1. It’s going to be ok.
Your first year of teaching is HARD. Ask anyone. In addition to your classroom duties (lesson plans, teaching, grading, assessment, parent/teacher conferences), you may also experience things like PTA committees, paperwork for EVERYTHING, professional development requirements, training requirements, before and afterschool duties (bus/lunchroom/parent pickup), and staff meetings. There will be days where you feel like you should just go get a desk job, but then there will be MORE days that remind you exactly why you got into the teaching profession. Don’t worry. Every year you will gain more experience and knowledge about the craft of teaching. IT’S GOING TO BE OK.
2. It’s ok to ask for help.
If your coworkers and administrators don’t know what you need, then they can’t do anything to help you! In my first year of teaching, I didn’t have the resources that I needed and didn’t address the issue until the school year was almost over. Once I asked for help, I was given an abundance of materials to use in my classroom; it completely changed not only the way that I taught, but also the way that my students learned. I wish that I had asked for help sooner! It doesn’t mean that you are an unqualified teacher; it just means that you don’t have all of the answers yet.
3. Start tough, and then loosen the reigns.
When it comes to classroom management, it is much easier to start tough with your students and then loosen up. Beginning the year with strict classroom policies helps to create a rapport with your students and a routine classroom procedure. After your classroom rules and procedures are habitual, everything in your room will run more smoothly. Teachers with excellent classroom management will enjoy fewer discipline problems and being able to have fun as well as work hard with your students. On the other hand, trying to be your student’s friend at the beginning of the year will lessen their respect for you; they will think that they are on the same level as you. This attitude will damage the student-teacher dynamic for the entire school year.
4. It’s never too late to improve your classroom management skills.
Classroom management skills are something that you will continue to work on and experiment with your entire career. A teacher’s classroom management technique is one of the fundamentals of their classroom. Just as a baseball player is always looking for ways to better their game through batting practice and ground ball drills, a teacher should always be researching and applying proven classroom management techniques to their teaching.
5. Be consistent with your students.
No matter what age group you teach, students need consistency in your classroom. This means having a set procedure for the beginning/end of class, missed/late work, bathroom policies, and how to answer questions or participate in group discussions. If your class knows that these procedures are always expected, your classroom will run more efficiently. As a music teacher, your overview for the class may look something like this: 1) enter the room, 2) put materials together quickly, and work on “do now,” 3) go over the work as a class, 4) warm-up, 5) rehearse music, 6) provide an assessment (whether written or performance) and then class would be over. If your students know the basic outline of your class, they will come more prepared.
6. A good working relationship with your administration and staff is important!
Forming a strong working relationship with your principals, secretary, and other staff members is important! The administration should believe in what you are doing; this comes from trust. Communicating with your principal is key; focus on small, positive interactions to help build the foundation of your relationship. It is your responsibility to communicate your classroom needs.
In my first year of teaching, the school’s secretary was my absolute favorite person on campus! She had my back, helped me with paper work requirements and deadlines, how to take a day off (and everything that goes with missing work), how to purchase new materials, and more.
First year teachers need the support of other staff members in order to be successful. Utilizing the other teachers in your area, or throughout the school, is a great way to facilitate team building and teaching across the disciplines. Just remember, build a network of support and don’t try to do everything by yourself!
7. If you don’t like your current situation, do something to change it!
Breaking your contract is often not an option. However, if you are not happy in your current job (or life) situation, do something to change it! You are in charge of your own happiness. In most cases, your first job will not be your last, so continue to search for the place that is the right fit for you!
8. Inspire others through your hard work.
Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. We’ve all heard this before. It’s not until you put this advice to practice that you realize everything that you are capable of, not only as a teacher, but as a person. Yes, you can go through your career only doing the minimum and be just fine. You did the job and got a paycheck. Awesome! Teaching is about more than dollars and cents; it’s about changing as many lives as possible. How do you do that? By inspiring others through your hard work and dedication.
9. Remember why you began teaching.
Never forget why you began teaching; the students. When the days are tough, think about the lessons that were successful in your classroom, or the times when the students were excited about learning, or couldn’t wait to tell you something great that they achieved. It is our job to share our knowledge and passion for our subject with our students. Remember to make your class about life as well as the subject matter; when students leave the classroom, they should be better people and more prepared for life in the real world.
10. Be an advocate for your students.
Every student that walks through your door deserves someone who will advocate for his or her education; a person that will show them that they are worth their time, and pushes them to not only do their best, but reach goals that they never thought were possible. Students just need someone to encourage them. There will be students that are told that they aren’t smart or capable of achieving their goals. There will be students that don’t know where their next meal will come from. You will encounter students that are living in volatile or abusive households and are afraid to go home at night. As teachers, it is our responsibility to provide a safe environment for our students to take risks and to learn. Your students need to know that they are IMPORTANT and can achieve anything that they put their mind to.
11. Be the teacher you needed when you were younger.
We all had that teacher or professor that we went to for advice. For some of us, these teachers are still making a difference in our lives today, whether it is by direct impact or through their memory. These teachers were there for us when we were young, even when it may not have been convenient for them. Now, we get to do the same for our students. Think about the type of leader that you needed, and when students come to you for help, take the time to listen. You never know what conversation or act of kindness could change a life forever.
12. Pay it all forward.
One of the best ways to thank your teachers for everything they have done for you is by paying it forward. Yes, thank you(s) are very important, but taking their inspiration and investing in other lives is just as important. Why? You are a teacher because people took the time to pour their hearts into your education. This is because they knew that YOU ARE SPECIAL. It is your turn to continue on the legacy of giving; time, money, and resources.
13. Have fun!
Most of all, remember to have fun! Your students feed off of your energy, and if you are having fun, they will too! Be funny. Be daring. Take chances. Do something out of the box. Those are the lessons that your students will remember the most. Teaching is an adventure. Your students will never cease to surprise and amaze you. Your adventure has only just begun!