Practical Advice for New Teachers

This will be my fifth year as an educator and, probably, the first year in which I feel confident, competent, and ready to branch out to new teaching strategies.  All new teachers need to be told that teaching gets better with time.  For me, years one and two flew by in a blur, year three was when I got the hang of classroom management, and year four was when I stopped sitting in front of my computer every night researching, researching, researching to prepare for the next day’s lessons.  This year, I have some pretty lofty goals for myself and my classroom, but I have loftier goals for myself as an education and teacher advocate.

As a teacher advocate, I want to give some philosophical and practical advice to support new teachers.  You, new teacher, need to know that it will get easier.  Your first year will be the most difficult and draining, but it will get easier–just wait it out and don’t give up.

A mantra for new teachers:  “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” (Michael Caine)  It is possible to be a nervous wreck without having to appear like a nervous wreck.  (*I remind myself of this quote every time I willingly accept a new role, responsibility, or duty into my already full life!*)

Dealing with challenging kids:  Know that kids are resilient, and you’ll screw up when dealing with them.  When you make mistakes (say something you probably shouldn’t, accuse a kid of doing something they may not have been doing, etc.), apologize and move on.  The next day is a brand new day.

Dealing with challenging parents (something I’m still struggling with!!):  As a parent myself, I now know that feeling of protection parents harbor for their children.  I do want to protect my daughter from everything and everyone.  Unfortunately, for some parents, this sense of protecting manifests itself in attacking the teacher.  In these conversations, remind yourself that it is the parent’s right and responsibility to stand up for his/her child, and no matter what form this takes against you, you need to be firm in your own beliefs.  Always do what is educationally sound, always apologize when something you said or did was a mistake, and always support those annoying parents who email you once a day to check in on their children–over-involved parents are better for a child than apathetic and/or absent parents.

Also…when a parent, administrator, fellow teacher, other stakeholder, etc. sends you an angry email, or an email that sounds angry, open a new email, don’t type anything in the “To:” line, type the response you’d really like to send–complete with expletives, angry words, perfunctory remarks, and accusations–fume as you’re typing, sit back and pretend to hit the send button…then don’t.  Close/delete the email.  Then, type your less impulsive reply to the parent, administrator, fellow teacher, other stakeholder, etc. and actually it send.

Dealing with the stress of teaching:  Take care of yourself.  Know your boundaries and limits as a professional, and conduct yourself in a way that is aligned with your boundaries.  If you cannot take that voluntary duty your administrator has asked you to do, tell him/her no.  Teaching is both your job and your life, but that doesn’t mean you need to bleed for your building.

And now, some practical tips I’ve learned:

  1. When you create a multiple choice test (I know, I know, not a good way to assess, but if you do create them…) make your left margin .5″ and format such that your answer lines are left aligned.  When you grade, you can line up an entire class period horizontally across your desk/table and grade a group of them at once.
  2. Know that when you need the copier, it will be down.  Make your copies in advance.
  3. Along with copying, reduce the number of copies you need.  Be innovative in finding ways to reduce your handouts, worksheets, etc.   No kid is benefiting from the stack of 150, one-sided copies of crossword puzzles you are using to practice vocabulary.
  4. Touch the paper in your staff mailbox only once.  Put it where it needs to go when you get it and avoid the every-growing stack of useless papers, magazines, surveys, and trash that accumulates on teacher desks.
  5. Use dropbox.com.  Many times I have gotten all the way to school only to find I left my flashdrive at home on my office desk.  Dropbox saves all your files online to be accessed from any computer.  Try it out–there’s nothing worse than having to come up with a lesson on the fly!
  6. Assign seats.  So many teachers today let students choose where they sit, but I have had much more luck with assigned seats.  I think this is helpful in creating a collaborative, cooperative, discussive classroom because it avoids the cliques in the class who end up controlling all of the discussion (and the tone of your room).
  7. Teachers make it a habit of moving the “annoying” kids toward the back of the room; I make it a habit of moving them right next to my teacher’s desk.  This is my way of saying “I care” to the child while challenging myself to make every day contact with him or her.
  8. Always do what you believe is right at the time, and be willing to admit when you have made a mistake.  You will have to defend your choices at some point, be able and ready to do so.
  9. Organize!!!  I have a stack of “in boxes” and a stack of “out boxes” by class period.  When I take work, I immediately put it into the “in box”.  That way, I’m not losing papers.  If you have a tendency to lose papers, your students will pick up on that and use it to their advantage!
  10. Find coworkers who are supportive to talk to.  Don’t be a “closed door” teacher; it’s a lonely way to teach.
  11. Write your agenda on the board every day.  Your students like to know what’s coming next, and it will keep you on track as well.
  12. When you start feeling negative about your job, the kids, your school, the district, your peers, etc., stay out of the teachers’ lounge for a few days!!!  I hate to say it, but sometimes, lunch is the most depressing part of the day.  If the Mr. Curmudgeons are bringing you down, stay away for a little while.  Just don’t make a habit of it and become an outcast!
  13. Finally, “Fake it till you make it.”  I participated in theater productions in high school, and I think this was one of the best experiences to guide me through teaching.  When you don’t know the answer, when you aren’t prepared, when something happens that pulls you out of your routine and into chaos, act like you know what you’re doing, and eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable in the unpredictable.  You don’t know everything, so when Mr. Smartypants in the front and center of your class asks a question just to challenge you, admit that you don’t know and TEACH HIM how you go about finding the answer by hopping on the computer yourself!

Remember, you are a professional, so act like one.

Best of luck in your first year.  Stick around for years 2, 3, and 4–they get so much better!

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