Looking for advice for new teachers? If it is your first year teaching, congratulations on landing your first teaching job! As you embark upon this amazing journey, you will impact the lives of twenty-something little people in countless ways this year. It is an awesome responsibility and a privilege. There will be smiles, moments of pride, lots of laughs, some sleepless nights, and probably a few tears along the way, but my hope is that it will all be worth it. In no particular order, here’s my best advice for new teachers.
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Prioritize What’s Important
Most of us would love a Pinterest-worthy classroom, but don’t spend your whole summer decorating at the expense of learning your curriculum, getting to know your students, or creating a solid classroom management plan. If your space is clean, organized, and welcoming, that is enough.
Find a Mentor Who Inspires You
Teaching is rewarding in so many ways, but it has more than its fair share of challenges and there is probably a lot you don’t know yet. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or go it completely alone. Find an experienced teacher who you admire and who will let you pick her brain now and again without judgment. Be honest about your shortfalls. Ask thoughtful questions. Observe her teaching if you can. Thank her regularly and let her know you appreciate her with the occasional coffee, cupcake, or copy machine run.
Have a Place for Everything
Many school days will fly by and you will find yourself struggling to fit in everything you need to teach. Don’t waste precious time searching for materials or the copies you just made. Have a place for everything. Label it clearly. Labels will make it easier to enlist your students and colleagues in returning things to their proper places. You’ll be modeling strong executive functioning skills for your students and you’ll be less stressed.
Know How Everyone Goes Home
On the first day of school or meet the teacher night, make sure to ask how each child is going home. Write this down beside each child’s name on the attendance list or a classroom chart. Make a call home to find out dismissal plans during your lunch or prep period if needed. Get everyone to their dismissal areas early and check your list to make sure each child is where he or she should be. You don’t want to be scrambling at the end of the day. Mistakes can easily be made when we rush and no one wants to see a child sent home on the wrong bus on the first day of school!
Build Relationships From the Start
Building relationships with students is key to both your students’ academic success and successful classroom management. Students perform better and behave better for teachers who they feel a connection with — the people they know care about them and have made an effort to get to know them. Take the time to really know your students and nurture those relationships right from the start. You’ll be so glad you did.
Tour the School
If you need to walk students to specials, lunch, or recess, make sure you know the best path to each of these destinations. Do a dry run the day before if you can, especially if you work in a big school. You do not want to find yourself lost and wandering the halls with a parade of increasingly noisy second graders following behind you!
Have & Teach a Routine for Everything
Teachers with the smoothest running classrooms have a carefully planned and explicitly taught routine for each part of their school day. Invest the time at the start of the school year to model, practice, and praise students for following the routines you put into place. It will save you lots of time and frustration in the future. One great way to do this is to plan guided discovery of materials in the first few weeks of school.
Have a Solid Behavior Management Plan
Set clear expectations with your students from the start of the school year and follow through with consistent and logical consequences. Without strong behavior management, you may never get to teaching your well-planned lessons.
Find Something to Love About Each Child
This is a big one. Each child in front of you is loved and uniquely special. Even your most challenging student has some sliver of a redeeming quality. Find it, nurture it, and focus on it when you are losing patience.
Communicate with Families
The first time you introduce yourself to a parent or caregiver should never be when their child is struggling academically or behaviorally. Make an effort to contact each child’s family with positive news during the first month of school whether it be through a phone call home, a quick chat in dismissal line, or a quick note to let them know you are enjoying getting to know their child. It may also be helpful to start the year with a family survey to help you to better get to know each child from the viewpoint of his or her caregivers. You can grab a free printable or digital family survey in this post.
Continue to keep caregivers informed as the year goes on. You can send out monthly classroom newsletters or use an app like Remind or ClassDojo to keep the communication going. When it comes to family communication, even a little effort can go a long way.
The best teachers never stop learning and growing. Make professional reading a habit, take a course, or simply observe a colleague teaching whenever you can.
Let Your Students Lend a Hand
Students can and should share responsibility for keeping the classroom clean and tidy. Assign reasonable tasks like watering plants, wiping down tables, and sweeping the floor. Save a few minutes at the end of each day for these jobs to be completed. You’ll be encouraging student ownership of the space, teaching life skills, and saving yourself a lot of time and energy!
Collaborate Rather Than Compete
Teaching isn’t a competition and none of us are perfect teachers. Rather than feeling jealous of the teacher down that hall with the perfect hallway line, ask her to share her secrets! Maybe you can help her build an awesome bulletin board or teach her some cool technology skills. Embrace and share the areas where you excel and work to grow in the areas in which you have room for improvement. When we share and work together it can only benefit our students.
Invest in a Good Pencil Sharpener
You’ll be asked for a sharpened pencil or to sharpen a pencil many times each day. Don’t spend your time fighting with a cheap sharpener that is constantly jamming and eating pencils. Invest in a quality sharpener and take good care of it. (This might mean that only adults use the sharpener or that it is a task assigned only to a trusted few students.) This one is my go-to.
Assume the Best of Intentions
We all have had bad days and I can assure you than not one of us gets out of bed in the morning with the intention of being a bad parent, colleague, or boss. Teaching, parenting, and leading are stressful because they truly matter. Give second chances freely and don’t take things too personally.
Build Professional Relationships
Get to know the school secretary, nurse, lunch servers, and custodians. Do what you can to make their jobs easier and thank them regularly for jobs well done. They are often unsung heroes and our schools could never run smoothly without them. Also, there will definitely be a time when you will need one of them to do you a favor.
If It’s Not Working, Change It
The easy thing to do when something isn’t working in your classroom is usually to blame your students, but that won’t really help to solve the problem. Instead, focus on solutions and address the problem right away and head-on. Do you need to reteach a classroom procedure? Push your morning lesson plan a day and do it tomorrow. Is a class meeting in order? Sit them down and have a heart-to-heart first thing. Remember that you have the power to make positive changes in your classroom and there is no shame in changing your plans if your original plan didn’t work out.
Focus on the Good
You will absolutely make some mistakes this year. You may often feel like you aren’t doing enough despite long hours and your best efforts. On days like that, remember to focus on all the good you are doing. Save the heartfelt thank you notes from parents and drawings from your students. Print out encouraging emails. Pull them out on tough days to remind yourself why it is all completely worth it. I keep mine in a “Notes to Remember” binder. Here’s a free cover page if you’d like to start one.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me. As I wrote this post, one piece of advice seemed to bleed into another. There was so much I wanted to tell you and still, I’m sure that I’ve missed some things. You’ll learn more lessons along the way this first year than I could ever fit into one blog post, but I hope the advice for new teachers above saves you from making a least a few of my mistakes. Even if it doesn’t, I know you will learn and grow from each of them. I sincerely wish you a rewarding and truly memorable first year of teaching.
If you are looking for more advice and opportunities to connect with other teachers, we’d love to have you over in the Second Grade Smiles Teacher Facebook Group. Hope to see you there!