom
Liz encourages new teachers to get outside the classroom, as well. “During the first year it can be easy to become a workaholic, skipping school get-togethers in favor of working. But staying in balance and staying in touch with others is just as important as teaching itself,” she explains. Find balance by taking walks with friends after school, going shopping, or simply reading a book totally unrelated to teaching. You are more than a teacher, so keep the other aspects of your life in balance, as well.

When things get rough, as they inevitably will during your first year of teaching, remain positive. “Sometimes, despite loving your job, the road will get bumpy and you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed and a bit discouraged,” Liz says. “It’s times like these when you must resist the temptation to focus on just how bad you feel. In these moments, trying to protect yourself, defend yourself, prove yourself, or gratify yourself usually leads to regrettable responses and poor decisions. On the other hand, you can give yourself a break and begin focusing on all the positive aspects of your teaching day. Soon, your thoughts will begin supporting you again.”

Congratulations on your new position! You are going to do great!

Do you have some first year teacher questions that you need help with?

Leave a comment below and we’ll help you get the answers!


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37 comments
Courtney
Courtney

Congrats on your job. In your first year, I would focus on developing specific routines and procedures. Write these down on paper and think of a routine/procedure for everything (going to the bathroom, walking in line, sharpening pencils, getting kleenex, moving to centers, turning in homework, lining up at recess, sitting at lunch, preparing for dismissal, etc.) The more procedures you have in place, the easier it will be for both you and your students. Also, try to get organized. Set up folders for parent notes, transportation changes, student portfolios, parent contacts, etc. Administrators often ask for things without notice and it's much easier if you don't have to go searching for it. No matter how much you prepare, things will happen that you can't control but don't stress. The good thing about being a teacher is that you can always make adjustments and try things differently the next year. Good luck :)

Shannon
Shannon

I will soon begin my first year as a 2nd grade teacher and am excited but nervous. One concern of mine is becoming too consumed. I remember a professor telling us how her marriage suffered and I don't want that to happen to mine. The following line really speaks to me, "you are more than a teacher, so keep the other aspects of your life in balance, as well." It's all about balance and I must remember that. Thanks for the post. I appreciate the advice and look forward to more. :)

Bobbie
Bobbie

Brittney: Thanks for your tips for kindergarten. I started in November last year as a long term sub and took over in January. So I missed the first 2 months and I am really nervous about it. I know that they will cry and I will too, but I want to feel prepared for the first day. As of now I don't.

Laura
Laura

Wow, I'm overwhelmed by all the responses! Thank you all so much for your advice... I truly appreciate that you took the time to respond and share your experiences with me! Great tips and ideas. I'll keep you updated on how my preparation for the school year goes. :) I'm feeling more mentally prepared already!

Kirsten
Kirsten

Wow, there's so much good advice here. I am entering my second year of teaching, and moving from fifth grade to kindergarten. I was a late start teacher last year, and only had half a day to set up my room. This year, I really want to do a better job of using the space we have, and setting up centers that meet my students' needs. Any advice at all is most appreciated!

Jessica
Jessica

I left a comment on the FB page as well. First, Harry wongs' The first Days of School, is Fabulous. I wish I had it my first year. Second, routines, routines, routines. Rountines for handingin folders, going to the bathroom, lining up to leave the classroom etc.... these set the tone for your classroom and the res of the year. also, a great first day ice breaker is the book The kissing Hand.

Sofia Dirkswager
Sofia Dirkswager

I am starting my 4th year and each year it has felt like the first. I was hired two months into the first, moved to a different grade a month into the second year and had preterm labor in the third year. I have to say that I have yet to complete the year myself. The one thing I felt very comfortable doing was always asking my team for advise. The were very supportive. This year I have been moved to a new school and I am hoping for the same support because I am not one to not ask questions when I need advise...Its like we tell our students...if you don't know or are not sure, just ask. Have a great first year! It will go by soooo fast.

Nicole
Nicole

After teaching 5th and then 4th for the past four years, I have been moved to 2nd grade for next year. Thank you for all the wonderful tips/suggestions; they are putting me much more at ease!

