Friday, July 26, 2013

First Year Teacher Tips


I'm getting ready to start my 5th year of teaching and had a request to do a post on First Year Teacher Tips. Let me start by saying, I do not by any means consider myself to be a "veteran" teacher. I'm just hoping that I can share some helpful tips of the trade I've pick up along the way with those who are just getting started or those who want to take a trip down memory lane! :)

1. Celebrate Often

First off, CONGRATULATIONS!! You landed your first teaching job! That's EXCITING! You should feel proud. Now before you let your nerves get the best of you, remind yourself that you were chosen for a reason. You have so much to offer and this is just the first of many victories you will be celebrating this first year. You will celebrate the first time you look up and realize you don't have a trail of ducklings behind you wondering what they should be doing next. You'll celebrate making it through your first parent teacher conference week. You'll celebrate making it home before 6:00 PM. So put your party pants on!!


2. Learn The Management Mambo

Classroom management is the system of routines and expectations you've set in your classroom. The better you have taught these routines and expectations, the smoother your classroom will run and the less behavior management issues you will have. Sometimes people mistake behavior management and classroom management for being the same thing. But your behavior management is whatever system you have chosen to track positive and negative behaviors. Classroom management is your kids knowing what they should do first when they enter the classroom in the morning. Knowing how to return books to your classroom library when they are finished with them. Transitioning from the carpet to their desks quickly so you can jump right into the next activity. All of these things are classroom management. 

3. Write Down Routines For E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Regardless of whether you're teaching kindergarten or middle school, your students are going to need to know what your expectations are for when they need to use the bathroom. They need to know how to replace a broken pencil. And they definitely need to know what you want them to do when they finish an assignment in half the time you thought it would take them- because if they don't they're going to start bothering everyone around them. Before you can make your routines and expectations clear to your students, you need to be clear on them yourself. So trust me on this, you want to write them down so you don't have to try and make these decisions on the fly. Scholastic has this excellent list of 30 Classroom Procedures that every teacher should plan for to help get you started!

4. Consider Investing In A Lunch Box.

Long hours and short lunch breaks make it easy to start skipping meals or running to your closest fast food joint for your next one. Even if you're not a chef in the kitchen (I know I'm not) bringing food to work with you increases your chances of getting some good food into your body, which is essential to making it through the day!! Just grabbing snack breaks here and there  will keep you going. If my kids are having snack, I try and have a snack. If I get stuck on a phone call during lunch or a meeting after work runs longer than expected (they usually do) I can grab something from my bag and power through!


5. Learn Thy Standards

Do the words Common Core ring any bells? Even if you're not in a Common Core state, your state and district has grade level standards that they expect you to be teaching. You can't just bank on the fact that the curriculum manual you were handed at orientation will cover everything. It will help if you have taken the time to read through your standards and continue to revisit them over the course of the year. I like to keep mine printed and in a fun binder for quick reference. 

6. Beat The Paper Trap

The ammount of papers that float around a school on a daily basis is mind boggling. Student work, assessments, notes from families, staff meeting hand outs, fliers to send home - the list goes on and on. Though it may feel obsessive, having a space for every paper to go the moment it leaves your hand will help save your sanity. Click here to read how I work to beat the paper trap. 


7.  DON'T vent on social media

Yes your Facebook and twitter etc are your personal spaces and you should feel free to express yourself freely.  But I strongly caution you against ranting about your work frustrations on social media. You never know who may be reading, or taking a screen shot, of the words you post at the end of a difficult day. Everyone has things they need to vent about, just be smart about how and where you do it.  You don't want parents, co-workers, or principals to read into your words the wrong way.  

8.  Be Intentional With You Room Layout

I spend a lot of time shuffling around my furniture whenever I inherit a new classroom. This is phase one for me in setting up my room. Before any decorating or curriculum prep, I need to have my room laid out. But before you can really set up your space, you need to make decisions about your teaching style. Will you be teaching in small guided reading and math groups? If yes, then you will need to set up a table space where you can work with a group and still be able to see what the rest of your class is doing. Will your students work in centers during the day? Then you will need to make sure they have easy access to the materials they will need and a defined workspace. Traffic flow is very important!


9. Don't Pile Too Much On Your Plate

 Repeat after me, "I can do anything but not everything!"Your first year you may feel pressure to become involved in as many extras as possible because you want show your enthusiasm and support of your new school. This can quickly lead to over commitment. You will already be working in overdrive your first year to handle everything you need to do for your students each day. If you volunteer for too many committees or after school activities, you may find yourself quickly burning out. I advise you to just pick one thing that you're really interested at becoming involved with and sticking with it this year. Another great way to show support is to volunteer to help with an event night. Maybe there is a Literacy Night committee that you're not a part of that requests volunteers to help out with things the night of the event. That's a great way to lend a helping hand and support your school community without over committing yourself to another responsibility that lasts the duration of the year.

