Tips & Advice for First-Year and New Teachers

We gathered our top articles of new teacher advice to create this ultimate guide. Each section provides real-world advice from REAL teachers. They've faced the same challenges you may be facing and have included their tips and tricks to make your life as a new teacher a little easier. From planning tips to self-care, bookmark this mash up of our best new teacher advice articles to win the day, stay sane, and thrive in your new career as a teacher!

Updated on: September 7, 2020

Congratulations! You made through college and student teaching. You aced the interview, and now you're off to begin your career in the classroom.

Then it dawns on you: "I'm on my own. What am I supposed to do now?"

That will not be the last time you ask yourself that question.

first year teacher teaching their class

I would be lying if I said my first year was amazing. I would not be honest with you if I didn't describe the struggles I endured that year. I'm headed into my eighth year of teaching, and I still find myself asking the same thing: "What am I supposed to do now?"

There are a lot of things that college and student teaching don't prepare you for when you have your own classroom. Now, with seven years of teaching under my belt, I feel qualified enough to lend these 10 pieces of advice to all the first-year teachers out there.

1. Find the most positive, passionate staff members in the school and befriend them right away.

It doesn't matter what their position is, find them and cultivate a relationship with them. In my first year, my best friends were the school secretary, the bookkeeper, and the plant operator. No matter how my day was going, good or bad, I could always go to any of them and talk about whatever was going on. If I needed anything done in my room, a door unlocked, or a special piece of furniture, the plant operator helped me out.

(Of course, you need to be sure to thank those people. Donuts and pizza are cheap and delicious. Candy bars and chocolates go a long way in showing appreciation to those who help you along the way!)

I also found three other teachers who radiated passion for their subject. I grabbed onto them right away, and they are now three of my best friends. We are constantly challenging each other to be better than we were the day before. They have helped me grow and develop as a teacher, and I credit a lot of my success to my relationships with them.

Stay away from the Debbie Downers and the complainers, they'll just bring you down with them, and you'll run the risk of becoming cynical yourself.

2. Find out who the master teachers are and pick their brains.

It's your first year, and even though you may have an idea of what you want to happen in your room, understand that what you plan to do and what you end up doing may be two different things. Find those master teachers with experience under their belts, ask them how they manage their room and use their advice to adapt your teaching style.

Master teachers have been in the school environment for a while, and trust me when I tell you that your new school will have a completely different environment than the one you worked in as a student teacher. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience as you mold your teaching style to fit the needs of your students.

3. Develop your own genuine teaching style.

One of the most common mistakes I have noticed with new teachers, and one I made myself, is trying to teach in the same style as your cooperating teacher from your student teaching experience. Unfortunately, what worked for them won't always translate to a different set of kids in another school.

You cannot be anyone but yourself. I tried for much of my first year to convince myself that I had to be exactly like my cooperating teacher, and I bombed. It wasn't until three-quarters of the way through the year that I let go and started being myself. My students noticed, and I started getting the results I was looking for. (Bonus: said results gave me major momentum heading into my second year.)

Your teaching style should directly mirror your true personality. If you're a goof, be a goof; if you're quiet and reserved, be quiet and reserved! You can maintain order in your classroom (see below!) without changing your personality. It's exhausting to continually put on a facade, and kids will notice the difference.

4. Create an environment of positivity and a culture that values teamwork.

"You may very well be the only positive adult in a
student's life. Your room may be the only place a student
will feel safe, loved, wanted, and included."

You may very well be the only positive adult in a student's life. Your room may be the only place a student will feel safe, loved, wanted, and included. Work to create that welcoming environment immediately. I didn't discover this until my second year, and once I figured it out, things took off!

When I taught middle school, my first two days of the year were spent entirely on team building exercises, "getting to know you" icebreakers, and activities designed to foster positive self-esteem.

Once my students realized that I cared about them and began to feel like they were in a safe environment, the learning really began. Some teachers will tell you that you don't have time to do things like this, but you cannot afford NOT to do it. Every great teacher I know uses this strategy and it works.

