It’s daunting, isn’t it? You’ve just been hired as a new teacher and now you’re expected to perform miracles in the classroom. It’s no wonder so many new teachers feel overwhelmed and lost during their first year. But don’t worry, we’re here to help!
In this post, we will share 25 tips for new teachers that will help you adjust to this huge lifestyle change. These tips are based on our own experience as well as feedback from other new teachers. So read on and get ready to take on the challenge!
What do first year teachers struggle with?
Most first year teachers have never failed at much of anything, at least not in an academic context. There’s a great chance they loved school growing up, and that’s why they wanted to become a teacher.
Also, many are just graduating college, where almost everything that mattered to them could be learned by just studying hard enough.
Teaching is not like that. It’s not a science that can be acquired simply by maximizing professional development, pinning lots of ideas on Pinterest, or reading tons of blog posts (unfortunately). It’s an art, and it’s something that you can only work toward mastering with experience.
Most first year teachers want the instant gratification of success, and they struggle when their administrative team comes back with lukewarm praise, or even areas of their practice that require immediate attention.
First year teachers need to get used to swallowing their pride, accepting criticism, and getting comfortable with some degree of failure. After all, we tell our students that mistakes are how we learn – so why is it so difficult to adopt that mentality ourselves?
You don’t need to have all of the answers! In fact, you probably won’t. But if you’re willing to learn from your failures, then eventually you’ll be able to turn those failures into successes. There are so many tips for new teachers that I could share (and will), but none of them will matter if you’ve got crazy unrealistic expectations and a huge ego.
How can a first year teacher succeed?
There are so many tips for new teachers that we’ll explore in the next section. But my most important one has to do with choosing realistic goals for your first year. If all you have in mind is a vision of a beautiful classroom, children behaving all the time, you in perfect command of your classroom, glowing reviews from administrators, and meaningful relationships with coworkers, you’re going to end the year feeling unsuccessful. These things don’t usually happen in year 1 – at least not all at once.
Even the end of my fourth year of teaching, my assistant principal asked me to set one big goal for the next year, and together, we decided on mastering parent communication by adding Seesaw to my toolbox. At the end of the year, I was absolutely successful and proud of what I had accomplished. Not only did I successfully integrate Seesaw into my classroom, I became an ambassador for the company. It felt great.
I know this blog post sounds like a downer, but with the right attitude, I believe setting realistic goals (rather than just holding fast to an impossible vision) can make all the difference in your ability to go into year two stronger and more excited than ever. So what are some practical goals for your first year? Try reading the tips below and choose just one or two to master in year one.
My 20 Tips for New Teachers
Although it’s impossible to become a great teacher overnight, there are definitely steps that you can take in order to increase your chances of success.
In this section, we will share 20 practical tips for new teachers. Please keep in mind that these tips are based on our own experience and the experiences of other new educators.
Professional Growth and Mindset Tips
You’ll see so many things you want badly for your own teaching practice and classroom in year one. Every single professional development or observation will give you tangible, practical steps to implement.
However, if your mindset isn’t right, you’ll never master some of the nuts and bolts of teaching. Here are some mindset and professional growth tips for new teachers.
Tip 1: Choose just one big goal for year one.
Get clear on what you want to achieve in your first year. It could be something like “mastering classroom management” or “establishing a meaningful relationship with my students.” If you have too much on your plate during the school year, it will be difficult for you to make progress towards any of these goals.
Look at the the rest of the tips below and choose one or two things that seem most important to you right now. Focus on those things and let everything else go (at least until next year). You’ll thank yourself later!
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
One of the best things about being a new teacher is that your colleagues are more than happy to help you out. So don’t be shy – just go ahead and ask them for advice! They’ll be more than happy to share their wisdom with you.
Every teacher has certain gifts and different challenges. Tell your admin team what you’re struggling to accomplish, and ask for the name of a teacher who does this well. Ask the teacher if you can observe during your planning period (conference). Take good notes!
Tip 3: Receive criticism well.
You are going to hear some criticism this year. Whether it’s from your principal, a coworker, or a parent… you’re going to have to learn how to take it like an adult.
This is one of the most important skills that good teachers possess, and yet so many new teachers don’t know how to receive constructive criticism with grace and humility. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard! Learn how to take feedback with respect (even if you disagree). This will help you develop into a better teacher over time.
Tip 4: Set realistic goals for work-life balance.
Your ultimate goal for work life balance may not be realistic in the first couple of years. There is so much to learn that only experience can teach. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you can’t achieve a perfect balance in year one.
