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 Year Teacher Tips
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.”
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.”
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 or on the Really Good Teachers forums and we’ll help you get the answers!
Originally posted June 3, 2010. Updated August 30, 2016