5. Develop great classroom management techniques.

Students will be less likely to act up and engage in tomfoolery if they know that:

  1. their teacher cares for them,
  2. they can make an academic mistake without fear of being put down, and
  3. they have a history of success in that classroom.

Celebrate every little victory for the whole class. If you've been teaching a new concept and notice that something has finally clicked for your students, tell them how proud of them you are. Personally, I like to take a "victory lap" around the room, slapping high fives as I go. While this particular approach may not be the one for you, even the simplest bit of positive reinforcement will go a long way.

Celebrate every little victory for each individual kid as well. For some, verbal praise will do the trick, while other students will appreciate a comment on an assignment, a silent thumbs up, or even just a smile.

On the flip side, be consistent in your consequences. This is by far that hardest thing to do. You will not have a perfect class every day, and there will be times when you will have to deal with misbehavior. No matter who the student is, if you fail to follow through on your own guidelines, you will lose ALL credibility.

Finally, establishing protocols is important for classroom management. Outline a process for everything, and teach them to students on Day One. Whether it's how to enter the room, how to take attendance, how you begin class, how to get materials needed for the day, or how to leave the room, go over the process for each and keep practicing until things are running smoothly. Don't hesitate to revisit protocols throughout the year, especially after breaks.

6. Let your students get to know you.

"Your students have enough friends. What they need is a stable adult presence."

Let your students get to know you as a human being, but always be sure to draw a line in the sand letting them know that you are their teacher, not their friend. I literally tell that to them: "Listen y'all, I love you and I think you're awesome people, but I am not your friend, I am your teacher." This may be tough for them to hear at first, but they will respect it. Your students have enough friends. What they need is a stable adult presence.

After establishing these boundaries, it's fine to share a bit of information about your interests, pets, spouse, or kids. In my classroom, I play a game called "Who is Mr. Edwards" at the beginning of the year. It's a slideshow of multiple choice questions about me, and the kids love it. Their excitement when they get an answer correct is so funny! I also hang up posters that pertain to my interests. My students know that my favorite superhero is Superman and that I love baseball because of the posters on my classroom walls.

7. Don't be afraid to mess up.

Honesty time: your first year will be an incredibly trying time in your career. You may feel that you are an awful teacher (I certainly did), or you may feel like they should be paying the kids and not you. It's okay! Every teacher felt that way their first year and they are lying to you if they say otherwise. It's all about learning from and adapting to situations that can only come from experience. I'm eight years in, and I'm still learning tough lessons.

Believe me when I tell you that your first year will be one giant tough lesson, but if you seek out those positive people and master teachers I mentioned earlier, they will walk you through it and you will survive. You will come in for year two with much more confidence and better control of your room!

8. Control what you can control, and let the rest go!

You will never be in complete control, because you can't control what happens to your students before, during, or after school. You can only control how safe they feel in your room. You may have students who come in hungry, sad, angry, or all of the above. Remember that they are coming to school as the best they can possibly be that day. Understand that 95% of the time, students are reacting to things that are happening outside of your classroom. Just focus on teaching them as best you can no matter what baggage they bring with them.

Additionally, you cannot control how the school board or government decides they will treat teachers. Sometimes you may feel like a punching bag, or you may find that the local/state/federal budget is being balanced on the backs of teachers. Your job is to keep plugging away for your students.

9. Be organized and lesson plan like your life depends on it.

Kids know when you don't have a plan, and they will take advantage of your lack of preparation. Over-plan for every lesson, and ask experienced teachers what they have in their "toolbox" for when there's extra time in a class period or time block. (You can always turn to those team building games!)

Administrators will know if you are unprepared too. As a first year teacher, your lesson plans may under more scrutiny than they will be in later years, and you will most likely be observed more times than other teachers. That's the way it goes. Use those observations as another learning experience and work on developing rich, engaging lesson plans. TeacherVision is a great resource for creative lesson plans, take advantage of it!

Lastly...

10. Go save the world. Be naive and idealistic.

"Keep trying to reach every kid you can, because when you do, the feeling is indescribable."