10. Keep a Swag Stash. 

Whether it's a drawer, a box, or a high shelf in the closet-  find a place to keep some personal items like:
  •  Advil/Tylenol for headaches
  • Personal hygeine items. (Confession: I have driven to work before only to realize I forgot to put on deodorant!! What!? So now there is always a bar in my swag stash!)
  • Phone/Keys 
  • Extra set of clothing juuust in case... (paint, glue, puke. When working with kids it's all fair game people!)
  • Chocolate. Always Chocolate.
11. Hold Onto Your Lesson Plans

One of the main reasons your first year is so exhausting is you haven't written any lesson plans yet. And now you have to write lots of them! So hold on to them. Yes you will want to continue to add to and evolve your plans each year as your groups change and you find new things to bring to the table. But keeping your initial plans allows you to work smarter and not harder year two...three...four...and onward.


12. Pick a Focus

I'm going on year five and I still struggle with this one. You'll want to do it all - be the best reading teacher, the best math teacher, the best classroom manager that your students have ever known. And you'll want to do it all right off the jump. It's in our nature to want the best for our students. But you really will accomplish a lot more of what you want to do if you set 1-3 long term goals each year. List your goals and space them out so that they're broken into realistic chunks of what you want to accomplish.


13. Find Yo-Self a Support System

 Hopefully you are automatically paired up with a brilliant mentor or  have a rock star team that will have your back!! But all you really need is one person. Find a teaching bestie! Someone you can vent to in confidence, turn to for suggestions and advice, giggle with over the crazy things kids say, and tag team watching your class for you when you just can't hold it until lunch.


14. Take Your Work For A Joy Ride 

I can't tell you how many times I lug home a bag full of papers only to leave them in the backseat un-touched until I get back to school again the next day. I know how hard it can be to just step away but you have to do it. Make plans with people to do things that you love. It's easier to walk away when you have committed to something and would be letting others down if you bailed.

15. Ch-ch-ch Changes

 It's okay to admit that maybe the current seating arrangement that you spent hours strategically plotting in an effort to separate your talkers is not in fact actually working that well. Take a deep breath, grab a piece of chocolate from the swag stash, and try a new arrangement. Are you hating your behavior management system, the one with the three colored cards that your entire team uses but just isn't jiving with your crew? Don't be afraid to try something new that works better for you. At the end of the day you have to do what's best for you and your class and it's okay to switch things up. Kids are way more adaptable to change then us adults are, and far more forgiving.


16. Buy Oranges (In Bulk)

Everyday you will enter a room full of  new germs who will try like clockwork to take you out right before parent teacher conference week.  So take your vitamin C, make sure you're getting enough sleep, and Lysol like crazy.


17. Maximize Your Wall Space

Don't feel compelled to cover every inch of your classroom walls with stuff before the first day of school. You should look at your walls as a teaching aide that is with you all day everyday! Post things that your students will refer to throughout the day to help reinforce what you've taught them. Anchor charts, word walls, focus walls - all of these are things your students will refer back to and utilize even when you're working with a small group or helping out the kid who tied their shoelaces to their chair during snack. (Been there, done that.) These items should find their way onto your walls over time as they're taught. Rules, calenders, schedule cards are all things kids will refer too during the day. But if you start the year with everything you're going to teach already hung up, it can be overstimulating. Also, you want to save space to display student work!


18. Friend The Janitor and The Secretary

Trust me on this one. These are the people that will help your life go round at work and you will want to make fast friends with them! Show genuine appreciation for all that they do. I mean, would you really want to tackle the surprise that first grader left on the bathroom floor? Or be on the front lines for every parent phone call that comes in during the day? Daily thank you's plus a cupcake on a birthday or holidays go a long way. I'm just sayin'.

19. Be Thrifty

All the awesome things you see in veteran teacher rooms that make you green with envy, they didn't get there overnight. Rugs, iPads, book bins for every student, pillows, chair pockets, ginormous libraries-  you don't need it ALL to start. It's easy to blow through your life savings with one trip through the Lakeshore catalog if you're not careful. You can find baskets and bins galore at The Dollar Tree. Donors Choose can help you start to bring some of those fun extras into your room. You can also score some good finds by browsing sites like Craigslist and typing "classroom" into the search engine. One thing you might want to consider investing in year one - mailboxes. You will use mailboxes every year again and again so it is worth it to purchase a sturdy set.

