Friday, August 9, 2013

{Back to School Week: Helpful Advice for First Year Teachers}

     Hey, y'all!  I'm sad to say that after this post, Back to School Week is over besides a recap that I'll post tomorrow.  This last post is actually for a Facebook fan who is just starting her teaching career.  She asked for any advice I could give.  
     Well, I have advice to give, but I have LOTS of teacher friends too, so I requested on my personal Facebook page that my teacher friends give their advice as well.  I've compiled it all together in this post, and I hope it's helpful for a few teachers.
    You might have read all the latest pedagogy books, watched all the latest gurus' videos, and went to all the education classes you could possibly go to in college, but just be aware that not everything is going to be perfect that first day and probably not any day after that.  That's the nature of teaching.  You might talk too fast one period and finish too early, and the next period you might slow everything down and not get finished.  You might forget to say THE most important piece of information you were supposed to say.  It's okay.  Teaching is a constant learning process.  Isn't that ironic?
     If you've met any teachers that had your students last year, you've probably already heard all about Little Johnny.  "Little Johnny was so bad for me."  "I feel so bad that you are going to have Little Johnny your first year."  "You might as well go ahead and have some discipline slips written with Little Johnny's name on them."  I'm not saying your colleague is lying.  Little Johnny might have been the worse student she ever had, BUT that doesn't mean he'll be the worst student you'll ever have.  Have you ever met someone that you didn't get along with because your personalities didn't "mesh" well?  That happens with students and teachers.  Little Johnny and your colleague might have had personalities that just didn't mesh or maybe she let Little Johnny know what "buttons" he could push to annoy or anger her and he took advantage of that.  So on the first day of school, don't go ahead and label Little Johnny a problem child.  Some of my favorite students have been students that other teachers thought were problem children.  For whatever reasons, those students liked me, and we always got along.  And you know what?  Little Johnny might end up being a problem child for you too, but don't give him that label before he earns it.  ;)  
     As with anything in life, you're going to have bad days in the teaching profession.  You'll have a day when nothing seems to be going right.  You might have lessons planned that just don't work.  You might have a "run-in" with a student.  Or your principal might point out something you need to work on when you thought you did everything perfectly when he was observing you.  It's okay to have a bad day.  Just don't let yesterday's bad stuff mess up today.  Part two of yesterday's lesson plan that you were planning on doing today?  Just rework your lesson plan today.  Try something different.  Your students won't know if you don't go exactly by what you have written down in your lesson plan.  That student you had a run-in with yesterday?  Don't treat her any differently today.  You'll be surprised how the student will react when you don't treat her like she has the plague today.  And what your principal told you to work on?  Just work on it.  I have never met a perfect teacher.  We all have room for improvement.  If you start getting bogged down with yesterday's failures and altercations, your job is going to become something you dislike, and no one wants to go to a job everyday that she dislikes.
     We've all been there.  We start our first year of teaching.  We can't use a test or quiz from the book because we're super teachers, and that just won't do.  We MUST make everything from scratch because no one can teach like we can.  We were BORN to do this....every bit of it...from scratch.  Yeah, that lasts about a week if that long, and you'll realize quickly that there's not enough time in the day to make everything from scratch.  And what's even worse is that you'll realize you don't know the answer to everything.  One of the things I believe from the very bottom of my heart is that your best resource as a teacher is the veteran teacher next door or down the hallway.  From my experience, those teachers will be willing to share lesson ideas, worksheets, tests, quizzes, and answers to those questions you can't answer.  And on those days when you want to quit teaching because you've had's too hard...that teacher can put things into perspective for you and give you the encouragement you need.
    That's my advice.  I'm not an expert by any means, but that's what I've learned along the way.  Here's the advice my Facebook friends shared.

"Always have a back-up because nothing goes as planned!"--Leigh

"My former principal told me to write all the stories down because it will be an adventure.... And my advice: don't stress. What I learned my first year was the main thing is to show the students you truly care for them because that is what they will remember the most....."--April

"Over plan. Some students can complete assignments quickly. Call parents immediately when there is misbehavior in the classroom. I feel it sets the tone and boundaries within your classroom. Be over-organized. Don't be afraid to ask a teacher any question. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Especially with regards to discipline."--Michelle

"Ok, this might sound irrelevant but if you've ever graded papers at midnight and had 3 or 4 without a name then you would understand....I have my students highlight their name (specific color for each class) before they turn it in. After 20 years of teaching...this was my first year I didn't have a problem with 'no name' papers. I keep a container beside my turn-in basket with highlighter for each class."--Lisa

"Get parents involved! I always had a parent helper sign up sheet that would go out at the beginning 0f the year. I had help with my small reading groups, make and takes, grading, class parties, you name it! Oh! And I posted a 'giving tree' with paper apples on my door. Each apple had suggested supplies parents could donate to our classroom."--Kara

"Don't take yourself too seriously. It is OK to say you don't know the answer but you will find the answer. Keep a log/calendar/etc. and document any communications with parents, teachers, etc. Your mind will be too full of 'stuff' to remember conversations. Also, use one binder or notebook for all faculty meetings and inservice notes."--Donna

"Middle and high school teachers: (1.) Make a file for any papers/forms/tests/projects/curriculum documents, etc. that you may want to use again in the future. Organize these files in a file cabinet. If you are organized, then planning lessons becomes easier. (2.) In each class, pick out a 'bouncer'--a student whom you can trust to 'have your back' and help you calm down unruly students. This helping student is usually easy to spot in the first few days of class: he or she is the one who smiles and wants to help but just needs some encouragement. (3.) Invest in school supplies during the back-to-school sales and make these supplies available to students on a pay-as-you-go or free basis based upon the student's situation. (4.) I solved the NO Pencil problem with my high school classes: students could borrow from one another or buy a new mechanical pencil from me for 25 cents. Students always came up with a quarter whether from their own pockets or borrowed from someone else. After years of lending pencils and never getting them back for re-use, this solved the problem."--Sue

     I hope all this information is helpful for someone out there!  I've really enjoyed back to School Week.  Thanks to everyone who followed along.  If you missed anything this week, you can find it {HERE}.


  1. Such great teaching advice! One more thing to add...PRAY! Pray for wisdom, insight and an extra dose of patience and love. My mom taught 1st grade for 40 years and prayed everyday for each child by name...even Little Johnny! Puts things in perspective.

    1. You're so right, Michelle! I can't believe I forgot the most important advice of all! Thanks for adding it. :)

  2. Great tips - I am sure that lots of teachers are a bit scared of that first year, even though they are excited about it at the same time!


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