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I wish that someone had given me a list of new teacher tips during my first year. I had worked in the school system as a substitute teacher and as a Sign Language Interpreter, but I had never been a classroom teacher.
Teachers have to deal with many more things than assistants, interpreters, or substitutes. I knew my content–English. I did not, however, know all the other things I needed to know in order to survive.
With that said, I came up with a list of 10 tips for new teachers that I wish I would have had in 2011 when I started teaching.
New Teacher Tip #1: Find a Mentor
During my first year of teaching, I was assigned a mentor through the school. I also participated in the NTO (New Teacher Orientation) program in the county. Each month, all of the new teachers met and talked through things that had happened. We also got training for things that could (possibly, likely) occur in our classrooms. It was great training.
Whether your school or county assigns you a mentor or not, find one. Who can’t use more than one mentor, right? My mentor was in the science department, and I taught English. She didn’t understand how to make certain things work in an English classroom. I couldn’t always comprehend what she was sharing about activities for her course.
Find someone in your subject area or grade level with whom you can work. This may be the teacher next door or the one down the hall, but be sure that you have his/her contact information for when you have questions that pop into your head at 8pm. (By the way, stop thinking about work all the time.) This person may possibly become your “teacher bestie,” and that’s a great thing too.
New Teacher Tip #2: Be Firm and Fair in Classroom Management
We have all seen the teachers on television who are dreadful. They pick on specific students and love others. We have also seen the teachers who try to be best friends with the students.
As a first year teacher, you probably aren’t much older than the students (if you teach middle/high school). You haven’t been out of school long yourself in most cases. This makes it more difficult for you when you try to show your authority in the classroom. Sometimes, older students will try to befriend you instead of letting you do your job.
If you are like me, though, you are becoming a teacher later in life. That doesn’t mean that the students won’t try to befriend you, but you may try to be harder on the students (like I was) because I knew how it was “when I was in school.”
Create rules that are fair. Be sure that you stand by them. Don’t pick and choose when you will enforce these rules.
Keep promises that you make to the students. This could be in the form of punishments or rewards. You will gain respect if you do what you say you will do.
When it comes to promises, don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you promise doughnuts, you probably need to check with administration and school policies before you tell the students. If not, you’ll have to back out of the promise.
New Teacher Tip #3: Stay Positive
Your first year of teaching is going to be difficult. I won’t lie. Teaching is hard, and right now, it’s extremely hard. However, you can do this. You are capable.
There are going to be times when you aren’t sure you chose the right profession. As long as you love the students (all of them, not just some of them) and what you are teaching, you will be fine.
In order to keep your sanity, though, you have to remain positive. You can’t allow yourself to be negative. Proverbs 18:21 says that “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”
What you say will affect what you think and vice versa. There are going to be times when you have to force yourself to see the positive in a situation. Find it. It’s worth it.
Don’t dwell on the negative.
Start each day as a clean slate for you and the students.
New Teacher Tip #4: Set Clear Expectations for Every Assignments
Explain the Assignment
Explain the directions verbally, and be sure you have them written down on the assignment sheet for the students. That way students who are auditory learners hear it, and students who read to learn can read the directions.
Sometimes, as a new teacher this is hard. If you are doing an assignment that another teacher has done before, you may be able to borrow samples. If it is an assignment that you have developed on your own, you may have to create samples. Be sure to show great ones, middle of the road ones, and poor ones. Let the students know the positives and negatives of each example.
For each assignment, supply a rubric. If there are assignments you will repeat, give the students one rubric, but post a copy in the room for their reference. You can also post one on the online portal that your school uses, like Canvas or Moodle. The online version allows parents and students to have access when the student is working on these assignments outside of the classroom.
For projects, be sure to give each student a rubric when you give out the assignment. Then, go through that rubric with the sample projects you show the students. This helps them to see what you expect for each part of the project/rubric.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but I promise you, it’s worth it. In the end, it covers you if the parents or administration come to you with issues about the grade or grading process. (Trust me. You want that insurance.)
New Teacher Tip #5: Get to Know Something Special about Each Student
This is not something you will be able to do in a short time. It could take a month because some students don’t like to share. However, at some point, you will catch something they say and be able to remember it.
I used to give my students a questionnaire on the first day of school. After we completed the rules and procedures, I asked them to complete the questionnaire.
One of the items asked the students to tell me something about themselves that made them different. Some students would tell me very interesting things. Examples: “I play travel basketball.” “I have a twin/triplet.” “I have a pet donkey.” Other students give me things that I can read in their files. “I’m a freshman.” “My last name is Smith.”
