I just finished my first year of teaching at a K-12 school. I taught 5th grade and gave up my planning hour to teach 9th grade world history. I have my degree in Secondary Education History and Social Studies, so I felt unprepared to teach 5th grade.
I thought student teaching prepared me well for the classroom but there were a few things that made me feel like I was going out of my mind or doing something wrong. I am not saying the whole year was a disaster. In fact, it was a rather interesting and unique year, one that I will remember and cherish forever. However, over the year I came across issues and situations that could have been avoided early on if I had these 7 tips when I first started teaching.
1. Classroom Management Plan
Classroom management is number one on my list of tips for a reason. I had one when I first started teaching but it was not specific enough and my 5th grade class became chaotic. Make sure you have a plan for behavior issues, what students should do in the beginning and end of each lesson, and how students should leave or enter the classroom.
Those may sound unnecessary but it is worth it. Having procedures in place can minimize delays between subjects. Create a plan/procedure for classroom noise levels and breaking rules.
I recommend having a stellar classroom management plan before you start teaching. This goes for whether it is your first year ever teaching or just the first year at a new school.
The important thing to remember when you start teaching at a new school is that you are not alone. There are plenty of other teachers that have been around the block before. Do not be afraid to ask them questions, ask for advice, ask for resources, or work together to create something new.
Gather a good support team to communicate and collaborate. I was extremely grateful for the support I received from other teachers. They made the year easier and I learned tons of stuff from them.
3. Ask Questions
It is important to ask questions even if you think you know what to do. I recommend asking someone experienced in your school or district to review rules, procedures, and paperwork with you so that you know from the beginning what is expected of you.
It is a pain to finish lesson plans or other paperwork but have to keep redoing them because no one told you the specific way they expect it to be done. Sometimes people will forget that you are new to that school and will not explain tasks or procedures. Asking questions as soon as you receive a task is important in order to quickly learn how to do the task. Even if it is just verifying the instructions to make sure you understood correctly.
4. Student Feedback
The timing of student feedback is up to you but obtaining it every quarter during your first year would be beneficial. This could be in the form of anonymous surveys or quick class discussions about what they like or dislike about class procedures and lessons. You could also ask for ideas on what the students want to learn.
The way lessons are taught is ultimately up to you but student feedback gives students a chance to express what is working or not working during your first year. I recommend doing one every quarter for the first year to get constant feedback and to have enough time to modify what you teach or the way you teach.
Organization seems like common sense when you are a teacher but I am telling you now that you may start out super organized in the beginning but by the middle or end of the year it will be different.
The school I taught at does centers in the classroom where every quarter there is a new theme. I found out right away that the bins at each center and the art buckets should have been labeled. Things in your classroom will get moved around, broken, or lost if you do not have good organization procedures in place.
Have a place for everything including things on your desk and where to turn in work. Label makers will be your best friend. Add labels to every folder in the class, bins, art and notebook buckets, and your files.
6. Start out Tough
When I first started teaching, almost every veteran teacher recommended I start out tough and strict then become slightly more lenient over the year.
I ignored their advice because I am too nice and thought if I showed the students kindness and leniency then they would reciprocate it. Well, I am telling you now, the veteran teachers were right. You can still show kindness and leniency but it is better to be strict about rules and procedures in the beginning.
You need to show them that they will not get away with breaking the rules and their behavior must change for the better to succeed in the year. You will most likely struggle with your class throughout the year if you do not reinforce procedures, rules, consequences, and rewards.
7. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
I had a habit during student teaching and my first year of teaching to work over the weekends and during my lunch breaks. I wanted to plan and grade all the time to make sure I was ahead and ready to go.
Over time, that started to wear me down because I did not have much free time to do other things or talk to other teachers. My advice is do not overwhelm yourself. Try not to do too much work over the weekends and do not do any on your lunch break. You will find that will be hard to do but you will need breaks and rest, especially during the first year of teaching.
Most teachers have a planning period so use that wisely. You can grade or plan before or after school for an hour if you find you do not have enough time to finish everything. I still work during the weekends but I have reduced it to maybe two hours instead of ten.
Whether you are a first year teacher or a veteran teacher at a new school, I hope these tips help you in the coming months. Let me know what you think of these seven tips or if you recommend any others.