You will have some teachers tell you that "You can't save every child," "You shouldn't be so naive," or "You shouldn't be so idealistic." Don't listen to them. Don't let other people's cynicism keep you from trying to do good in this world. Obviously, you should know going into this that you aren't going to save every kid, but if we aren't trying, what's the point?

It will be painful when a student you've been working with messes up, but it shouldn't deter you. Keep trying to reach every kid you can, because when you do, the feeling is indescribable. Sometimes the most successful ideas are the most creative or idealistic ones.

You've entered this profession because you have a passion for teaching young people, so stay passionate! No matter what anyone tells you, it is possible to stay passionate about teaching, even 30 years from now. I know this because I've talked with these passionate veteran teachers. They are the master teachers who remain naive and idealistic in their attempts to reach every child. Emulate these educators, and then you can someday impart these lessons to a first-year teacher.

I will be the first to admit that my first year was something of a trainwreck. While I experienced a lot of success, I experienced so many more failures. However, without those failures, I would never have become the teacher I am today. I needed to experience them, and I still don't have all the answers. After seven years, I still get lost from time to time. As long as you continue learning from your mistakes, your career will be a stellar one!

Check out TeacherVision's extensive collection of New Teacher Resources.

4 Mistakes New Teachers Make (and How to Avoid Them)

As a new teacher, your first year in the classroom can be fraught with doubt and worries: Do I know enough? Are students learning enough? How do I deal with behavior problems? The fear of making a mistake can be overwhelming.

new teacher mistakes

To help you through those early days in the classroom, we asked successful, veteran teachers to share the top four mistakes they made as a new teacher along with their advice for how to avoid these missteps.

New Teacher Mistake #1: Not taking the time to get to know students

Research shows students perform better and have fewer behavioral problems in classrooms where teachers work to connect with them.

Kevin Parr, a fourth-grade teacher for the past 13 years, learned to connect with students early in his career. “One of my biggest mistakes starting out was focusing too much on content and not enough on kids,” explains Parr.

"Often, children are trying to manage a life outside of
school that is unimaginable to many adults."

“The danger in doing this is it can lead teachers into labeling kids for their perceived laziness or disinterest in the material when the root of the problem is factors outside of school. Often, children are trying to manage a life outside of school that is unimaginable to many adults.”

His advice, "Get to know your students, and let your students get to know you.” Parr shares personal stories about his family and childhood, plays games with students at recess, and talks with them about their interests and hobbies.

He says building relationships helps students feel safe and supported and more willing to take risks— which is necessary because, as he explains, “Learning is impossible without taking risks.”

Featured TeacherVision Resource: Learning Students' Names Quickly

New Teacher Mistake #2: Failing to set classroom management expectations right away

When you create structure with classroom routines and provide a clear set of rules and expectations, your school day runs smoothly. Students know what to expect as well as what's expected of them.

On her first day as a teacher in 2009, Amanda Brooks used a PowerPoint presentation to introduce her fifth-grade students to the rules and procedures of her classroom—a process she learned at a pre-school in-service given by Harry Wong, author of The First Days of School.

She and her students practiced everything from their morning routine to how to behave when a visitor enters the classroom. Brooks says this one step set the tone for her to have a great year with her students.

Brooks, who now teaches incoming teachers in her district how to manage their classrooms, says having procedures in place early on helped her focus on teaching and enjoying her career, instead of worrying about behavior issues.

Featured TeacherVision Resource: Classroom Management Strategies

New Teacher Mistake #3: Forgetting that students need to actively participate in learning

Michael Fisher taught for 13 years before becoming an education consultant in 2008. Early in his first year as a teacher, he realized he was so focused on avoiding behavior problems and keeping students on task that he wasn't involving students in learning.

In an early lesson on potential and kinetic energy, for example, Fisher's students watched a video about roller coasters and completed a worksheet. When tested at the end of the week, half the students failed the test.

"What happened was I didn't teach them anything. They weren't engaged," explains Fisher.

"It was the difference between a ripple in a puddle and
a tidal wave. The change was so significant, it underscored the fact that I needed to be a better planner of these
discovery-level modelling type moments."