20.  Just Keep Swimming...

Some days the score board will read Students: 17 Teacher: 0 and all the tricks that you swore were up your sleeves that morning still won't save you. Go to sleep at least an hour earlier than usual that night. And just remind yourself, tomorrow is a new day! My first year was long. At times it was overwhelming. The thought, "What have I gotten myself into," may have crossed my mind a time or two ten. But you didn't get into this line of work because you thought it was going to be easy. You got into it because you knew you'd get to effect lives for the better, everyday. So pace yourself, and enjoy the ride! Experience is the best education. I learned more my first week in the classroom than I did my first year at college and you will too!!

 {This is a picture of me my first year! There will always be a special place in my heart for this first class of mine!!}

What is your best tip for first year teachers? 

30 comments:

  1. These are some great tips. I agree with always having chocolate on hand. ;) My biggest teaching tip for a first year teacher is the same as one of yours. Find a mentor teacher even if you are not assigned one. I had a wonderful mentor teacher, but then I also found a good friend who I could vent to in private and never worry that anything I said would be repeated. I think you definitely need both!

    Amanda
    Mrs. Pauley’s Kindergarten

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  2. Awesome list!!! Resist the urge to come in super early and stay super late every single night (I still struggle with this one!)

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing such honest advice! I still have a year left of school but I am already stashing away good tricks and tips. I loved your definition of the difference between classroom management and behavior management, I think those two things get meshed together in the course work I have had so far so I will remember your advice on that topic for sure.

    Amanda

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  4. My tip is to have great sub plans and everything laid out where it is easy to find...because your immune system won't be strong enough to fight off all those germs coming through your door every day! (After you've been teaching a while you will be as healthy as a horse!)

    tokyoshoes at hotmail dot com

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  5. Awesome! I'm going into my third year, but I still feel like a newbie! lol. I loved your tips and will have to keep them in mind. My biggest thing to work on is spending a couple hours every night NOT thinking about school work and devoting more time to family and friends. :)

    Sarah
    teachingiscolorful.blogspot.com
    scoatoam@gmail.com

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  6. Great list! My suggestion is to use your planning period as your planning period and not a gossip period. It is so easy to get pulled into another teacher's room to just vent. I found if I make a list of what needs to be done before I go home then I can work on that stuff in my planning period. This helps me stay on track so that I am not there until 6 every night. I also try to go early in the morning when there are less distractions and find that I get alot of stuff done off of my checklist!

    renetowens@sbcglobal.net

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  7. Don't hold a grudge. Things aren't always going to go as planned, there will be days when you don't have time to get to that superb writing lesson you've been planning, sometimes that math lesson that you developed to be interactive and engaging will flop. There will be times when a kiddo annoys to no end (though they probably love you and just want your attention). Don't wake up feeling bad about these things that happened. You can always move things around to fit in a lesson, you may have to approach lessons again and again to find what works, and there is no use in being mad at that kiddo the next day because chances are they've forgotten it. You're the only one that didn't sleep well or worried all evening.

    bcosby83@gmail.com
    Brenda
    You Might Be a First Grader….

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  8. These are great! I wish I had had these last year, before I dove into my first year! One tip I'd add to this list is to accept help when it's offered!! Turns out, I'm kind of a control freak, and had a really hard time delegating responsibilities to an aide or volunteers, because I would think, "It's easier for me to do it myself, because I know exactly how I want it done!" The more often you turn down help, though, the less often people will offer it! Be willing to let others take on the lower priority, but still very important, classroom tasks. You can't do it all!

    Tricia
    oldnavychick4@yahoo.com

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  9. Before you leave after school, try to make sure you are completely ready for the next day (I'm *AWFUL* at this one!) That way, when there is a massive pile-up on your commute into work, or the copier is broken, or you suddenly come down with the flu overnight and just can't make it into work the next day, all your things for the day will at least be ready! (Obviously, you can manage to get ready for the whole WEEK in advance, that would be even better, but that is REALLY hard!)

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  10. One thing that I do is stay a little late one day each week (for me it's Fridays so I can miss the horrible Friday rush hour traffic) and get all of your copies made for the next week. I also do my lesson plans and flag the stories in our basal and math text we're gonna be doing. Then I don't have to worry about school stuff over the weekend and relax and enjoy my time off!
    Kelly
    kthompsondesign@gmail.com

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  11. This was an excellent post! I'm going to send it to the new teacher on my team!