At the same time, be mindful of your mental health and personal life, and don’t let teaching become your entire identity. You are a whole person.
A realistic goal might be to arrive daily at 7:00 a.m. and depart for your home no later than 4:30 each work day. Perhaps you could also commit to spending no more than one hour on school work over the weekend.
Tip 5: Be positive and have a growth mindset.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the challenges of being a new teacher, but remember that every challenge is an opportunity for learning and growth. So try to maintain a positive attitude, even when things are tough.
In addition, having a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence and ability can be developed) will help you become more successful as a teacher over time. It’s something we teach our students, and you can’t model it if you’re struggling with your own growth mindset. One bad walk through or observation doesn’t define you as a person; it’s merely a bit of feedback to help you grow.
Tip 6: Be accountable.
Yes, the students are difficult. Perhaps your administrator isn’t perfect, either. But you have no control over other people. You can, however, control yourself. Be accountable for your own actions and take responsibility when you’re wrong. This will help you grow both personally and professionally as a teacher.
Tip 7: Don’t compare yourself to others; instead, focus on what’s important to YOU.
At the end of each day or week, ask yourself “What do I want most out of this?” Then write down what that is – maybe it’s spending more time with family after school hours or making sure students feel safe at all times inside our classroom walls? Whatever it is for you will be different from other teachers because we are all unique individuals who have our own values systems in life!
Classroom Management Tips
Most of my tips for new teachers revolve around classroom management. If you’re like most new teachers, this is the area where you’ll feel like you’re struggling the most.
The average teacher really hits their groove with classroom management around 3-4 years of experience, but that depends largely on their maturity level. I know I would have found my way sooner if I had a little more life experience under my belt when I began teaching.
Tip 8: Keep all your classroom systems and procedures as simple as possible.
If you’ve got an overly complicated system, it’s way more likely to fail. The simplest things aren’t always the fanciest or most unique, but they’re commonly used because they’ve been teacher tested.
Teach and reteach classroom all your procedures, way more than you would think necessary. This includes:
- Classroom Jobs
- Classroom Library
- Collecting and Distributing Materials
- Lunch Count
- Your Rules/Guidelines
- …and many more. For an exhaustive list of classroom rules and procedures, see this post.
Establish routines and procedures as soon as possible in the year and maintain them consistently. They must be taught explicitly, modeled repeatedly, practiced daily (until they’re automatic), then reinforced continually throughout the school year.
Tip 9: Be your authentic self.
Students can absolutely whiff out any insincerity. I heard that I wasn’t supposed to smile until Christmas in my teacher training, but that wasn’t my style. I was miserable trying to be someone else, and my students never got to know the real me. You can’t respect someone you don’t even know. I finally figured out that it was ok to be myself. After all, there are lots of ways to skin a cat!
Tip 10: Learn to be organized.
I cannot stress this enough. It is so important to be organized as a teacher. You can’t just make peace with being a disorganized teacher – it’s not a thing. You’ll never survive if you’re constantly scrambling and trying to find things (or worse, losing things). Here are some tips:
Create a system for organizing your materials that works for you and stick with it all year long! Some people find that it’s easier to keep everything on a Google Drive rather than having stacks of paper everywhere.
Label everything well —boxes, folders on your drive, IEPs and behavior plans, and more.
Do not be a packrat. Only keep what you will use. You’ll thank me later when it’s that much easier to grade papers and get out of the classroom at a decent hour!
Have a consistent place for everything in your room, including student work. Teach those spots to your students.
Tip 11: Consider flexible seating.
You don’t have to have every single kid sitting in their own space. Some first year teachers think flexible seating is only for veteran teachers, but it worked so well for me in only my second year of teaching elementary school. You can gradually add flexible seating to your room, starting with a few new options each week. Check out my post about flexible seating here.
Tip 12: Talk less, smile more.
Most first year teachers fall into the trap of having lengthy hallway conversations with kids about their behavior. They ask things like, “Why did you do that? Was that a good choice?”
The truth is you don’t have time for all that, and while you love the kids deeply, you’re not a psychologist, a therapist, or their mother. And while you’re having a long, drawn out conversation with the troublemaker, kids are getting off task in the room, even as you keep one eye on them.
That’s not to say you never have a respectful, quiet conversation with a kid about their behavior, but make it snappy.
Everyone benefits from a positive, happy classroom climate. Whether you use lots of praise for desired behaviors, give out lots of candy, or have kids earn points in a classroom economy, find a way to make your classroom pleasant. I wrote a post about how I create a positive classroom climate here.
Consequences for poor choices should also be a regular part of your classroom management plan, but again, less talking and more doing should be your mantra. Quickly issue the consequence and keep it moving.
