It's that time of year where new college grads begin to get hired for their first year teaching! If I were to be able to give my first year teacher self advice this is what I would say...
1. Plan BEFORE the school year starts!
I think the biggest piece of advice I'd give to first year teachers is to plan before the school year starts. I know that might sound crazy and maybe you're thinking, No, I wanna enjoy my summer! I still think you can enjoy your summer AND also get a lot of planning done.
Trust me, it's going to make a huge difference when school starts. You will be so much busier and have so many other things on your to do list once school starts. I am so grateful that I had done a lot of planning the summer before I started my first year.
Obviously plans will change and you'll just have to adjust, but adjusting and tweaking is easier than starting from scratch! It took a huge load off knowing I at least had an idea of what I was going to be teaching and in what order. Even just a basic scope and sequence will make the school year less stressful. I have a scope and sequence template that I use and love!! It's digital which means you can link all the resources you're using for easy access, color code things, and easily change things. It also makes planning future semesters easier cause you can just make a copy and tweak!
I also tried to come up with individual lesson plans-- not like official formally written ones that they makes you write in college... just bullet points of what I would do to teach that content. I also worked to create presentations, worksheets, or activities needed for that content. You can create things on your own or find resources on TPT or ask for resources from friends and coworkers. I have lots of resources on my TPT store that I create specifically hoping it helps teachers out who don't have the time or don't want to spend time creating things.
2. Set boundaries from the start!
This is of course easier said than done. But getting in a habit of respecting your own boundaries from day one should make it a little bit easier to do. It's so important to decide when you will work and when you won't.
How long will you stay at school? Maybe pick just one day of the week to stay a little longer to prep. I know as a first year teacher there's a LOT of prep cause you've never done any of it before. But if you don't plan ahead when you'll stay longer then you'll end up staying long EVERY DAY. You could also choose to come in earlier if you prefer to get things done before school starts instead of after (that's how I am).
It's also important to decide things like will you have your work email on your phone? If so, will your notifications be turned on? When will you respond to emails? All the time? Or only during contract hours? Once you respond one time on a weekend then it will be an expectation for you to reply on weekends. You can even set up an automatic response to send out on weekends letting people know you'll respond Monday.
Whatever you want your boundaries to be, decide them and stick to them!!
3. Figure out your classroom systems!
Before the school year starts you want to think through alllll the systems and routines in your classroom. Where will students turn things in? Where will you put papers that are graded? Where will you put no name papers? What will your late work policy be? What will you do when students are absent? How will you manage students going to the bathroom? How will you manage taking attendance? Will you assign seats or let students choose? What will your desk/table formation look like? Will you allow food or gum in your classroom? How will you handle cell phones in class? Are you going to have some sort of bell ringer or routine that students do every time they come into class? What will your clean up or leaving class look like?
Most of the answers to these questions depend on what age you teach, what topic you teach, and what school you teach at! Some schools have school wide policies on things like hall passes, cell phones, and late work, some don't. What works for me may not be what works for you. Ask around and see what others do. See what has worked well for them and what hasn't.
4. Don't be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS
I think sometimes as teachers we may feel afraid to ask questions because we are used to being the one in the room who should know what's going on. But you're new to this! IF you don't know how to do something or you're not sure, ask someone! Asking questions is much better than assuming and assuming wrong.
As a first year teacher there are SO many things you have never done before and you won't know how to do. It's okay to not know! It's okay to ask questions! It's better to learn the right way. If you're struggling with something like classroom management, get help! Ask a coworker, a friend, admin, or even reach out to someone on social media!
5. Keep doing things YOU enjoy outside of the classroom!
I know you want to be a great teacher (or else you wouldn't be reading this post right now...) but you must hear me when I say you cannot turn your whole life into teaching. Make time for the things you enjoy and the PEOPLE you enjoy!
If you have always enjoyed going for runs, don't stop once you're teaching just because you feel you don't have time for it. If you have always enjoyed baking, don't stop just because your teacher to do list is long. You have time for what you make time for. Whatever your hobbies are, whatever brings you joy, keep doing it! Make time for it. Schedule it in if you have to.
I believe that NOT working on teaching things all the time will actually make you a better teacher. You are more than a teacher. Don't ever forget that.
6. Plan out your meals! It's important to get your nutrition!
Some people may disagree with me on this, but I do not think you should ever skip meals! You need that nutrition/fuel! Having a plan for your meals during the busy week will make it easier to not skip any.
