One of the questions I get most frequently is, “what advice would you give to new teachers?” There are so many little tips I would give and things I’ve learned along the way, but I’ve rounded up my 5 biggest pieces of advice to share below. If you are a first-year teacher, an education major, or even just someone considering going into teaching- read on!
1. Be Flexible
This is my absolute number one piece of advice for all new teachers! The need and ability to be flexible was something I learned quickly, but not necessarily easily. I am such a planner and when I plan something, I want it to go exactly as expected every single time. News flash…it won’t. Sometimes you have a fire drill in the middle of something that you allotted a particular amount of time on. Sometimes an activity you think would be engaging and exciting is a total flop. Sometimes you don’t get to every last thing on your lesson plan in one day because your students are enjoying another activity and you opted to spend more time with it. Sometimes a student decides they want bangs in a middle of an activity when they’re cutting with scissors. THAT’S OKAY! Okay, well, maybe not that last one, but it might happen. As a first-year teacher, it’s hard to accept the fact that these lesson plans you’ve meticulously crafted may need to be switched up, but learn to roll with it! Things will get done, even if it’s not exactly as you expected.
2. Cultivate Relationships
This one is important in so many areas. First and foremost, build relationships with your students. Find out their likes and dislikes, learn about their families, find out what their dog’s name is. These things will help you build trust and strong connections to create a loving and safe learning environment. Secondly, develop relationships with parents. I firmly believe in the mentality that parents and teachers should be a team. We are here for their children and we should trust and work together. Keep lines of communication open and be honest with parents. Trust me, things will go smoother if you have them in your corner. Lastly, establish relationships with your colleagues. The best things I have learned have come from other teachers. From little pieces of school culture that you may only know after having been there for a while, to understanding a brand new curriculum, all the way to ideas on lessons or classroom management, don’t be afraid to reach out to your colleagues! Likewise, don’t forget about the non-teachers who work in your school! Establish relationships with your custodian, your office staff, and your admin team – they help to keep your school running seamlessly (and it never hurts when you need a favor later on. 🙂
3. It’s Okay Not to Know
Again, this was another lesson I learned the hard way. My first year teaching, I walked the line between asking for help FAR too often and not asking enough when I should. I was teaching with established teachers and didn’t want to feel like the “weak link” on our team. But, guess what? No one expects you to know everything the second you walk through the door! You are learning just as much as your students are throughout the year and, in most cases, other teachers are there to help you! Find a mentor teacher that you feel comfortable with and pick their brain. Ask questions when you aren’t sure what to do. Take suggestions and criticism (I’ll admit, this one was and still is tough for me!). Don’t be afraid to say you need help. We tell these things to our students (“mistakes are proof that you are trying” anyone?), so allow yourself the grace to learn and make mistakes too.
4. Don’t Try to Do It All
In our classrooms, it can often feel like there are one hundred different things going on at any given moment right in front of us. Nevermind all the things that sit on our to-do lists, the ideas we get from the internet, or the activities we see other teachers doing in their classrooms down the hall that are swirling around in our heads. It can be easy to want to do TOO MUCH. It can be easy to try to do too much, and then end up doing those things only halfway and ineffectively. As a first-year teacher, it’s okay not to do it all. Try picking one or two things you want to focus on and work on doing them WELL. Really go all in on them. For me, my first year was all about mastering the curriculum. Maybe I wasn’t going off script in a natural way like the veteran teacher next to me and rather was trying to stick to what the book said. Maybe my classroom wasn’t the cutest or neatest one compared to a woman teaching there for eight years before me. But five years in, I could likely teach my curriculum with my eyes closed, adding and taking away things that best fit my class based on the year and differentiating activities for my students with ease – and I owe that to spending the first year getting to know my curriculum in depth. My “cute” and organized classroom came in bits and pieces year by year. It’s okay to build up rather than dive in all at once!
5. Reflect on Your Year
When I was a student at Boston College, one of the things they said over and over (and over and over) was to reflect on your practice. This has guided my teaching as I have moved on from year to year. Of course, as a student, my reflections were long, tedious, and time consuming (think: journals and papers with specifications and guidelines). However, reflection doesn’t mean you need to sit down and write a page long essay about a lesson. If that works for you, great! But as a teacher, my primary forms of reflection are short, quick notes. If a lesson goes well, I write down what I did to make it successful or an idea that may have popped into my head for next time. If it does not, I write what didn’t work and make notes about how to fix it. I jot down notes about differentiation, about how I could have made a lesson more culturally responsive, things to make sure I do next year before a unit comes up, about EVERYTHING. I also reflect in the form of conversations with my team. If we are all teaching the same lesson and something doesn’t click for my students, I ask them how it went in their room, what they did that I could try, and so on. The same goes for when we knock something out of the park. Sharing and talking with others is a big form of my practice and something that has had huge benefits on my teaching! Reflecting is key to becoming a better educator.
To help you reflect, I’ve created a short and sweet reflection sheet for you! You can choose to reflect daily, weekly, or by lesson! GRAB THE FREEBIE HERE!
See, I told you I have alot of advice for new teachers! These five, however, are the biggest and best things that I wish someone told me before I stepped foot in my classroom. Above all, though, enjoy it. You’re only a first year teacher once!
And, as always, if you need any more guidance, have questions, or just want to REFLECT on that first year teaching- reach out to me! I’m here to help!