May 23, 2019

My Top 10 Tips For Brand New Teachers

10 Tips for New Teachers

To those of you who are entering into the teaching field for the first time this fall--congrats! I hope you enjoy the journey and your students. There's so much to get done and ready for as a first-year teacher, so I jotted down my top ten tips for new teachers--or look at it as the advice I wish I had my first year of teaching.

#1. You know that phrase "you cannot do it all and do it well?" That just became your work-life motto. Teaching requires a great deal of flexibility on so many levels because education trends are constantly changing, the district and school are constantly changing, students are changing... there's just a heck of a lot of change happening around you and to you non-stop. So if you go in with the mentality that you are going to do it all and succeed, I'm going to be kind enough to burst that bubble right. now.

Prioritizing is a skill that is hugely needed in work environments like teaching, and the good news is that the more you do it, the better you will get at it. So remember to breath. The first year is as much of a learning experience for you as it is for the students. Pick a couple of things to really focus on each year--not the whole elephant, otherwise, you will burn yourself out very quickly. Don't volunteer for every opportunity that arises in your school building that first year either. Your classroom doesn't have to have pretty, perfect posters everywhere. Focus on things like the content your teaching, classroom management, and developing good relationships with the student and their parents. Keep the expectations you have of yourself high, but also make sure that those same expectations are also reasonable and achievable for each year. A couple of helpful sub-tips:
  • Get a Teacher Planner--There are many kinds and varieties out there, the important thing is to find one that you will use and works the best for you. Also, don't be afraid of spending a little bit more on a quality planner either than the thin, generic versions out there. You're going to be using this every single day, so if you're ever going to get a nice planner, now is the time. *Psst! This one from Emily Ley looks super cute, and if I were teaching this year it would be my pick
  • Learn how to make quality, lasting goals for your career. I adore using PowerSheets for this!
  • Ask for help when you need it!

#2. Don't compare yourself to other fantastic teachers. Learn from them? Yes, absolutely. But remember that you have your own unique set of strengths and ideas that compose a unique teaching style that's all your own. (Hopefully, that played a large role in why your administrators hired you in the first place.) It is never fair to expect a new teacher and well-seasoned teacher to be performing at the same level. So please don't put that pressure on yourself right out of the gate. When you find a mentor in the field pick just a couple of things to try in your own room, but don't try to copy everything they're doing. 

#3. Don't underestimate the importance of back to school night. Back to school night is, in my opinion, the best first impression you're giving to the parents and caretakers of your students. Show your excitement for the year and communicate to them how your classroom is going to be structured and what they can do to help the classroom community and their individual student flourish this year. This is the night where you want to make sure that you are informing the parents of your own expectations, boundaries, or anything else that is going to hold true for the year for everyone in it. Make sure you go over policies that you feel are especially important for your grade-level that night. For instance, I always went over how parents could communicate with me, but also what the boundaries were (e.g. I had set times when I checked my e-mails, and only allowed texting in emergency cases). You can read more of my practical tips in this blog post: Making the Most of Back to School Night.

10 Tips for New Teachers

#4. Those first 6 weeks of school set the tone for the whole school year. There's an old saying that teachers shouldn't smile until Thanksgiving. If you're inclined to believe that and frown for the first three and a half months of the school year, please don't. No one likes being around someone who acts unhappy all the time no matter their age, and you're giving yourself more wrinkles. But, the first 6 weeks are all about setting routines, management of your room, expectations, procedures... and then practicing them like crazy! Trust me, if you take that time to establish all of that for that first part of the school year you will be saving yourself all kinds of messes that could potentially rise up later in the year. Get yourself a copy of The First Six Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom and The First Days of School by Harry Wong and Rosemary Wong. These are your new bibles as a teacher--study and rely on them because they will break down what exactly you should be doing to establish your classroom those first 6 weeks. 

First Grade Anchor Charts

#5. If you make anchor charts that you are likely to use for multiple years in a row, then for the love honey, laminate those! I LOVED a good anchor chart while I was in the classroom. I realized early on though, with the amount of time I was putting into them to make them super colorful and pretty, I really needed to be getting multiple uses out of them in my classroom. That's when I figured out that if I laminated them they could function as a whiteboard of sorts if I used erasable markers on them and post-notes to track the learning on them. Just generally speaking, if there's ANYTHING paper (posters, student samples. etc.) that you want to have on hand year after year as a physical copy--go ahead and laminate it. Most local teacher stores now will laminate larger items in their shops for a minimal fee too if the laminator at your school only does smaller sized items. 

#6. Make a budget. Teachers pay for soooooo much for their own classroom materials it is not even funny. The first year of teaching I spent around $600 of my own personal money, and then consistently, each year it was somewhere between $300-$400. And if I factored in all the extra hours I put into creating things for my classroom (like writing my own curriculum for subjects that the school at the time didn't want to purchase for us), I'm sure those numbers would be a heck of a lot higher. However, depending on your school or district, you may get to pick some items for your room or make requests for certain things. It is still advisable to figure out a budget and an itemized list of things you want to have, and then prioritize them. One of my rules when making purchases was that if I had to spend my own money on something then it needed to be on things that I would get use out of for multiple years--which is why so much of my personal money was used on books, games, and furniture. Then the money I was given by the school was used primarily on supplies for projects that were going to get used up each year

#7. Remember to document... pretty much everything. Of course your plan book and planner document how you spend your days and your time. But always make sure to document your interactions with parents, administrators, meetings, incidents between students, when students leave the room and the reason... and so forth. Is it sometimes exhausting? Absolutely. However, if any issue ever arises you will be so glad that you have at least notes to look over and recall what happened, who was involved, and when it did happen.

#8. Avoid the teacher's lounge--or wherever it is everyone congregates. Develop relationships with your co-workers and in the appropriate way talk about your struggles with trusted mentors--but don't feed into the gossip and ranting/venting that can often happen in the lounge area. Often I found it was mostly negative, which never helped my stress level the first year of teaching.

#9. Take careful notes of what you'd do differently from your lessons (reflect). You'll really thank yourself later if you end up teaching the same material or grade level to have those notes in re-planning for the upcoming years. It makes your teaching easier in the long-run as well because you'll be better prepared and won't likely make the same mistakes you made the first time around. Take pictures of student's work from lessons you enjoyed teaching as well as examples to show future students. 

#10. Take care of yourself. You will not make for a good teacher if you are over-stressed, tired, skipping lunch, not taking breaks from school work when you're at home, etc. Self-care is a priority because it makes you a better teacher. Figure out a self-care plan that's going to work well for you and prepare for it. Think beyond the basics of sleep, rest, nutrition, and exercise--all extremely important--don't neglect those. However, consider taking up a hobby that's not related to your job. Set some boundaries on your work because this is a job that very easily can bleed into your home life. One thing my mentor teacher taught me when I was student teaching was that as much as possible, always go home at the end of your contracted time. It can be hard, but it is a good habit to develop for several different reasons. One of which is that it helps other people to see that your home life is valuable and needs to be respected--it doesn't deserve to always be at the whims of school. Staying after work hours (in my opinion at least) isn't going to make you a better teacher in the long-run. And education as a whole needs teachers in it for the long-haul, but that means we have to be serious about setting up the framework that's going to actually aid that effort.

For those of you more season teacher out there, please don't hesitate to add your own tips and advice in the comments below!
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