As you prepare to begin your first year of teaching, you’re probably experiencing a whirlwind of emotions: excitement about meeting your students, anticipation of what the school year will bring, and maybe even a bit of nervousness about embarking on this new journey. The good news is that being nervous is completely normal. The better news is that there are many who came before you who are ready to share their knowledge and wisdom to help you succeed as an educator. Here are 20 pieces of advice for teachers, from teachers.
20 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers
1. Find a mentor: Your school district may already assign you a mentor as part of their new teacher onboarding program, but if they don’t seek out someone in your department or someone who teaches a similar grade level. Use this resource to bounce ideas and issues off of, and learn from their invaluable experience.
2. Plan for the year and for the week: As a new teacher you’ve probably planned and replanned countless lessons for the year. And while it’s easy to get busy and only plan for the unit or the semester, it’s important that you think about the short term and the long term. Plan for the year (decide your units, plan your calendar, etc.), but also plan ahead every week. Having a set schedule will make your life much easier.
3. Set clear rules and stick to them: There’s a saying amongst educators: don’t smile until after the winter holiday vacation. While that might sound a bit extreme, what they mean is that students will test you early on, so it is imperative that you set clear rules and stick to them. When students know what is expected of them, they feel more secure and have a clear picture of the standards you’ve set for your classroom.
4. Be flexible at school and at home: It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting perfection from yourself. However, that will only set you up to be overly stressed in an already stressful working environment. Be flexible with yourself both at work and at home. Didn’t get to everything you wanted in the lesson today? That’s okay, do it tomorrow. Is that laundry piling up because you’re exhausted? That’s okay too, you can tackle a little at a time. Give yourself some grace, you’re doing a great job.
5. Don’t try to do it all: It’s your first year teaching, so you probably want to leave a good first impression with your colleagues and your administrators by volunteering for additional duties and lending a hand for school-wide events. While that can be a rewarding part of the job, it’s important that you don’t take on more than you can handle. You don’t have to do it all, you just have to do your job well.
6. Understand your role in students’ lives: Over the years you will build meaningful relationships with your students, and they will look back fondly on their time in your class knowing you helped mold them into who they are today. That’s a great gift, and probably part of your motivation to become a teacher. However, don’t lose sight of your overall mission to help your entire class. Some individual students may require additional support, but be sure to not accidentally neglect your other responsibilities.
7. Teach respect and anti-bullying: Outside of primary subjects and grade-level standards, respect and anti-bullying might be the most important things you can teach your students. In a time where respect seems to be lacking, teaching your students how to be good people and why it’s so important will be arguably the most impactful and long-lasting lesson they will take from their time with you.
8. Empathize with your students: Being a kid today is very different from when we were growing up. There’s more technology and social media than ever before, and these things are creating a unique environment in which to grow up in. We have seen anxiety and depression on the rise in children, so as a teacher, it’s important to understand and be empathetic to everything they might be dealing with.
9. Empathize with yourself: Just as important, be empathetic with yourself. You are also living in a very uncertain time, and on top of that you’ve just started your career. You will make mistakes, you will feel stressed, and that is okay. Be patient and understand that everything is a learning experience.
10. Create a plan for parents: Some parents are hyper-involved with their child’s education, while others are more hands-off. Have a plan in place to deal with all types of parents. That will likely include a communication plan where you set clear boundaries about what the parent can expect from you. But you should also use parents as an ally: they usually only want what is best for their child, and will sometimes be willing to lend a hand when you need it.
11. Manage your classroom fairly and firmly: Just as you set clear expectations when it comes to behavior rules, you need to do the same when it comes to classroom management. Hold students to the same standard when it comes to due dates, test taking procedures, and other classroom management related parameters.
12. Ask for help, and learn from your mistakes: This can largely be where your mentor comes in, but many new teachers find great advice in online forums and groups. Use these resources to ask for help, gain new perspectives and then use this knowledge in your classroom. Just as you tell your students, everyone makes mistakes, but mistakes are also great learning opportunities.
13. Get advice and support from fellow teachers: You’re going to spend countless hours at school, during school hours and before and after. During this time you will likely build relationships and bonds with your fellow teachers, some of whom will grow to become friends. Use these people as a resource, and seek out advice from your fellow teachers. This is a less formal setup than with a mentor, but it can prove to be equally beneficial.
14. Build professional relationships within your school: People don’t often think of education when they think of professions that can benefit from building a robust professional network, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. By spending time building professional relationships within your school, you will build the foundation of your network that you can rely on later down the road in your career.
15. Keep up with the times: Technology is a huge part of our lives today, and that also goes for education. When used effectively, technology can be a wonderful asset to support student learning and diversify your lesson options. If you’re not the most tech-savvy teacher, there are a number of online learning options that can help you master technology in the classroom.
16. Don’t let work overshadow your personal life: Yes, you are a teacher, but you are also a human being with a life! Don’t let work take over, and make sure you make time for things outside of the classroom. By nurturing your personal life, you will make yourself a more well-balanced and happier teacher in the long run.
17. Practice self-care: Part of nurturing your personal life means practicing self care. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the school year and your many responsibilities, which can contribute to heavy stress and anxiety. By pampering yourself now and then — or even just making time for things that make you happy — you will find you have more clarity and energy in your classes.
18. Always remember your motivation: Why did you want to become a teacher? Maybe it was your passion for a particular subject, or maybe you want to make a difference in the lives of children. No matter what your motivation is, always remember why you do what you do. It will power you through the tough times and make the good times even more special.
19. Take your classes outdoors when you can: Even if it doesn’t necessarily fit with your subject or lesson, getting outside with your classes is a wonderful idea. Not only does it break up the school day, but fresh air and being outdoors has been proven to have multiple benefits for children.
20. Continue learning yourself: This is arguably the best piece of advice for new teachers. While you likely just got out of school, it is crucial for your development and your students' learning that you continue learning yourself. That can take many forms: professional development, conferences, continuing education or even just self-driven exploration. No matter what you choose, both you and your students will benefit.
FAQs About Being a First-Year Teacher
Q: What are some first-year teacher resources I can access online?
A: There are countless resources for new teachers available online and for download. A few websites that have aggregated a lot of good content include:
Q: How can I find a mentor?
A: Odds are good that your school or district will assign you a mentor the summer before you begin your first year, or as part of your hiring. If they don’t seek out someone who works in the same grade level or subject as you, and simply ask them if they wouldn’t mind showing you the ropes as a new teacher. They have been in your shoes, and certainly will have great advice and wisdom that you can learn from.
Q: Are there continuing education options specifically for first-year teachers?
A: There are! Your school or district might offer in-service or professional development days specifically for new and first-year teachers to help you get acclimated and prepared for the school year. There are also some continuing education programs, like the Beginning Teachers Series offered by the University of San Diego, that was designed by teachers, for teachers, to give them strategies and resources they need to succeed.