Congratulations! You are finally a teacher! A dream come true. I remember those days very well. I almost didnʼt believe it was real until I walked into my first classroom and saw those naked walls and that piled up furniture staring back at me. You will certainly get lots of advice from lots of people. Remember that in the end, this is your classroom. The classroom youʼve wanted for so long. Think carefully about all the advice you are about to be given, especially the ten tips from me that follow.
1. Stay informed, but donʼt obsess over current political actions, education reform, biased news reporting and especially publicly posted comments related to education.
There is great value in knowing what is happening in the world of education outside of your classroom, and I strongly recommend it. Do yourself a favor and find a reputable, unbiased source of educational news. Support education advocates that align with your views, but as a new educator, leave the actual advocating to them for a while. Youʼre going to have your hands full.
2. Donʼt feel pressured to do it all.
As a new teacher, you might find it a bit difficult to maintain a class website, teacher blog, head up a committee, create interactive whiteboard lessons for every subject and tutor students for free after hours while youʼre finding your way in our profession. In time, you may find yourself drawn to one or more
of these very valuable, rewarding endeavors, but give yourself a while to find out who you are as a teacher and then build on the strengths that naturally emerge.
3. Save your money for really important things. You will be tempted to buy treats and gifts for your students. You will want pillows and chairs and rugs for your reading area. You will want each student to have the best book box and you will want your class library to be overflowing with books in every genre. You will want educational software, homey room decorations and almost everything you see in teacher catalogs. You will want things you see in other teachersʼ classrooms. But remember, those things were accumulated over time. Some were probably donated, scavenged at garage sales, clearance aisles and friends who were moving. And they werenʼt all begotten at once. Our profession does require some out of pocket spending though. Every teacher will tell you that. So, spend wisely. Think of whatʼs really important. Work on building up that classroom library before you worry about having the perfect beach chairs to go with your “Oceans of Learning” theme. (That can be a hard one, I know.)
4. Respect professional boundaries between you and your administration, you and your studentsʼ parents, you and your students, you and Facebook...well, you get the idea. You are a professional and to be treated as one, you must act like one. Your reputation is forming in this first year. Let those around you see your excitement, your enthusiasm, your dedication, your kindness but when you need to vent, be sure that you confide in that one person that you trust implicitly. Donʼt talk about the student who said something inappropriate (even without giving a name), or how desperate you are for winter break to start. You are under scrutiny as a teacher, and that includes Facebook and Twitter.
5. Be consistent in everything you do. Enforce your behavior management system consistently. Establish routines and follow them consistently. If you start sending homework folders to parents every Monday, then follow through and do it EVERY Monday. As soon as the students start to feel that slack in routine, they will pick up on it faster than any academic concept you will try to teach them. Sometimes this may mean continuing something that you know you donʼt want to do again next year, but for this year - follow through. Unless the practice is causing some kind of harm, do your best to keep up with what you start. There will be times that you must change something. For example, you find that your center schedule set up is not working at all. Then by all means, change it. Donʼt feel the need to over explain why there is a change to your students, but inform them of the change and then move forward. Itʼs usually best for everyone when routine and structure are maintained as much as possible, but certainly make notes about what you want to change next year and act on it.
6. Style over Substance can be a trap you fall into without even realizing it! You have probably been dreaming about how you want your room to look, what you will put on each bulletin board, how to arrange the desks. Maybe youʼve even picked up some things that will be perfect decorations. Youʼve stocked up on things from the Dollar Store that were in other teachersʼ “must have” blog posts. Now what? Always remember the heart of your mission: teaching content. You need to know your stuff, literally. Your students will learn reading strategies better from a confident, prepared teacher in a
sparsely decorated room than they will from an ill prepared teacher in a room that could be straight out of “Classroom Beautiful” magazine. Now, the ultimate goal is to combine both of those elements, and in time you most likely will, but for now make sure you spend as much time preparing content as you do preparing your physical space.
7. Organize everything. You donʼt necessarily need a separate system for everything you do, but come up with a way to keep things from piling up. The absolute BEST thing I ever did was to number my students. As long as they put their number in the corner of their paper, you can alphabetize them in a snap. You can see in an instant whose work is missing. You can randomly call students by numbers to complete tasks or be helpers. They can line up in number order to avoid rushing the door. The best part is that you can number things in the classroom (bulletin boards, supplies) with numbers and then they are reusable next year!
8. Respect your elders. Ok, Iʼm being a bit sarcastic here, but honestly the veteran teachers at your school have a lot to offer. If a veteran teacher has advice about the token economy system you are going to use, listen to them. They were once a new teacher just like you and they are trying to save you the headaches that theyʼve endured. Of course, consider their advice and then make your own decisions. You have a lot of pressure on you as a new teacher and seeking out the advice of a seasoned teacher can be such a benefit to you. Before you know it, youʼll be the veteran teacher people are coming to for advice!
9. Forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will say something you instantly wish you could rewind and take back. You will have at least one observation that you know didnʼt show you at your best. Guess what? You will survive it all. No one little thing you do in your first year will define you for the rest of your career. You are not expected to be perfect. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. You will have a bad day, but they will be far outnumbered by great days. When youʼre feeling like you let yourself down, forgive yourself and move on.
10. Find a balance between work and school. As a new teacher, my classroom door opened to the outside, but I had no windows. Sometimes I would be working and working and when I finally left for the day Iʼd be shocked to open the door and find it was already nighttime! It got to the point that my friends would show up at my door with dinner because when they couldnʼt reach me they knew where I was. I actually enjoyed that time in my career. I liked being in my room, making things, checking papers, changing bulletin boards. But even though I enjoyed myself, I found myself struggling toward the end of the year and began to force myself to leave at a reasonable hour. Finding joy and relaxation in my personal life actually made me a better teacher in the classroom.
Best of luck to you as you enter the most wonderful, rewarding and challenging profession that Iʼm proud to call my own ~ teaching.