Kelly
Kelly

My first year of teaching officially began on Back to School Night. There was an overflow of students and thus I was offered a job. I was thrown into an empty room, had to move students' desks in and had no clue what to do. I am more of a "wing-it" type of person so I didn't panic but looking back to that time 5 years ago, here are some suggestions. My biggest suggestion is to build a strong relationship with your other teammates. Use their expertise and experience to help you structure your first couple of days. As they say, there's no since in trying to reinvent the wheel. Take what your teammates are willing to provide and at that point you can put your own spin on it, rather than think up everything from scratch. My team had told me to ask for anything at the time, but I never knew what to ask for! So I truly think a strong team collaboration will truly help you, regardless of what grade you're teaching, and regardless of how many years you've been doing it! Don't worry about having the perfect room right off the bat. My first day I was lucky enough to get up a calendar and one bulletin board for Back to School Night. It'll be understandable. Remember, it's the curriculum and student learning, not the decor, that is most important. This year a lot of us are moving around and we probably won't know our new room assignments until about a week and a half before school starts! So believe me, I am spending time focusing on getting organized so I can focus on my room when I am able to get in. Take baby steps so you don't get overwhelmed. Throughout the year don't forget to do small things just for you. You will find yourself probably doing too much. Simplify when you can. And don't forget to breathe! :)

Melissa
Melissa

You are going to be receiving many tips and suggestions from fellow teachers, but it's important to remember to do what works for you.

Melissa
Melissa

Congratulations to the new teachers. My advice would be to not buy too many things yet. If you haven't seen your room, you might end up overspending on things that you don't need. Also, check with your school/teachers to see what kind of manipulatives are available at your school. This will save you from buying things that you already have to use at your school. To prepare, start reading those curriculums! They can be quite overwhelming, so it's always a good idea to start looking at them. You may also want to work on setting up/making some centers. Children love centers, but making them can be quite time consuming.

Brittney
Brittney

Laura Feel free to email me and I can send you tons of tips and websites to look at. brittmale@gmail.com Britt

Brittney
Brittney

Patsy, I also taught 2nd grade before being involuntarily moved to Kinder. It was the best thing that ever happened to me! I really think you will love it. The first month or so is rough depending on your population. Most of my students came to me never having been to preschool or daycare. Almost every single one of them cried (including myself) the first few weeks and to make it even crazier, I had 33 kids all day long. I tell you this because no one told me and I almost quit! But after we got the hang of things and I learned NOT TO BABY them, things got much, much better. They are so much fun at that age and will say the silliest things. Another bonus, everyday they would tell me how much they love me. If you want to teach a grade where you feel important, teach kindergarten! Have really high expectations of them. Share 2nd grade curriculum with them, many will remember because they are little sponges. A big tip I have is to start your morning by reviewing each letter and sound and all of the high frequency words. I was the only k teacher to do this and my students did the best at phonics. I can go on and on but if you would like, email me brittmale@gmail.com and we can talk more. Good luck! Brittney

HeatherW
HeatherW

I have taught 5th grade for 9 years & just got moved to 4th. While it's not the same as 2nd grade, tips are helpful no matter the grade level. Some things I do that really help me get the year off to a great start: 1) I organize my desk area FIRST. I usually spend about two hours getting my desk & area set up & organized. This helps me tremendously because I know where everything I'm going to need to do the majority of my paperwork is. I keep small bookcase & a small two-shelf end table behind my desk to store all of my teacher manuals, supplemental books, notebooks, etc. These are next to my filing cabinets. 95% of what I need can be found within 3 feet of my desk. 2) I keep "permanent" bulletin boards. This depends on the type of person you are. I don't mind decorating b.boards, but they can be very time consuming. Two years ago I started buying a few yards of cheap fabric which I then used as the background to most of my bulleting boards. The fabric lasts so much longer than the paper, looks nice, and doesn't fade as easily. I can change my boards a lot quicker now! It's just one less thing to think about. 3)Create a Parent Packet - this should have a letter to parents that introduces you as well as tells about how you run your classroom, rules/rewards/consequences, grading scale (if applicable), and anything else you want parents to know upfront. I usually have my parents sign it & return in the first week of school. I have found this to be invaluable later on; when problems arose I could refer back to the packet they had received. This helped me to stand by my decisions & procedures, as well as reminded the parents that they agreed to support these. Plus, it gives parents a chance to prepare themselves & their child for the year ahead. I hope some of these tips have helped. Good luck next year - Believe in yourself!!!!