I'll tell you what I do, but obviously you need to do what works for you!
For breakfast, I make a smoothie every morning. This works well for me because it's super quick and I can take it to go so I can drink it on my way to school or once I get to school. I use an insulated cup for mine to keep it frozen.
For lunches, I make enough dinner the night before to have leftovers for lunch the next day! I find this easy cause I only cook once but get multiple meals out of it. I know some aren't fans of leftovers but I love them and it's super convenient!! This is the lunch bag I use and LOVE.
For dinner, I have lots of quick easy recipes that I make during the week but I also love to make a bunch of freezer meals to have on hand for evenings where I really don't have time to make dinner. You can check out some of the freezer meals I make on this post. I will continue to make more posts about recipes I use! I also post on my Instagram stories each Saturday the meals and recipes I plan to make for dinner that week. If you don't already have an instant pot, I HIGHLY recommend because I use mine multiple times a week! It can also be used as a slow cooker which is another great option for work days.
7. Be very clear with your students about expectations on day 1!
This is one probably the biggest lesson I learned from my first year teaching. You need to be super clear about your expectations from day ONE. Be clear about what is appropriate behavior in your classroom and what is not. And if they DON'T behave appropriately what will happen. Decide before schools starts so you can make it very clear to them. And then of course you have to actually follow through...
I found that a lot of student misbehavior came from them not understanding where the line was and what I was okay with or not. Communicating CLEARLY what you expect from the first day will make a world of difference. If you don't, you'll find yourself in a situation where you are trying to crack down and tighten up on those limits and it's really hard if you haven't been firm on those all along. You're going to have to repeat and repeat and repeat the expectation, but it will make your life easier if you do from the very beginning.
8. Do not spend tons of your own money on your classroom!
This will depend on your personality and how much you care what your classroom feels like... I am someone who care what my classroom looks like because it's a place I spend lots of time in and I want it to be a place where students can feel safe and welcome so they're able to learn. However, even if you do care about what your classroom looks like or have a lot of supply wants, it doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of your own money!
There are lots of options to get the supplies you need for your classroom. If you have never heard of DonorsChoose I would definitely check that out, especially if you're needing something big for your classroom.
But what I have done and I highly recommend is creating a classroom wishlist. You can do this super easily on Amazon. You can even set it up so that when they order an item from your list, it can directly ship to you! I set the shipping address as my school so it makes it super easy cause they don't even have to worry about getting it to you. Plus, Amazon is amazing and ships so quickly. I have been able to get what I need for my classroom is by creating a wishlist and sending it to parents, as well as posting on social media to my friends/family. (NOT to other teachers!!! They are have their own classrooms to worry about, they do not need to donate to yours). I am forever grateful for every person who has donated to my classroom! You may be surprised how many are willing.
And remember, you don't want to buy anything that's too expensive because things get ruined! As a middle school teacher I can tell you, don't have anything too nice in your classroom! Keep it simple, keep it clean, make it a space that students want to be in.
9. Create a support system--make sure you have people in your life who can support you! Including other teachers who can fully understand what you're going through.
Teaching is a lot. There is no sugar coating it. But having a solid support system can make all the difference. Make sure you have people in your life who can support you during this crazy time. This could be family, roommates, friends, or coworkers.
I recommend having someone in your life who is also a teacher or who has been a teacher who you can talk to because they will fully understand. This may mean making friends with other teachers at your school! I've made an effort to eat lunch in the faculty room to get to know the other people in my building and help make my first year teaching way less isolating. The people you work with are game changers for how you'll feel at your job. I think this is why some teachers have a horrible couple of first years or have a good couple of first years. I was blessed to have awesome people I worked with and who mentored me and supported me my first year. If your school hasn't already told you who your mentor is, ask them if you can have one!
This could also include friends from college/student teaching! I am so grateful to have stayed connected with friends from college who graduated with me in my major because we have continued to keep a group chat and support each other through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
You can even find support through the teachers online. That is the beauty of social media! A huge reason I started my Instagram right before my first year teaching was to be able to connect with other teachers, specifically other FCS teachers like me. You obviously have to have a balance because sometimes social media can impact you negatively but if you can use it for connection, it really is awesome. I'd love to connect with you through Instagram or by Email! You can join my email list here!
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