You can issue a consequence without it becoming a toxic, negative atmosphere. For example, let’s say a student just won’t quit talking, or keeps gossiping about other students. Maybe they simply refuse to work after multiple attempts to get them going.
Whisper in their ear that they’ll have to finish the work during lunch, or walk during recess, or write in their parent communication folder. Have a list of go-to consequences that are approved by your administrative team, and quietly issue it.
The loud parts of your class should be happy, positive and routine. If you’re doing that well, you’ll have far fewer quiet consequences to issue.
Want to use my classroom behavior management system? You can have my coupons (one page pictured below) for free! They’re posted in my free resource library. Sign up to get the password emailed to you.
Lesson Planning and Curriculum
Lesson planning and curriculum is one area of teacher development that sometimes takes years or even decades to master. Here are some tips for new teachers about how to teach your content area.
Tip 13: Don’t reinvent the wheel.
For some creative types, it can be tempting to reinvent the wheel and craft a curriculum that you own exclusively. But honestly, most first year teachers do not need to spend energy making something from scratch.
Sure, it can be fun, but I can promise you could spend your energy better elsewhere.
For one thing, you have objectives you’re required to teach. Someone has already put a lot of thought into the best ways to build these academic skills. Your school district or campus may have preferred materials already.
For another, you don’t have the time to create an entire curriculum. You’re already swamped trying to learn classroom management, how to assess student work, and all of the other million things that come with this job!
Tip 14: Avoid planning too far ahead.
Especially in the beginning of the year when things are hectic and you’re still trying to get to know your students, plan ahead. However, good teachers are able to quickly adapt and change when things aren’t working, or when students bomb a test. You have to be ready to re-teach, and that will render all your long-term plans useless.
So have a VERY skeleton long term plan, and be minimalistic with your mid-range plans, too. In fact, if your school district provides a simple overview of what objectives to teach each grading period, that will probably be sufficient.
Your in-depth plans will be best kept to a week or two at most. Anything more than that threatens to be scrapped at the last minute based on the latest benchmark data or master schedule changes.
Being adaptable and flexible is something that comes with experience, but it’s so important to learn over time. You cannot predict everything in the classroom, so good teachers learn to adjust course on a dime.
Tip 15: Maintain high expectations for growth.
No matter how far behind your students may be when they enter your classroom at the beginning of the year, do not lose sight of helping them grow. If a child is not giving it their best effort, make them do it again. You can’t hold all students to an achievement standard.
However, you can hold them to an effort standard. There are strategies and techniques for encouraging students to give their best. And that’s the kind of growth that really matters.
Even your highest performing students will have room to grow, so don’t let them off the hook just because they’ll easily pass your standardized test at the end of the year. All students deserve to make gains during the school year.
Relationship Building Tips
Teaching is one of the most relational professions. Your relationships matter more than almost anything else, because nothing productive happens in the classroom without strong relationships. Here are some tips for new teachers about transformational relationships.
Tip 16: Form meaningful relationships with your students.
Get to know your kids. Ask them about their lives, what they did over the weekend and who their favorite person in the world is. Hang up student work wherever you can find space.
It goes much deeper than that, however. Learn about restorative circles and other restorative practices to form deep connections in the classroom – not just between you and your students, but peer-to-peer, as well.
I was worried I wouldn’t have time to host a restorative circle in my classroom each week. It took about 20 minutes and it would have been even more effective if I spent 30 minutes on circles. However, the time I spent building those relationships saved so much time throughout the week, because we weren’t dealing with girl drama or bullying in general. Relationship building takes time up front, but it will save you so much time over the course of the school year.
Tip 17: Form mutually beneficial relationships with fellow teachers.
This is key. You cannot do this alone, and it’s not healthy to try. Find people who have the same values as you, and lean on them for support. It can be really tough in those first few years when everyone else seems to have everything together while you’re feeling like such a newbie.
Find yourself a teacher bestie. Someone you can talk to about your successes and failures, vent to when things are tough, and celebrate with when things go well.
Discover the strongest teachers in your building, and observe them as often as possible. You’ll learn that there are many ways to be an outstanding teacher. When you observe a teacher, use or refuse anything you learn. What works for one won’t work for all, but it will still make you a stronger teacher to observe the greats at your school! After all, those teachers are the ones who are succeeding in your same environment. If they can do it with your kids, parents, and administrative team, so can you!
Finally, don’t assume you have nothing to contribute to a teacher friendship just because you’re new. Even veteran teachers struggle, and you may be naturally gifted in some areas.
