I’m getting ready to start my 5th year of teaching and had a request to do a post on First Year Teacher Tips. Let me start by saying, I do not by any means consider myself to be a “veteran” teacher. I’m just hoping that I can share some helpful tips of the trade I’ve pick up along the way with those who are just getting started or those who want to take a trip down memory lane! 🙂
Long hours and short lunch breaks make it easy to start skipping meals or running to your closest fast food joint for your next one. Even if you’re not a chef in the kitchen (I know I’m not) bringing food to work with you increases your chances of getting some good food into your body, which is essential to making it through the day!! Just grabbing snack breaks here and there will keep you going. If my kids are having snack, I try and have a snack. If I get stuck on a phone call during lunch or a meeting after work runs longer than expected (they usually do) I can grab something from my bag and power through!
5. Learn Thy Standards
Do the words Common Core ring any bells? Even if you’re not in a Common Core state, your state and district has grade level standards that they expect you to be teaching. You can’t just bank on the fact that the curriculum manual you were handed at orientation will cover everything. It will help if you have taken the time to read through your standards and continue to revisit them over the course of the year. I like to keep mine printed and in a fun binder for quick reference.
8. Be Intentional With You Room Layout
I spend a lot of time shuffling around my furniture whenever I inherit a new classroom. This is phase one for me in setting up my room. Before any decorating or curriculum prep, I need to have my room laid out. But before you can really set up your space, you need to make decisions about your teaching style. Will you be teaching in small guided reading and math groups? If yes, then you will need to set up a table space where you can work with a group and still be able to see what the rest of your class is doing. Will your students work in centers during the day? Then you will need to make sure they have easy access to the materials they will need and a defined workspace. Traffic flow is very important!
9. Don’t Pile Too Much On Your Plate
Repeat after me, “I can do anything but not everything!”Your first year you may feel pressure to become involved in as many extras as possible because you want show your enthusiasm and support of your new school. This can quickly lead to over commitment. You will already be working in overdrive your first year to handle everything you need to do for your students each day. If you volunteer for too many committees or after school activities, you may find yourself quickly burning out. I advise you to just pick one thing that you’re really interested at becoming involved with and sticking with it this year. Another great way to show support is to volunteer to help with an event night. Maybe there is a Literacy Night committee that you’re not a part of that requests volunteers to help out with things the night of the event. That’s a great way to lend a helping hand and support your school community without over committing yourself to another responsibility that lasts the duration of the year.
- Advil/Tylenol for headaches
- Personal hygeine items. (Confession: I have driven to work before only to realize I forgot to put on deodorant!! What!? So now there is always a bar in my swag stash!)
- Extra set of clothing juuust in case… (paint, glue, puke. When working with kids it’s all fair game people!)
- Chocolate. Always Chocolate.
11. Hold Onto Your Lesson Plans
One of the main reasons your first year is so exhausting is you haven’t written any lesson plans yet. And now you have to write lots of them! So hold on to them. Yes you will want to continue to add to and evolve your plans each year as your groups change and you find new things to bring to the table. But keeping your initial plans allows you to work smarter and not harder year two…three…four…and onward.
12. Pick a Focus
I’m going on year five and I still struggle with this one. You’ll want to do it all – be the best reading teacher, the best math teacher, the best classroom manager that your students have ever known. And you’ll want to do it all right off the jump. It’s in our nature to want the best for our students. But you really will accomplish a lot more of what you want to do if you set 1-3 long term goals each year. List your goals and space them out so that they’re broken into realistic chunks of what you want to accomplish.
13. Find Yo-Self a Support System
Hopefully you are automatically paired up with a brilliant mentor or have a rock star team that will have your back!! But all you really need is one person. Find a teaching bestie! Someone you can vent to in confidence, turn to for suggestions and advice, giggle with over the crazy things kids say, and tag team watching your class for you when you just can’t hold it until lunch.
14. Take Your Work For A Joy Ride
I can’t tell you how many times I lug home a bag full of papers only to leave them in the backseat un-touched until I get back to school again the next day. I know how hard it can be to just step away but you have to do it. Make plans with people to do things that you love. It’s easier to walk away when you have committed to something and would be letting others down if you bailed.
15. Ch-ch-ch Changes
It’s okay to admit that maybe the current seating arrangement that you spent hours strategically plotting in an effort to separate your talkers is not in fact actually working that well. Take a deep breath, grab a piece of chocolate from the swag stash, and try a new arrangement. Are you hating your behavior management system, the one with the three colored cards that your entire team uses but just isn’t jiving with your crew? Don’t be afraid to try something new that works better for you. At the end of the day you have to do what’s best for you and your class and it’s okay to switch things up. Kids are way more adaptable to change then us adults are, and far more forgiving.
16. Buy Oranges (In Bulk)
Everyday you will enter a room full of new germs who will try like clockwork to take you out right before parent teacher conference week. So take your vitamin C, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and Lysol like crazy.
17. Maximize Your Wall Space
Don’t feel compelled to cover every inch of your classroom walls with stuff before the first day of school. You should look at your walls as a teaching aide that is with you all day everyday! Post things that your students will refer to throughout the day to help reinforce what you’ve taught them. Anchor charts, word walls, focus walls – all of these are things your students will refer back to and utilize even when you’re working with a small group or helping out the kid who tied their shoelaces to their chair during snack. (Been there, done that.) These items should find their way onto your walls over time as they’re taught. Rules, calenders, schedule cards are all things kids will refer too during the day. But if you start the year with everything you’re going to teach already hung up, it can be overstimulating. Also, you want to save space to display student work!
18. Friend The Janitor and The Secretary
Trust me on this one. These are the people that will help your life go round at work and you will want to make fast friends with them! Show genuine appreciation for all that they do. I mean, would you really want to tackle the surprise that first grader left on the bathroom floor? Or be on the front lines for every parent phone call that comes in during the day? Daily thank you’s plus a cupcake on a birthday or holidays go a long way. I’m just sayin’.
19. Be Thrifty
All the awesome things you see in veteran teacher rooms that make you green with envy, they didn’t get there overnight. Rugs, iPads, book bins for every student, pillows, chair pockets, ginormous libraries- you don’t need it ALL to start. It’s easy to blow through your life savings with one trip through the Lakeshore catalog if you’re not careful. You can find baskets and bins galore at The Dollar Tree. Donors Choose can help you start to bring some of those fun extras into your room. You can also score some good finds by browsing sites like Craigslist and typing “classroom” into the search engine. One thing you might want to consider investing in year one – mailboxes. You will use mailboxes every year again and again so it is worth it to purchase a sturdy set.
20. Just Keep Swimming…
Some days the score board will read Students: 17 Teacher: 0 and all the tricks that you swore were up your sleeves that morning still won’t save you. Go to sleep at least an hour earlier than usual that night. And just remind yourself, tomorrow is a new day! My first year was long. At times it was overwhelming. The thought, “What have I gotten myself into,” may have crossed my mind a time or two ten. But you didn’t get into this line of work because you thought it was going to be easy. You got into it because you knew you’d get to effect lives for the better, everyday. So pace yourself, and enjoy the ride! Experience is the best education. I learned more my first week in the classroom than I did my first year at college and you will too!!