I'll have a student teacher this fall, and I got to thinking about my student teaching experience and my first year in my own classroom. If I could do my first year over again, there are a lot of things I would do differently. There are a lot of helpful hints for first year teachers out there, but I thought I would compile a list of my ideas to help you on your first year teaching.
Start teaching on the first day.
I was always told to make the first day exciting. Make it so your students want to come back to school. Well, this is so possible by starting to teach actual lessons that first day. Obviously you will start with introductions, classroom rules and procedures, maybe a classroom tour, but you’ll also want to make sure you have your students engaged in some fun lessons that first day. They’ll get to practice the procedures you have just introduced, and they’ll be able to learn their new grade level standards.
Ask for help.
As a new teacher, it can be intimidating to ask for help. But, let me tell you, don’t be intimidated! Ask you administrator, your BTSA support provider, your teacher mentor, your grade level colleagues, your teacher aides. Ask. Ask. Ask. It’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to get things clarified. Whether you’re asking about where to find construction paper and glue, or how to utilize the Smart Board technologies more efficiently, someone will get an answer for you!
Over plan for the first week.
I am not the kind of “fly by the seat of your pants” teacher, so planning is in my personality. Even with my two boys…I live my life around their naps. Planning. Every. Single. Day.
Be prepared for your entire first week of school. Plan for every minute, and if you don’t get to all of your plans, that’s okay! It’s always better to be prepared than to not have enough to do with your students. Get your copies made, get your technology in order, and have your materials ready to go!
Watch other good teachers teach.
Some districts give you the opportunity to be a part of a mentorship program. In these programs, you can request to observe other teachers. Doing this can help you so much. You can gather ideas, make connections, and validate your own teaching ideas. My first year teaching was in a private school, so I didn’t have a mentorship program. I didn’t let this stop me! I asked my principal if I could reach out to our local public school districts to see if they’d be willing to let me observe some of their finest teachers. Guess what?! They were so accommodating and ready to help this new teacher.
Develop positive behavior/classroom management.
Classroom and behavior management is KEY. Establish it on the first day of school. This is not to say that you need to be mean, strict, or nasty. Your management system can be positive and happy. YOU set the tone of your classroom. Make sure your students know your expectations, procedures, and behavior system. Students want to please you. Reassure them they’re on the right track. A couple things I do for positive management are Student of the Day notes, marble jar, positive behavior charts, brag tags, a heart on the board, etc.
Utilize after school time.
When I was student teaching, my wonderful Master Teacher always told me to try to prepare as much as possible after school for the next day. Boy! Was that great advice! You never know what can happen, so it’s always important to be prepared for the next school day. You could be running late, your kids could be sick, you could get sick, etc. If you at least have your schedule changed for the next day, your copies ready to go, your tables organized, you’ll have less of a stressful morning.
Make sure to connect with your grade level or with a group of teachers at your school. You can also make connections with teachers from different schools who are in the same grade level. It's important to have connections so you can collaborate on ideas, share inspirations, talk about the great days, and vent about the tough days. You'll build some strong bonds within the teacher community.
Keep a growth mindset.
As a new teacher (and veteran teacher), it's important to embrace failures. Your lessons won't always go as planned, your observations may not go as you had envisioned, and some days may just tire you OUT! Don't give up! Keeping a growth mindset will help you stay focused, see the glass half full, and continue to motivate you to be the best teacher. Take crisiticsm as constructive feedback and grow from those pitfalls. Teaching is a career where you're always growing. You cannot be perfect at every lesson, and you learn from each and every experience. Always strive to grow. At one point, you'll look back on your first year and see how much you've grown!
Put students first.
It's important to remember to put students first. Whether they need academic or behavioral interventions or they're struggling socially, it's always a good idea to think about the why behind their struggles. Are there outside forces contributing to their behavior? Is there a cognitive issue that's hindering their learning? When you're planning your lesson, or you're in the middle of a lesson, and you're finding difficulties with a student...take a minute to think about the why and how you can change their behavior. Students have a lot of influence from their home lives, and if their home life is not the greatest, you'll be there to help make school the happy place for them. Be their shining light and their happy place. Keep that smile going!
Keep an inspiration file.
This one is easy. There will be long days. Though days. Sad days. Rough days. But most of all there will be HAPPY days! Keep an inspiration file by keeping nice notes from your students, cards from your students' parents, or notes from your administrators. Look back on these notes when you're having a rough day. These will be sure to keep you going!
Happy first year teaching!