The next year, Fisher let students construct makeshift roller coasters with clear tubing and weighted balls. Without mentioning potential and kinetic energy at first, he asked students to test out different scenarios and see what happens when they create a short hill or a high hill and use a metal ball versus a wooden ball.

Fisher says once students were involved, their learning went through the roof. "It was the difference between a ripple in a puddle and a tidal wave. The change was so significant, it underscored the fact that I needed to be a better planner of these discovery-level modelling type moments."

Featured TeacherVision Resource: The Basics of Centers

New Teacher Mistake #4: Not taking advantage of online and offline support

Failing to create a professional learning network is a major mistake Fisher sees new teachers make in his role as an education consultant. Whether you use Twitter chats like #hacklearning, Instagram or blogs (like TeacherVision), Fisher says these tools can provide new teachers with personalized professional development.

Creating connections with colleagues in your school is also helpful. Ask if your school or district has a professional learning community or mentoring program or simply reach out to teachers in your grade-level. Whatever you do, don't try to operate as an island.

As Fisher explains, "I think it's hurtful for teachers to hold themselves up in their rooms and not let anything else in, new experiences, new ways of doing things, new methodologies. If you're not willing to share and give and receive, are you doing what's best for kids?"

TeacherVision has resources to support you through your first year as a teacher and beyond. Visit our New Teacher Resources for tools, activities, lesson plans and advice designed specifically for you.

 

Dear First Year Teacher: You Are Amazing

A student at a microscope with teacher assisting

You are incredible. You may not know it yet, but you have made the decision to forever change the lives of thousands of tiny humans (or not so tiny, depending on which grade). This is not something to take lightly - if it was an easy job, schools would be full of passionate and motivated teachers. Regardless, you now have the responsibility to give your very best every day, and to give even more the next day. As you embark on this journey, you may find yourself second-guessing your choice, feeling overworked and undervalued, and in need of a major vacation. You are entitled to all of these emotions. While you feel these things, though, don’t forget to also feel and recognize the following:

There Is No One Like You

There are many different types of teachers - think about all of those that you have encountered throughout your educational career. No matter how much those teachers and experiences may have shaped you, you are now your own brand of amazing in the classroom. Take what you have learned, embody the likeness of those before you, and make it even better. You are here because you are meant to be, and you now have the chance to impact others in the same way that those who came before you made an impact on you.

You Are Enough

Whenever you start to doubt yourself or compare yourself to others, look inward. Trust your instincts. If you do this, you will always teach the best way you know how.

Feeling like you aren’t doing enough? That’s more common than you think. There will always be something you think you should improve or change, and that is what makes you so fantastic. Think about your favorite teacher - he or she felt the same things you are feeling now, but as a student, is that what you noticed? No. You are harder on yourself than any student will be. You are more than enough as you are.

You Are Changing Lives

Are you aware of just how much influence you have when you stand at the front of the room every day? You get to choose the type of experience you provide for your students. You get to choose how they remember school and the way it made them feel when they reflect on it 20 years from now.

In what other profession can you say you have the power to do something so enormous that you change the course and path of 25+ students every year for your entire career?

You can be someone’s safe space, their coach, cheerleader, form of structure, and even guardian angel. You will wear many hats, and you will excel in every one of them. To be so many things to so many people is power not to be taken lightly, but to be relished with pride and honor.

You Are Loved

It may not always show on your students’ faces or in their actions, but you are loved beyond measure. You will spend more time with these students each school year than most parents will with their own children. There will be times when you have to be hard on them, and it won’t be easy, especially when you feel that you have broken the bridge between you and them. There will be times where you have to build up your students, almost obsessively so, and your efforts won’t feel valued. There will be times where you will put a smile on your face when all you want to do is cry. You will face all of these moments, constantly, and each time they will make you second-guess yourself. The fact of the matter is, these students will love each of these versions of you - either in the moment, or much later down the road. Showing you care comes in many forms. Try to remember that it is the same for your students. So, no matter how hard your day has been, or how many difficult decisions you had to make, remember that you are loved.

