Happy August! We got home from our six day road trip last night, and now it’s time for me to buckle down and start thinking about BACK TO SCHOOL. Our first teacher work day is August 17th, so I’m less than two weeks away now… In honor of that, I thought I’d bring back “Teaching Tuesday” today and share 20 things I wish someone had told me before my very first year of teaching…
1. Smiling is good.
I’m not a fan of the old “don’t smile until Christmas” thing. A warm smile goes a long way with students, colleagues, parents, etc. There’s a big difference between being a pushover and being kind. Smile a lot.
2. No one really knows what they are doing in the beginning… Just act like you do.
During the teacher work week of my first year teaching, I had a breakdown in the aisle of Staples because I felt SO overwhelmed and SO unprepared. The truth is, I was unprepared, but I survived, and I don’t think the students had any idea how nervous I was (OK, maybe they had a little idea). The old saying “fake it ’till you make it” is especially apt for teachers because kids seem to be able to sense fear. The key is to ACT confident and prepared, and everything else will fall into place over the first few weeks/months.
3. If you have to choose something to focus on during the summer/work week before school starts choose PROCEDURES, COURSE OUTLINE, and LESSON PLANS FOR THE FIRST WEEK.
I really wanted someone to tell me where to start that first year, so that’s what I’m doing here. Start by writing up a “Course Procedures” document that talks about how you will handle attendance, make-up work, late work, discipline, etc. etc. Even if you never actually give it to your students, it will be helpful for you. (See the Power Point I use to go over these here.) Then, work on a brief (and flexible) course outline so you have a general idea of what you want to cover throughout the year and can start pacing yourself (here’s mine for ninth grade, tenth grade, and eleventh grade). And, finally, lesson plan for the first week or two. Knowing what you are doing every day at the beginning will help you not to feel so stressed once school starts and all the other inevitable stressors of the first week pop up. As much as it pains me to say it, things like decorating the classroom, labeling everything in sight, etc. can wait (really).
4. Keep in mind that every week is not like the first week (or the second, third, or fourth).
I touched on this above, but it’s worth saying again… The first weeks of school are BUSY and HARD. You will, eventually, settle into a routine and things will feel much less overwhelming. Don’t let the craziness of the first few weeks set you up for a bad rest of the year by convincing yourself you “can’t do it” or “weren’t cut out for this.”
5. Your feet are going to hurt for a little while.
I don’t have any recommendations for shoes – as I buy most of mine for less than $20 at Target – but just be prepared that the first few days of teaching your feet might feel like they are going to fall off. They won’t. You will adjust to being on your feet so much, and you’ll be fine. Also, I know a lot of teachers wear heels, but I CANNOT imagine that torture. Ever.
6. There are no rewards for working the longest days, getting papers returned the fastest, or having the most detailed lesson plans. In fact, your students won’t care one bit about those things.
I worked TOO much my first year of teaching. SO much that other things, like my personal life, suffered. It isn’t worth it. Don’t do the bare minimum, but don’t kill yourself either. Your students deserve a teacher that is the best version of himself/herself. That means making time to sleep, enjoy hobbies, spend time with people you love, etc. outside of school. (Here are a few tips I wrote out for surviving the workload and staying sane.)
7. What your students WILL care about is that you have control of the classroom, have put great care and attention into what you are teaching, are organized and prepared for class, challenge them, and take time to get to know them. Invest your time and energy into these things.
The number one thing I hear my students complaining about other teachers is that they “don’t teach.” I’m OK with not being everyone’s favorite, but I never want to be a teacher that kids think doesn’t like what I’m doing, doesn’t teach them valuable skills, or doesn’t care about them as a person. If I’m doing those three things, I’m good.
8. You really DON’T need every cute school supply/organizational materials ever created, but a few good ones WILL make your life a little easier (and cuter).
(See this post for some of my ideas/suggestions.)
9. Taking ten minutes to clean up your classroom, straighten your desk, and put away all materials every afternoon will make a WORLD of difference when you walk into your classroom groggy and under-caffeinated the next morning.
A tidy classroom makes it SO much easier to focus and keep control of your classroom. I do this EVERY day and can tell a MAJOR difference in my mood and just the general flow of the day when I skip one. If you’re smart, you can even teach your last class of the day to do it for you.
10. You can “hold it” much longer than you think you can.
Block scheduling means you won’t be able to go to the bathroom for at least 90 minutes, and you will likely only have five minutes between classes to make a run for it. Maybe you should start “training” now? 😉
11. There will be some students (and even whole classes sometimes) that you just don’t click with. This isn’t a reflection on you as a person or your abilities as a teacher. The true mark of a “good teacher” is being able to teach those students and treat them fairly regardless of your personal opinions of each other.