Jill
Jill

Simple is better for you and your students. You can make loads of plans but until you know your students, you can get specific. Be prepared with an idea of routines you would like to establish. Don't make yourself silly following tons of websites, blogs, authors, etc. Pick one that seems sensible to you and do it. Watch your co-workers, learn from them, especially the established ones. Make friends with the secretary, the custodian, and your lunchroom workers. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Amy
Amy

YAY! I LOVED teaching second grade! Since you can't get into your room yet I would start with lesson plans. Your state should have a department of education website where you can find your standards. Get an idea of what you want to start with (usually the "easiest"). Ask some other second grade (or first grade) teachers what your students should be able to do on the first day of school. Don't go to in detail with your lesson plans right now because things can change. Your state or school may have a certain order they want you to teach the standards in (pacing schedule). Also, go shopping! No really, you don't want to be left shopping for your classroom decorations and such the last few days before school starts because 1. you'll be in a hurry and 2. your local school supply stores will be low on everything and 3. you won't have time to get it from online unless you want to spend alot on shipping. Once school starts, set a time everyday that you want to go home (mine is 5:00) and stick to it. If it's not done by 5:00, it can wait until tomorrow (so make sure that anything that HAS to get done by tomorrow you do first). It helps you prioritize. You will soon find out that a teacher's work is never done. You will always be able to think of something else to do or make. HAVE A GREAT YEAR!!

Bobbie
Bobbie

I am a first year teacher as well. I came in, in the middle of the year last year and took over for a teacher who didn't return after having a baby. Thanks for all the tips!

Mary Jacobs
Mary Jacobs

Just like Laura, I too will be teaching 2nd grade for the first time. I am a veteran teacher (10 years) but have only taught 4th and 5th grades. I am looking for a few good books to read to the kiddos during circle time. I am looking for books that help teach or reintroduce manners or school rules. Any of you have suggestions????? The only one I can think of is The Giving Tree. I need more for the first week though. THANKS for the help and the tips you have already posted.

Betsy
Betsy

Congratulations Laura! I taught 2nd grade for 16 years before being moved to 3rd last year. I love second graders! You will too! A few things to think about now: * a classroom theme such as rainbows, apples... whatever your theme, plan activities centered around that theme for your first day that are fun, yet educational - art, "cooking", math games, story time... Look online for ideas. Enjoy your first day with them and get them excited to come to school! * try to get your manuals so you can see what your first week will look like - if you can't get the manuals, find out the publishers and look for them online. * start thinking about your behavior plan so you're ready to put it into place the first week of school - think positive: daily rewards, weekly rewards, etc.. But also think of consequences that you know you can implement. * start thinking about your opening welcome letter to parents and/or send post cards to your students when you get your class list * meet with your grade partners * if you're in a large district, check the website and check out 2nd grade teachers' websites or look at any districts' websites that are close to you - many teachers have fabulous websites with many links and have opening letters posted already * you'll need a class calendar, ABC wall cards, flash cards for + and -, most probably a bulletin board for outside your door, name tags for the first day, desk/name tags, birthday chart and little gifts, job chart, 1 to 100 number chart, possibly a number line for over the board, pocket charts.., but check your room first to see what is already there - unless you want to start new with your own things Best of luck Laura!

Cheryl s
Cheryl s

You need to figure out what routines you want and start them on the first day of school. Keep with them for 2 weeks before you change them. Get with a veteran teacher on your team and ask them for help. Make sure you talk to them alone so that you don't get too many people giving you information from others. Go in and get curriculum guides so that you can work on that. You usually can't get into your classroom to work until a week or two before teachers report. Stay calm and get the curriculum under control, behavior management comes with experience! You will probably change your classroom set up a hundred times and your management technique butthe curriculum dies not change! Find out if your school is a PBIS school or has another management system because that may be what you have to use! Good luck!

Becky
Becky

I would also recommend the book "Why Didn't I Learn that in College?" as well as "Smart Answers to Tough Questions." The first is much more updated than the old Harry Wong texts. It offers practical advice on everything from what kind of procedures you need to think about, how to handle parents, and using the Standard Course of Study to guide your teaching. That company, Just Ask Publications, has some other good books out too (to read AFTER you've started!). The second text, "Smart Answers to Tough Questions" is a research-based book of "rebuttals" to questions parents may ask you. Best of luck to you. One day at a time, and make sure you have a good mentor. If you don't like the one the school gives you, self-advocate and find your own. A good mentor can make all the difference and you'll have someone to back you up.