    Alex
    theschoolpotato.blogspot.com

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  13. Start a "feel-good" file of students' notes, drawings, etc. When you have a rough day, pull out the file and have a stroll down memory lane. It always cheers me up and helps me remember that every day is a new day!

    Lauren
    laurenefulmer@gmail.com

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  14. Remember why you became a teacher. There will be a day when you think you have lost your mind...and then you look at that kid, who smiles at you and gives you a hug and tells you you are the best teacher on the planet...then it is better. Having a feel-good file helps too! And don't forget you are human.

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  15. Wonderful tips! The best advice I can give is don't give up! I wanted to quit nearly every day my first year of teaching and often found myself googling "what to do with an education degree," but I'm SO GLAD I stuck with it. I've since talked two first year teachers off the ledge (so to speak), and they are both glad they stayed with it. I'm now going into my seventh year, and I can now say that I love my job!

    marissazimmer@gmail.com
    wearefirstgradestars.blogspot.com

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  16. I have truly enjoyed reading your blog. You listed tons of wonderful tips. These tips are great for newbies, but they're also great reminders for those that have been teaching for a few years. I'm still on summer mode, but it was nice to read your blog and 'refresh my memory'.
    What I'd like to add is: Always have comfortable shoes. Either wear comfy shoes to work or have an extra pair at school.
    Najda
    najda_2000@yahoo.com

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  17. wow... best post I've read this summer.
    I love all the tips.

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  18. My advice is more about what to do this year to help you out next year. In addition to keeping your lesson plan book (I have 14!) for next year, also keep a copy of every worksheet you assign in one or two master files. If you keep it in order, you will have an excellent reference for next year. You may not use every assignment you used the previous year, but at least you will have something to reference. I also keep a copy of my weekly parent newsletter and homework in another folder. Again, this gives you a place to start from next year. It will save you a ton of time because all you will need to do is modify and tweak. Consider putting copies of newsletters and homework letters in Dropbox. This makes for easy sharing among team members, and easy access from home, if necessary. Good luck!

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  19. Wow! What a list! My tip is to make sure to take it one day at a time, but to always remember to be ready for the next day. Not only will taking these few minutes at the end of the day help you be ready in case you are sick and have a substitute, but it will also help you stay on top of things if you tidy up and plan for the next day!

    Kristen
    Sprinkled in Second
    http://thesprinkledteacher.blogspot.com/

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  20. Thank you so much! I will be starting my first year of teaching this year and am SO nervous! I feel completely unprepared. This helps remind me that the first year will be tough but there are things I can do to make it easier on myself.

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  21. Today was day 1 and whooeee! I have a massive headache and am headed to bed. When my kiddos come in on day 2, they will have new seats and hopefully a better idea of what happens in 2nd grade!

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  22. As an almost brand new teacher (going into year 2!) I would also add to surround yourself with positive people! It is so easy to spend way too much time listening to someone complain about their students, parents, workload, admin, etc, and pretty soon you are complaining right along with them....and you leave their room feeling worse than when you came in! I have a 2 minute rule- you can vent about something for 2 minutes, and then get over it! Hope everyone has a GREAT GREAT year!

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  23. Thank you so much for posting this! I am beginning my first year in a couple of weeks. I am all ready overwhelmed from the teachers' meetings discussing the new curriculum. Thanks again for the great advice!

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  24. I came across your blog because I'm searching for some first year teaching tips. I just got a first grade teaching position and I'm starting to get a little overwhelmed with everything coming my way...especially the fact that there's only a month left before school starts! Your tips are really helpful for me! I'm new to the blogging scene and am trying to get some followers for my blog and also my classroom blog where I will be blogging with my students! I'd love if you could follow one or both so my students have someone to communicate with once the year begins! It would also be great to have your suggestions/comments on some things.

    My Blog: http://diggingintofirstgrade.blogspot.com/
    Classroom Blog: http://fantasticfirstgraders2014.blogspot.com/

    Thank you!
    Taylor

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  26. I found your blog while I was searching for tips for first year teachers. I am currently in my last semester of classes and getting ready to student teach in the spring. I have anxiously been waiting to find out where I am student teaching all semester. I found out last Thursday where I will be student teaching and I am very excited! I really enjoyed reading this post because it covered many great points to consider when I plan for my first year of teaching. One of the ideas that you shared that I also think will be very important is to celebrate often. I think that it will be important to celebrate your milestones while teaching to help you make it through the first year! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! :)

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