You will feel many emotions as an educator, and you will continue to feel them no matter how many years you put in or how much experience you get. The most important thing to remember is that all of these emotions are what make you a phenomenal teacher. Continue to push yourself, and make yourself better, but don’t let the ups and downs deter you from the bigger picture: You are doing just fine. In fact, you are doing amazing. You are here because you are meant to be - you have power, you are loved, you are life-changing, you are one of a kind, and you can do this.

A letter from a 6th-year teacher

It is a strange time to begin the teaching journey because all those veteran teachers around you have also become, in many senses, new teachers. All of us are re-learning how best to serve our students, how to plan and re-plan and how to adapt to a whole new environment. Use this to your advantage. Ask for help and seek experienced teacher’s advice, but also know that we are all going to be facing the same challenges and navigating new territory together! You also come with a perspective that does not rely on the practices and traditions that many of us have become comfortable with. You can provide new ideas and are more adaptable than we, who have been teaching longer, might be! 

If you’re feeling anything like me, the most stressful part of going back is being able to imagine what it will look like. My school leaders have gone from an in-person plan to hybrid, as well as planning for an inevitable return to remote learning. I’ve had time to think about each option and will share my own tips, as well as tips from others. As you read them, start to imagine yourself in the classroom (virtual or physical) with your new students. I’ll break it down into the 3 possibilities for the 2020-2021 school year. 

In Person Teaching & Learning

1. Capitalize On Team Building 

I’m going to say this for every section. The benefit of being in person is that students can more easily connect with one another. Take advantage of this time and prioritize team building. These are the skills students need and want to practice, and it will help you get to know your class better. Whether you are teaching elementary, middle or high school, community building is going to be the most important thing you do this year. Ask the returning teachers what types of structures your school already has in place for team building, for example, morning meetings. 

2. Scaffold Remote Learning Practices While You’re In the Classroom

 Unfortunately, it seems as though remote learning will be an inevitable reality at some point this school year. Use your time in person to help scaffold the transition back so you and your students feel prepared. If you are going online and using a platform like Google Classroom, incorporate Google Classroom use and assignments into your in person days. The more practice students have with the resources that will be used remotely, the more time you are creating for high quality learning. 

3. Set Aside Time to Talk About the “Why” 

Being in person means that there will also be lots of new guidelines and safety precautions. Set aside time to let students ask questions and understand the reason for all guidelines (old or new). This will help students buy into the expectations and it will give them a space to express their concerns, confusions and anxieties. This is not a typical school year, so there is no reason you need to pretend it is. If you don’t know a reason why for something, be honest and then follow up by asking your administration, leaders, or a fellow teacher help you with the why. 

Hybrid Teaching & Learning 

1. Capitalize on Team Building During Time Together 

I’m not kidding, I’ll say this every time. There is nothing more important this year than building community among your class. The sense of belongingness that comes with being a part of a team will help you and your class face the many challenges that come with a year of learning and a year during a pandemic. When you are in person, designate time and structures that focus on team building. 

2. Build Community Across Pods and Groups 

Many hybrid plans involve splitting students up. The challenge here is going from two classes to having four different classes. Brainstorm ways (or research because you don’t need to reinvent the wheel) to bring remote students and in person students together. You could do this virtually, or through letters and notes. But it’s important for students to feel like they belong and are moving forward together this year. 

3. Scaffold Independent Work for Asynchronous Learning/Remote Learning 

Many hybrid plans also involve students completing work independently during their remote days. Whether they will be doing work virtually or on paper, scaffold this process. Even for high-schoolers, it is helpful to have a plan and steps that will provide students with structure and support when they are on their own. For your planning, it may also be helpful to follow the same format when students are remote. For example, remote days are always a mini-independent project or a research day. That way both you and students know what to expect and you can focus on refining skills, rather than coming up with something new every day or week.