Christina Demonbreun
Christina Demonbreun

Relating to my previous post; I've taught for 15 years and have done this for first and second grade classrooms.

Christina Demonbreun
Christina Demonbreun

Make sure they have a routine when they walk in the door. This alleviates problems from the beginning. I have a mailbox for them to put their planners and homework folders in. They have a basket with file folders with their names on them, for them to put their homework in. They have a morning journal to write in. Our school has free breakfast, so the only thing they may not get to is the journal. As far as the homework basket, I used to have them put it in there lose, but then had to sort everything. If a parent asks if homework was turned in, I look in that child's folder and can tell right away. Without a morning routine, they want to mill around, talk, visit. They can talk and visit with whoever they sit next to while they are eating or working on their journals. I don't do specific morning work because they enter at different times, plus that is one more thing to plan and to make copies of (or put on the overhead). The journal is just a duotang with copy paper in it. They have to write and illustrate and only one page a day.

Carla
Carla

Hey Laura: I've been teaching for 17 years, most of which have been 2nd grade. (some K and 1). I love 2nd graders and I am sure you will, too. I agree that the room set-up should be a priority. One suggestion that I will make is to start leveling or organizing books, and putting them into baskets. If a veteran teacher left you a lot of books, that would be one of the things I'd do over the summer. Take the books home, and level them using the scholastic book leveling or the Lexile leveling system. Whatever system your school uses, I'd start getting the books in some kind of organized system. ReallyGood Stuff has great book baskets that I couldn't live without! Good Luck!

Debi White-Tippery
Debi White-Tippery

Congrats Laura! I hope you have a wonderful year! Here are somethings I do every time I start a new grade level assignment: 1) Become familiar with the content area and state standards 2) Map out the content (really "rough" draft!) 3) Think about what you want the students to know about how your room works! Classroom management is "Key to Surviving the Year"! Knowing your expectations for: hand signals, homework days, consequences of behavior (positive and negative), "woker" roles, restroom & water breaks, early finishers, group work...etc I generally pick a theme and center these things around the theme. For instance, this year we are the "Tip-Top Travel Agency". I use a lot of Kagan structures, so my groups will have "traveling" names. They could be engineers, pilots, explorers, conductors, tour guides...and so on. I generally work on my web-site before the year begins, my "back to school" newsletter, plan the "meet and Greet" and look for low cost ways to energize the students. Are you able to contact your new team leader? He/she might have some things to share that will save you a bunch of time! Good luck...and continue to reach out! Debi Sarasota, FL

Jeff Johnston
Jeff Johnston

Congrats Laura! Life is about to get real busy for you! Without knowing when you can get into your room, I am still going to make the following suggestion. I always start with getting the physical room set before I deal with any thing else. The summer cleaning crew has cleaned well, but all the furniture needs to be repositioned. I get the furniture moved where I want it. I get bulletin boards decorated, as well. I teach departmentalized Lang. Arts and Science, so I make sure one board each is designated for those two subjects. I know our primary teachers also use one of their bulletin boards for "Morning Meetings" that include a calendar, weather report, etc. Of course, if you are inheriting a room from a veteren teacher, you may need to do some major sorting of items that have been left behind. I would take some time to look through those "treasures" to see what resources you utilize. (I am a bit of a hoarder, so I tend to hold on to things.) Once I get the physical room set up, I can than tackle the scheduling and curriculum needs. I hope this helps!

Pam
Pam

I think that if I were her I would start roaming the teacher stores or online stores (like RGS) and decide what kind of calendar, borders, theme, etc. she wants to use in her room - and then buy and laminate them. (Laura, my rule is that if a small child can touch it, it gets laminated. It will make your stuff last for years! It's worth the extra effort - trust me on this.) I'd also try to get into my room NOW to see what you can do as far as decorating, etc. so that when you HAVE to be there (are on contract) you are messing around with putting up bulletin boards, etc. You can then concentrate on the important stuff - like lesson planning, etc. Also, call members of your team and try to get together with them. They will be very helpful in this area.

