Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Advice to a First-Year Teacher

One of the first-year teachers at my school this year was asking me a couple questions about how my first year of teaching went. That inspired me to write this post.

I am a second-year teacher, so my first year is fresh in my mind. I want to be honest about the experiences I had and the lessons I learned.

1. Hand sanitizer & vitamins! Your first year of teaching is equivalent to the pilgrims entering a new world. So many new sicknesses! I only got bronchitis my first year and I consider that to be a huge success!

2. Know & refer to this graph all the time. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And you might not feel "rejuvinated" in March. I know I didn't. That could have been attributed that we had NO snow days my first year of teaching. I teach in Northern Virginia and up here they cancel school at the drop of a snowflake.

3. The second you feel like you are on top of things, something huge will come up or you'll realize you forgot something. 

For example, last year I thought I was finally getting into the groove of things in November. Then, the day before our field trip to the National Air and Space Museum, I realized I sent home the wrong permission slip weeks ago. I freaked out. I had to have 100% of my students sign permission slips overnight or they wouldn't be going on the field trip! My team was super supportive and told me not to panic! I printed out the field trip forms, put a bright pink piece of paper on top of the form for each of the students that told parents they HAD to sign them that night and I explained what happened to the students. Guess what? I got 100% of the field trip permission slips in the next morning right before the field trip.

4. That leads me to this lesson: Don't panic! :)

5. Your attitude defines how the day is going to go. I had a tough class behaviorally last year. If I expected to have problems before school even started... then there were problems! It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Always have a good attitude and high expectations!

6. Some days you will feel like you weren't meant to be a teacher. There were days I fantasized about quitting. Days I researched alternative careers I could enter with a degree in Education. Days I called my fiance telling him I was going back to school to major in something else. But in the end.. it was all worth it. And then in the summer, you'll miss those kiddos who drove you crazy!

7. This is one of the only careers that you work super hard, late into the night, make all this progress and then the next year, you start all over again at square one.

8. Save everything you do! Take notes on what worked well and what didn't work so well. You will thank yourself in your second year! One word: laminate! I had a bunch of fun card games I printed for math centers, but never got around to laminating them. This year I have to reprint all those games and cut out all the cards. Lame!

9. Be organized. This will help you find things throughout the year, but it will be even more useful the next year. Randomly stuff your folders and filing cabinets and you'll return for your second year after the summer completely lost.

10. Treat your students well. You have no idea what hardships they could be facing at home or elsewhere in their lives.

11. Be firm. I heard this a million times my first year. But boy, was it hard. If you're not firm, the students know they can get away with more.

12. Don't yell when you're mad. Silence works better.

13. Be positive! Before I said to have a positive attitude, but when it comes to your classroom management, focus on positive reinforcement. It helps foster a better environment in your classroom and extrinsically motivates your students. And as a side-note, don't forget to reward those students that are always good!

14. Be that person that says "Good Morning!!!" to everyone. I am NOT a morning person. But I ooze happiness in the mornings. It makes your morning a happier experience. And believe it or not, that kindergartener and her mom will be in your classroom before you know it (even if you're a fifth grade teacher).

15. You will cry. It's ok! I did. A few times, actually. From stress, mostly. Honestly, though, one day one of my students was rude to me and I shed a few tears about it after school. Refer to lesson #6.

16. Always pack lunch. If you're anything like me, a hungry teacher equals a cranky teacher. No fun for you or your students!

17. You will get through! It goes slowly, but it flies by at the same time.

18. Don't reinvent the wheel. If it's available, use it. Tweak it next year if you need to. (This one was contributed by my lovely roommate! I definitely agree!)

19. Ask for help!!! You're not supposed to know everything, it's only your first year! Ask your team members and other co-workers for help! I never asked where the guided reading room was at my school. Luckily I had tons of guided reading books left to me by the previous teacher in my room, but I was missing out on a ton of resources because I was afraid to ask. There is NOTHING wrong with not knowing.

20. Relax! My mom was a teacher. Her best advice was that: 
"Teaching is like cleaning, there's always more to do."
You have to know when to stop and go home. You have to find the balance between working and relaxing or you will burn yourself out, especially in this career.

The first year is the hardest. It is EXPONENTIALLY easier the next year. You know what you're doing, you know the curriculum. You know the people. You know how to get help. You know how to communicate with parents. You know where to find great resources and you know what worked and what didn't. I can only imagine, with this progress what my third year of teaching will feel like.

What lessons did you all learn from your first year?


  1. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and following me!! I absolutely LOVE this post...I'm going to pin it!! Such great things that I have not even thought about. Congrats on your upcoming wedding....marriage is awesome! I was born in Virginia and lived in Maryland until high school. I love that area!!!!


    The Tennessee Teacher

    I'm an education student and would love some encouraging followers to come visit me!

  2. What great advice for first year teachers! I wish someone would have told me that 16 years ago. Of course, I walked into a long-term sub position with NO help whatsoever!

    I live in Virginia too, Southwestern VA. My parents are in NOVA, and we love to visit!

    Stop by my blog sometime and visit!
    Reading Toward the Stars

  3. This is awesome advice! I especially love the graph! :) I did a linky party on this subject a few months ago. Here is the link if you want to link up!

    Tales of a Fifth Grade Teacher

  4. I'm a new follower from Liliris' blog and I've gotta say that I TOTALLY appreciate this post. As a newbie teacher (not yet in my first classroom), this means a lot and the advice is totally great. Thank you for posting something like this!!

    Miss V's Busy Bees
    PS. I used to have this same layout! I loved it :)

  5. This is such a great list if advice. I'll have to re-read it to try and take it all in. I laughed at your mention of no snow days cos that's exactly how I've been feeling. It's silly I know, but a snow day here and there does make a difference - you feel cheated somehow without it.

    I've started following your blog, you have so many useful articles. I'm looking forward to catching up on old ones and reading more. thanks!