(See my “Golden Rules for Classroom Management” for more on this.)
12. Aim to be a mentor, not a friend to your students.
I got this advice from Linda at Teach 4 the Heart, and I LOVE it. This is such a great way to look at your relationship with your students, and it keeps a fine line for what’s appropriate, etc.
13. Take time to get to know the “support staff” in your school – librarian, custodians, resource officer, administrative assistants, bookkeeper, food service staff, etc. You never know when you might need a favor. 😉
See point #1. 🙂
14. Eat lunch outside of your classroom… With teachers that encourage you (or, at the very least, don’t talk about work the whole time.)
A lot of resources will tell you to avoid the Teacher’s Lounge at all costs because it breeds gossip and negativity. But, in my experience, that has never been the case. I think it is far worse to a.) separate yourself from the other teachers in your school, and b.) not give yourself a small break from school work/students in the middle of each day. **On this note, you might also want to keep a few snacks and some quarters inside your desk drawer for the day you forget your lunch or need a little extra caffeine to get through.
P.S. I guess this is as good a place as any to say this: High school teachers some times have the reputation of acting like high school students… Make a vow to yourself to stay out of the drama and just don’t.go.there.
15. Don’t take it personally if “older” teachers don’t agree with how you choose to do some things.
Things change. What was considered “best practice” even ten years ago when I first started teaching is probably totally different now. Do the very best you can based on what you know and believe, and don’t worry about the naysayers. (Personally, I recommend killing them with kindness instead!)
16. Ask for help.
For every one Negative Nancy veteran teacher you meet (see above), there are ten that want to help you and encourage you. LET THEM! Don’t reinvent the wheel every time… If some of your colleagues are already doing something you like, ask if they will share lesson plans / power points / quizzes / etc. Just try to repay the favor down the road when you have a little bigger repertoire yourself. (The same goes for covering classes, etc.) Likewise, if you’re having trouble with a student or particular issue, don’t be afraid to admit it and ask someone with more experience for advice. Chances are, they have been there and will have good wisdom and perspective for you. We all had a first year.
17. Get involved with your students/school outside of the classroom.
Go to your students sports games, art shows, and play performances. They notice, and it means A LOT. Have an open door policy for students that want to hang out in your room before or after school (within reason). **This probably goes without saying, but DON’T friend your students on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, or text with them. (See #12.)
18. But DON’T sign up for everything. (It’s OK to say no, even if you are a first year teacher.)
First year teachers wear a target on their backs when it comes to sponsoring the freshmen class, coaching cheerleading, and organizing the staff holiday party. Pick one or two things you will actually enjoy and think you can do well, then SAY NO to the rest. A simple, “thank you so much for thinking of me, but I’ve got so much on my plate right now and I don’t think I can add one more thing,” will work nicely. You’ll be more respected by your staff if you set boundaries early on too.
19. Don’t dress like a student (but you don’t have to “dress like a teacher” either).
There’s a wide gap between mini-skirts/halter tops and denim jumpers/holiday appliques. Err on the side of conservative, but don’t be afraid to show a little of your style too. (For the record, I wore a HIDEOUS outfit for my first day of teaching because I wanted to “look the part.” I still think about that outfit, cringe, and wish I could re-do it. Ha!)
20. In the end, your students are teenagers. No matter how great your relationship seems to be with them, they WILL let you down. They will do stupid things. They will be disrespectful.
This will probably still hurt your feelings or make you mad (and that’s OK, it means you’re human), but try to keep it in perspective.
One more thing… The first year is the hardest BY FAR. Survive this year, and you’re golden. Seriously. I have found that each year gets progressively easier, and the time – truly – flies by if you love what you are doing!
And, to my fellow “vets” out there, let’s join together and commit to helping, supporting, and encouraging the new teachers in our school this year, ok?!? Also, I’d love to know what you’d add to this list!!!
The countdown is on…
P.S. I really have a heart for encouraging new teachers as they start this journey. It is such an important job to do, but one that can be very difficult and overwhelming at times. If you are a new(ish) teacher and have questions for me or anything I can do to make your life a little easier in these first few weeks, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!!
P.S.S. Last Monday, I participated in my friend Linda’s free Classroom Management webinar, and it was SO good. (Did any of you participate also? I’d love to know what you thought!) Now I’m getting ready to start her full course – Classroom Management 101 – and am really looking forward to the refresher. She’s running an awesome “pay what you can” promotion right now where you can get the entire course – ten modules and more than six hours of video content related to classroom management – for as low as $35 (regularly $147). If you’re interested, I’d love if you signed up via my affiliate link (here) or by clicking the graphic on my sidebar.