8 Easy Tips for New Teachers
Updated: Aug 18, 2018
The fact that I am about to start my fifth year of teaching while writing this baffles me (to the point of having to think back and recount to be sure). I still feel so new to teaching and know I have so much left to learn. BUT, after four years of living the #teacherlife, there are certainly a handful of things I wish I had known before my first day of school.
1. Be organized
This. Is. Everything. I had it lower on my list but as soon as I started writing I knew it had to be #1 because there is so much that goes with this tip.
Part one: Plans
Let's start with how you organize your plans; it took me until my third year teaching to find an approach that was best for me. I tried TPT teacher binders, I tried typing and printing on my own, but in the end having a big, pre-made plan book is what worked best for me. I love having everything colorful and organized in one place. I used Erin Condren for two years, and while I LOVE her planners, I wanted to try something new and bought a Berteau and Co. planner binder for this year (I am so excited to see how it goes)! You need to find what works best for you. But, I can safely promise, if you aren't outlining your weekly plans because you think are fine having it all in your head, you are most likely wrong. I am saying from experience, while you may not need to write 5 page scripted lesson plans, everyone needs to outline their week in writing. It keeps your instruction clear, intentional, and thorough. Maybe when you are past year 10 you can start teaching by memory, but I will always write my plans down...with flair pens :)
Part Two: Your Space
I am going to keep it simple here because I have a whole separate post about setting up your classroom. But I will say, your classroom needs to be organized in a way that is functional for you and your students. Your resources and materials need to be organized so you can locate the original of a copy, a zip lock bag of task cards, or manipulatives, quickly without wasting precious time digging for them. I use a lot of plastic drawers, zip lock baggies, and file folders. Others use more shelves and bins (I save my shelves and bins for my library books). You don't have to have every item labeled, numbered, color-coded in its exact spot (lord knows I don't) you just need a system that works for you.
Part Three: Your Expectations and Procedures
Yep, that is right, even your procedures and expectations need to be explained in an organized manner. Let me give an example if you are going to give homework, it needs to be communicated clearly and consistently. I use a monthly homework calendar I got from TPT, I send one copy home at the beginning of the month for parents and my students keep one copy in section one of their binders (click here to read my post about why I LOVE student binders). Students and parents can't claim they were unaware of assignments because everything is listed on the calendar and they get a new one every single month. The more organized you are with communicating, the happier EVERYONE will be.
**I promise #1 was the longest tip and no other tip has more than one part. I just think being organized is so very important & it is still something I have to work on every day**
2. Stay positive!
There are going to be hard days where you feel like nothing you did was right, and you should get a job in real estate, or managing a store, or anything other than spending your day making tiny humans learn things. This is normal, you are feeling the same way every other teacher has once felt. The worst thing you can do is get stuck in a negative rut. Let your bad day be a bad day, but do not let your bad day turn into a bad week/month/year. You have to wake up ready for a great day, no matter what mayhem came the day before.
3. Make a tribe.
This goes hand and hand with being positive, surround yourself with positive teachers who want you to succeed. I am lucky, my grade level team is incredible and I am so grateful for all of them every day. But, if the teachers on your grade level don't support and motivate you, look for other teachers at your school who do. Heck, it is 2018, go on Facebook and search for teaching groups to join. It makes a world of difference how much stronger you feel as a teacher when you have a team of people cheering you on.
Note: this doesn't mean you can't go to your tribe to vent when needed or vice versa. Getting the negative off your chest is essential, but along with #1, get it off and get over it before tomorrow.
4. Ask questions!
I have questions and notes scribbled on sticky notes all over my desk and planner. They range from specific instructional questions, or questions about school policy, to reminders to get general feedback or input. I probably ask my coworkers 100 questions a week. This does not mean I am incompetent and need excessive amounts of help. It means that I recognize that I work with some brilliant professionals and I take advantage of all the knowledge we can share.
5. Stop comparing.
Instagram and Pinterest have an insane amount of pictures, ideas, and resources for teachers. The fact that we have the ability to share and be inspired by strangers classrooms and instructional practices is truly an amazing gift. However, we need to stop letting social media discourage us because we are not camera ready every day...if ever. Never let yourself feel like a failure because you do not teach just like that cute teacher on your Insta feed, or because your classroom is not even close to Pinterest perfect. Do not compare yourself to other teachers, online or in real life. You are exactly who your students need.
6. Don't be afraid of feedback.
Where my other perfectionists at? This is for you, there is no such thing as a perfect teacher. Yep, I said it. That means, when the administration, instructional coaches, specialists, etc. come into your classroom, there is a good chance you are going to receive constructive feedback. When this first happened to me, it just about broke my heart. I got defensive; there was no way I needed to improve because that meant I was doing something wrong. But, I can say confidently now, I was wrong. Pride is a pain, so push it to the side and do whats best for you and your students. When someone suggests you try something, give it a chance. If it is a suggestion far outside your teaching style, communicate with who gave you the feedback and try to find a way to make their idea work for you. At the end of the day, anyone who is in your room evaluating you wants you and your students to succeed*, so embrace the constructive feedback and let it motivate you to grow !(cough cough growth mindset applies to us too not just our students)
7. If you aren't at your best, the students deserve better.
This one sounds simple but for some reason is what we all struggle with the; take care of your self. Everyone needs to find things they do to de-stress and enjoy outside of the classroom. For me, I like to exercise, read, and craft. That means it is not selfish to leave right after school to get to the gym, read a psychological thriller before a book about teaching, or craft things for my house or the classroom before I finish grading. Why? If you haven't heard this before, teaching can drain you mentally and emotionally. You are constantly worrying about what is best for 20+ children and it is easy to forget what is best for you. But, if you are exhausted, stressed out, or just not feeling good, you aren't doing your best teaching. How ironic right? Taking time for yourself to reset and recharge mentally is what is best for your students; because when you are feeling your best, you do your best teaching.
8. Just do your best.
If you are reading this, it means you are already trying your hardest to become the best teacher you can be. Don't be too hard on yourself, everyone has off days. Just use everything in that beautiful brain of yours to do your best and that is all anyone can ever ask of you.
Lauren Mary Medlin
ps. other general tips that don't require explanation
-Invest in a small personal laminator, doesn't have to be expensive and it will come in handy more than you could ever expect
-Read books about teaching (check out my favorite here)
-Pre-pack your lunches (maybe even breakfasts) on Sundays
-Make friends with the custodial staff. Just trust me.
-Don't give out your personal phone number (boundaries are huge) use apps like remind or class dojo