Those students are the ones I have to pull information out of, but eventually I learn something.
Sometimes, I try to use these things I learn from students in discussions, assignments, or examples.
I taught English. If we were working on writing a How-To paper in class, I would ask one of my students who plays basketball to explain how to pass the ball.
I might even bring in a ball for me to use as the student gives me the directions. It can be quite comical, if the student leaves out a step in the explanation. I have ended up doing some funny things in class when students left out steps when trying to “teach” me something. But it helped the whole class to see that you have to include all the steps, even if it is second-nature to you. Someone learning will not know that step and will not be able to do the task.
New Teacher Tip #6: Stay Caught Up
This is another of those tips that is easier said than done.
Be sure you have a way to keep up with due dates, trainings, and deadlines. Know where you are supposed to be and when you should be there.
Grade every assignment as quickly as possible. Don’t let assignments pile up on your desk. That will cause you to feel overwhelmed. Grading stinks, but you have to do it.
Try to implement the “touch it once” rule. Go through a stack of papers and either trash them or file them. If you leave them in a stack, you have to keep going through them to get to what you want every time.
For assignments/grading, collect it (if physical). The next time you touch it, grade it and put it so that the students can pick it up. I tried to keep a solution so that I didn’t have to pass back papers to students. I had folders or files from which the students grabbed their own work.
New Teacher Tip #7: Ask for Help and Accept Help
If you are anything like me, you hate asking for help. I always felt that asking for help was a weakness. I’ve learned that asking for help is a sign of strength.
You are strong enough to ask for help. When you get the help that you need, you learn something and can improve from there.
Requesting and/or receiving help is not a weakness. Don’t be afraid to approach others to ask for help.
In all honesty, they probably were in the same place not long ago when they were new teachers.
Also, don’t be afraid of your administrators. If you are, that’s not a safe space to work. You should never be afraid of the people who are in authority. Respectfully timid, yes. Scared, no. Ask administrators for help if you can’t do something. They need to know that you are willing to learn from others.
New Teacher Tip #8: Make Unlikely Friends
During my second student teaching semester, my mentor teacher was amazing. (If you want more information about my teaching journey, read it here.) Ms. D told me that I needed to be sure to make friends with the custodians, the cafeteria workers, the front office people, and the school nurse. These are people who know where things are and how to get things that you need. If you’re friendly with them and don’t cause them issues, they are more likely to help you.
So, I made sure that I kept a broom in my classroom. I never left my room in a mess for the custodians. They only had to take out my trash most days. If I did something that was messy in the classroom with my students, I would tell them beforehand. Then I would help clean it up.
The ladies in the office at the schools were always helpful too. They could tell me where to find paper, poster board, pencils, and other things I needed. There were times I heard them tell other teachers to ask their department chair for things because those teachers weren’t friendly with them.
A little kindness can go a long way with anyone at the school. Try it. Make friends with people who know things that you will need to know. Also be sure to return the favor if they need something from you.
New Teacher Tip #9: Ask a lot of Questions
This goes along with asking for help. Sometimes you don’t need physical help; you need information.
If you have a lot of questions that come to you during the day, write them down. Make a list. Then go to your mentor teacher and ask. If he/she can’t answer all the questions, get a referral of where to go for answers.
Don’t leave questions unanswered. Find someone who knows the answers or a place in the school to get the answers.
Here are some things you may have questions about, and you can add to this list.
Be sure you have answers to everything so that you can serve the students the best way possible.
New Teacher Tip #10: Get Organized
Be sure that you have the right supplies to be organized. Share your Amazon list with others who support you
Here are a few of my favorite things. (Did you start singing the song too?)
Have a system in place before the year begins. It will make it so much easier to get started. Then, of course, you can always tweak it as needed to match what will work best in your classroom.
BONUS New Teacher Tip: Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is important no matter what job you hold. However, you need to be sure that you are taking care of yourself. You really can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.
This can include simple things like journaling to get things off your mind.
It can also be manicures, pedicures, and massages.
One thing I loved to do was sleep in, especially on the weekends. On weeknights, I tried to go to sleep early. My mornings, during the week, started at 4:30am; I had to make sure I had at least 6 hours of sleep if not more.
Every year that you teach, you will gain experience, obviously. You will also gain knowledge that you can carry into all of your future years.
I hope that you can take these 10 New Teacher Tips with you into your first year.
Have a great first year! You’ve got this.