Tip 18: Form collaborative relationships with parents.
If you don’t have any substantial conversation with a parent until November, and you’re calling to complain about a child, it’s not going to go very well. Form positive connections with parents early on. Send home a quick survey at the beginning of the year (or even before school starts) so you can get to know your students’ families.
Make a point to send home positive notes and emails, too – not just when there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. I used positive text messages home as an incentive for kids. It was even on one of my coupons that kids could choose for good behavior!
Tip 19: Form respectful relationships with your administrators.
This is another key relationship. Too often, new teachers feel like they are constantly being tested or scrutinized. It’s important to remember that your administrators likely have the best intentions for you and your students.
Build a positive relationship with them by always being professional and meeting deadlines. Honor their requests whenever possible, respond to emails as necessary, and accept their feedback with grace.
Tips for Becoming a True Professional
For some people, professional behavior comes naturally. For others, it can be an uphill battle. Here are some tips for new teachers about professionalism.
Tip 20: Dress like a teacher.
I will often wear jeans on days when we’re allowed to do so, but I try to put it with a teacher t-shirt, some fun earrings, and a cute cardigan. I’m not naturally fashion forward, but I also don’t want to look like I don’t care about my job. I wear sneakers some days, but I make sure they look clean and work with the style of pants I’m wearing.
This doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m a professional, so I try and stretch myself to notice what the best dressed teachers are wearing.
I am required to sit on the floor a lot as an interventionist. I enjoy wearing dresses and skirts and look better in them, but it’s just not practical for the way I’m interacting with kids. Comfort does matter in a job that’s so hands-on.
You don’t have to look like some of those teacher influencers on social media, and no one expects you to be a style icon. But we’re also professionals, and should try to look like we put thought into our outfit.
Tip 21: Be on time.
This one is huge. Punctuality speaks volumes about your dedication to both your job and your students. If you’re running late, always call or email ahead of time to let someone know.
At the same time, realize that being late to a teaching job is not the same as being late to a desk job. Unattended students is a safety hazard, and you’ve created an emergency coverage problem for your administrators who may not have bodies to spare.
One of the quickest ways to come under scrutiny and get on your team’s bad side (both administrators and teaching team), is to be late. It just inconveniences everyone else, and it gets everybody’s day started off wrong.
Tip 22: Avoid personal phone calls and social media during work hours.
I’ve got young kids, so answering calls has occasionally been unavoidable. If daycare calls, I have to pick up the phone and troubleshoot what to do about my own sick kids. My administrators have been very understanding about this.
I’ve also seen teachers who use their phones more than they should during the day, and it’s really a turn-off to parents and other educators. Checking social media or excessively texting in front of kids is just plain unprofessional.
Tip 23: Check your email, read it carefully, and respond as necessary.
As a new teacher, I used to think it was fine not to check email until after school. But I quickly realized that this put me at a disadvantage in the building. Other teachers who were more organized and better planners would get first pick of things like professional development opportunities or field trips, because they responded as soon as an email went out. Further, there were times when I wasn’t prepared for a meeting later in the day because I didn’t realize I needed to bring certain documents or test scores.
If your administrator sends an email during the day, quickly scan it to decide if it’s urgent. If it’s not, mark it as unread and respond after school hours.
Tip 24: Set alarms on your phone for important moments throughout the day.
There’s nothing more annoying than a teacher who is causing students to run late. I used to set alarms for five minutes before the end of every class. That gave me time to pack up my materials and have students do their assigned classroom jobs.
Similarly, if you have a meeting or conference call scheduled for a certain time, set an alarm on your phone so that you’re not running late.
Tip 25: Take your paperwork seriously.
It’s easy to cast aside paperwork when there are students sitting in front of you, papers to grade, meetings to attend, lessons to plan and more. But IEPs, behavior plans, and other important documents cannot be ignored. Further, you must familiarize yourself with what’s on those plans. They represent real students with real learning challenges, and you’re legally required to carry out the accommodations and modifications listed.
Take it from me: teaching is hard. It can eat you up, spit you out, and then bring you back for more! But I also think that there’s something incredibly rewarding about being an educator.
Yes, many of us work long hours. Yes, we often feel under-appreciated or stressed out by the demands of our jobs. But it’s also a career where you can work an entire lifetime and continue to grow. And you don’t have to put in crazy hours for your entire career as a teacher.
So, if you’re feeling discouraged as a new teacher, know that you’re not alone. But also remember that it’s important to maintain your passion for teaching and find ways to refuel your energy throughout the year. I hope these tips for new teachers helped you identify some first year goals!