Donna
Donna

Congratulations! Spend your energy on 1. The basics you will need regardless of grade, like nametags, desk nameplates, ABC/123, pencil sharpener (and containers for ready to use and need sharpening), a conduct chart/behavior system, etc. It is fun to do it all in one thems! 2. Think through your procedures. For EVERYTHING. Procedures are what make my classroom run smoothly. Think about changing centers, getting a new pencil, restroom, moving around in the room... EVERYTHING. 3. Get organized. Think through waht your students will bring you each day (notes, lunch money, homework?)and plan for how to keep them. I like an accordian file, with one section for each child. A binder for you, for lesson plans, a calendar, faculty meeting notes. GOOD LUCK! Some websites I still use frequently: http://www.jmeacham.com/ http://www.mrsnelsonsclass.com/ and especially http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/free-resources/organization

Kristina
Kristina

Laura, Congratulations on getting a position in 2nd grade! It's the best age! Some advice from a 2nd grade teacher in her 3rd year: 1. Know your standards because they will drive your curriculum and they're usually necessary to write on lesson plans. BUT don't let them drive you insane trying to make sure each lesson has a specific standard. 2. Let the kids see you fail and don't be afraid to fail. We play school so much sometimes that our students don't see the real world in our own classrooms. 3. Read the book Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers and follow her blog because she delves further into literacy than any other person I know. She helped transform my teaching last year to be more than teaching skills. 4. Reflect! I started a blog this past year and it has helped me truly reflect on my teaching. You don't always want to admit that what you've done didn't work, but it will be for the better in the end if you are honest with yourself and with your students. 5. Get connected with the community of educators online. I also started that this year by joining classroom20.com and signing up for a Twitter account to follow amazing educators. I even got to meet many of them at a conference in Denver last week, which was inspiring. There is a whole world of people online who are working to reform education, push technology to be used like it is in the real-world, and develop the survival skills that are now necessary of our students in the real-world (read Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap to know more about the survival skills). There's even a special event every Tuesday night on Twitter called edchat that educators from around the world participate in and it pushes your own beliefs and thinking on many things. Overall, have fun and enjoy your first year! It may be stressful and exhausting at times, but love every minute of it. If you're ever looking to connect with another 2nd grade classroom, we'd love to work with you! Hope to see you on Twitter! Find me @Mrskmpeters

Karen m
Karen m

The most important tip in the article to me was to seek advice. That is so hard when you're not feeling very confidant. Know that you are a good teacher, otherwise, you would not have been hired. I had to daily affirm that to myself. I would wake up and say, "I am a good teacher. Good teachers seek and give help to each other." Asking veteran teachers was the smartest thing I could have done. It builds a sense of community, a network to rely on, and let's you know that you are not alone. Visiting websites, such as this and proteacher, are tools to use to build community outside of your school walls as well.

Rebekah
Rebekah

Last year I was moved from kindergarten to 3rd grade, that was a big jump, and I felt very unprepared! What helped the most was to ask my fellow teachers for ideas as well as sharing mine. Laura, if you can't get into your room, I suggest just looking at the materials that you will be teaching and familiarize yourself with them. Plan out the pacing for the year. Good Luck!

Laura
Laura

I just got a job as a second grade teacher! I'm very excited, but also nervous as I haven't been able to get into my room yet and start getting ready. Any tips on things I should start working on now before I really know what to expect? I want to get ahead of the game, because I know I have alot to get ready before September!

Ellen
Ellen

Becky, Good luck in your first year as a special educator! I have been a preschool special education teacher for 10 years. My best advice: As a paraeducator, you are probably already quite familiar with student interaction, dealing with parents, and classroom activities/management. So you have a jumpstart on other first year teachers who were not para's first. But the paperwork that goes along with special ed students can be quite daunting. Leave yourself a little time every day to keep track of paperwork--IEPs, assessment data, etc. Keep track of phone calls/parent contacts. Since I normally have student files (IEPs) before the school year starts, I try to contact all of my parents a few days before school starts to introduce myself, answer questions and get additional information that may not be in the IEPs--in addition to working IEP files, I keep an emergency book of all contact information and health info (allergies, etc) for students. Feel free to email me at ellen_zuckerman@dpsk12.org for ideas/tips/just sharing ideas as you start your school year. Good luck! Ellen Denver, CO

Patsy
Patsy

After 25 1/2 years in 2nd grade, I have been moved (not by choice) to Kdg. Any hints and ideas you have would be greatly appreciated. Certain wevbsites you go to for help? Thank you!

Becky
Becky

Anyone out there who has some tips/advice for a first year special ed. teacher? Don't know what type of classrooom I will have. Experienced in nearly everything and P-12 as a SPED paraeducator. I will take any help given! :-)