Remote Teaching & Learning 

1. Start with Team Building 

Have I mentioned how important team building is? Remote team building poses distinct challenges. If your students are equipped with computers and reliable technology then having virtual team building sessions is a great way to start. There are many ideas online from companies who have done virtual team building in the past. If your students are without technology, the next best thing is writing letters, postcards and making each other small gifts. If you’re able to organize a safe outdoor meeting once a week or month, that can also provide an opportunity for students to be with each other. No matter what, keep community building on the top of your priority list. It will be what students remember far more than what they were able to accomplish in math class. 

2. Designate Time for One on One or Small Group Check-ins 

Check-ins can be by phone, video, or even stopping by 6 feet away (depending on how small or geographically close your school community is). Remote learning takes away many of the important pieces of in person learning, like seeing your students each day and recognizing when there might be something going on outside of school. Check-ins (hopefully weekly or more if you feel comfortable) can provide a space where students can share how they are doing, ask for help or just talk with you. Of course, it will take time to build relationships with students, so ease into these check-ins and don’t take it personally when students don’t want to share. If your check-ins are consistent then students will know they can rely on the meeting and rely on you.

3. Have an End of Day Ritual 

This is key. When you are remote, you are probably in your own home and the line between work and home is gone. Still, you can redraw that line by creating an end of day ritual to mark the end of school. This can be a walk, making yourself a cup of tea, calling a friend, anything that will help you transition from working to being home and relaxing. This is especially hard during the first year of teaching. I remember staying at school far too late and trying to plan every single thing. You will need discipline to make this happen, and it’s helpful to have someone who will hold you accountable to your plan to stop working. Trust me, teachers can work forever, but you’ll never feel like you’re done. Set a time and step away. You’ll still do just fine! 

Advice for Every Option 

1. Get to Know Your Co-workers 

This will be more challenging this year because it’s not as easy to go to a restaurant after school on Friday or have teacher get-togethers. If you can, make time to hang out with your co-workers or ask to set aside a “coffee date” to ask for advice and learn more about the school. Just like your class needs to feel a sense of belongingness, you do too! It is so much better when you have teammates helping you face all of the challenges that teaching will bring this year. Still, try to avoid teacher gossip. That can break down a sense of belongingness and pit others against each other. Focus on building strong relationships! 

2. Make Time for You

I probably should not have put this second because this is so important. I’m sure you’ve heard that you can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s true. This year is going to exhaust you in ways you never could have predicted. Again, it’s going to take discipline at first, but you need to set aside time for you. Hang out with friends on the weekdays, give yourself a spa day or “vacation” day. You will need this to be the best version of yourself for your students and your school. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. Do Not Reinvent the Wheel

You’ve probably heard this phrase before too, at least I hope you have. Do not reinvent the wheel. There are curricula and resources that teachers have created before you. It’s okay to rely on those while you get a better sense of what and how you want to teach. You can still be critical of the resources you’re using and work to ensure that a diverse group of experiences and voices are represented, but that does not mean you have to make everything yourself.

Lots of things are going to be different this year, not just for you. Some things will probably be the same as my first year teacher. You’ll be too hard on yourself at times, and you’ll feel like you’re failing. Maybe you are, but just like we teach our students, failing is a necessary part of learning. You will also never forget your first class. So, take a deep breath and get ready for a wild ride. You’re going to do incredible things, whether it feels like it or not and we’re going to make it through together. 

Author Bios:

Chris Edwards is an elementary music teacher who enjoys spending as much time as possible with his wife and daughter. Read more of his teaching insights over at Music Man of Steel.

Wendy McMahon

Wendy McMahon is an education technology writer who has been working and writing in the edtech field for more than 15 years. She currently writes for EdSurge, EdTech Magazine and Pearson. She holds a Journalism Degree from the University of King's College.

Olivia Bechtel

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member Olivia Bechtel is a first grade teacher in Westerville, Ohio who loves implementing engaging, innovative lessons to inspire her students. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and two dogs.

Mikaela Prego

Mikaela Prego is an elementary educator from Massachusetts. She spent the last 3 years teaching 4th grade in Colorado, now she is back teaching in Massachusetts. Her favorite subjects to teach are math, science and social studies and she is a huge fan of putting the students in charge of as much of their learning as possible.

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