August 16, 2010

20 Tips for First Year Teachers that Will Make You the Rookie of the Year

tips for first year teachers

Just landed a new teaching job? Congratulations! If you’re like most of us there comes a point when the excitement leads to at least a small amount of insecurity as you prepare to begin your first year of teaching. Never fear! Here is some advice straight from teachers who have been there:

"Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other teachers – most are very willing to share. Set high academic and behavioral expectations and they will amaze you with what they can do. Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as well as you would have liked, we’re all still learning. Most of all enjoy your students; they will love you if they know you love them!"

- Leslie (5th Grade Teacher)


"Have a routine for everything and go over it again and again until it is solid. Don’t let anything slide until October and the rest of the year will be smooth sailing. If you let things slide in the beginning, you will be teaching or retraining routines all year long!!!"

- Greta (2nd Grade Teacher)

"It is easier to start strict and loosen up towards the end than start loose and try to “rein in” later. I would also add students need their teachers to be teachers, not friends. Don’t strike deals.”

- Tina (Teaches College Students)

"Be unique. Do what works for YOU, what comes natural to YOU! Develop your own units…it’s hard to try to follow someone else’s units plus making your own makes you learn what you’re teaching and you get it down pat! Don’t live at the school on the weekends, take that time to be you and recuperate."

- Kim (5th Grade Teacher)

"Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other teacher’s. Better to ask for help than look like a fool later on when everyone sees that you made a mistake.

Definitely use parents [if possible]. My daughter’s second grade teacher has parents come in almost every day. We administer the math facts timed tests, check spelling and vocabulary and record it, collect homework and reading minutes (and record it) on Mondays from folders and give new homework papers for the week, all the mundane things that bog teachers down. She also had us sign up on the first day for specialty classes to teach. Each Friday a different parent (or two) came in to teach either a Science, Nutrition, Fitness, or Art lesson. She was flexible with the topics if a parent had a specialty in something. Use parents—most love it!

P.S. It seems like we didn’t help in the classroom the first two weeks of school to give the teacher a chance to teach the routines and to get the kids used to it. This would alleviate your stress to have parents watching your every teaching move while you’re still getting comfortable."

- Shelly (K-12 Substitute, Former Preschool Teacher, Parent)

"The website has been a huge time saver for me. Lots of good ideas too."

- Alecia (Kindergarten Teacher)

Find other teacher resources here ›

"Prepare lesson plans, really. Be flexible. In the future you will most likely not teach from a lesson plan. But I suggest preparing them and having them. Ask parents to help too, be specific in what you need. Parents like to be involved."

- Alyn (Jr. High School Theatre Teacher, Former Adult Education Teacher)

"Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of the students. Be patient with yourself."

- Leah (High School Math Teacher)


"Take advice from colleagues. Use their stuff and tweak it as you go to fit your style and student needs. Looking at Pinterest is helpful, but can really be overwhelming. Pick a few favorite ideas and let the rest sit on the shelf for a later date if at all."

- Marie (3rd Grade Teacher)

"Use both negative and positive reinforcements. Establish boundaries and then stick with them. Occasionally turn a blind eye to harmless naughtiness. Laugh in class. Don’t be afraid to let the kids see you make mistakes."

- Stacy (High School English, Music, and DramaTeacher)

"I think you need to be yourself as a teacher. It is okay to make mistakes. Students will correct you and that is okay. It makes them feel they can make mistakes too. Do something that stands out as a teacher. I sing to all of my students on their birthday (or half-birthday). They think I’m a rock star! Have fun with your teaching team. Take a lunch break and laugh. I love my job and I know my students know this. Can’t fake it!"

- Clay (4th Grade Teacher)


"Be ready for mistakes everyday but be willing to admit them and learn from them. Laugh along with the kids. Among all the standardized testing and requirements don’t forget they are kids and to let them be kids sometimes."

- Stacey (1st Grade Teacher)


"Kids won’t remember the bulletin boards or the lessons you taught. They’ll remember how you made them feel! Make them feel safe, loved and that your classroom is their classroom as well. Set HIGH expectations for your students. They will rise or fall to wherever your expectations are!"

- Shauna (3rd Grade Teacher)


"Find a great mentor and cling on to them for dear life! Teach students EVERY routine you want them to learn. Practice it with them- don’t just tell them how to do something, show them (huge for classroom management). I am sure that there are a billion other things as well… such as a good Coke will be your best friend."

- Cindy (1st Grade Teacher)

"Realize that looking back on your first year, no matter how hard you try, you will always find things you think you did wrong, and that’s okay. Set a time to leave the school and do it. Don’t bring home your work with you and save your weekends for yourself. You will cry. That’s okay. Also, keep a routine and follow through. Empty threats are going to be the death of you. Set high expectations and let the kids know it. Ask for help. Be a teacher not a friend."

- Nicole (6th Grade Teacher)


"Fake it ‘til you make it! That was my first year motto. I told my kids that smart kids fix their mistakes and smart teacher do too – that way we ALL felt okay when we made a mistake. Find some good teacher friends to bounce ideas off of and get advice from DAILY."

- Tonya (1st Grade Teacher)

"Pick one subject/topic and do it well. Take good notes on what you did every day. Make notes on what you would change. Year 2 pick one new subject and teach it well along with the previous year’s subject. I like Make sure teaching is making you happy. Happy teacher = happy learners."

- Christine (5th Grade Teacher)

"A good teacher can teach anything when they are prepared. The kids can tell when you are bluffing your way through. I agree with being tough at first -you can always lighten up. Remind that angry parent that you don’t “give” grades but their student “earns” them."

- Cari (High School Teacher)

"Don’t overdo it so you get burned out. Your first year is a lot like running a marathon. Pace yourself. You’ve got tons of great ideas that you want to implement, but pick your battles. Be firm, but be positive. The students will respect you more if they know you care about them enough to discipline them and start from the beginning."

- Tim (4th Grade Teacher)


"Classroom management! Teach routines and procedures at the beginning of the  year and stick with them. When you get overwhelmed remember you don’t have to do everything all at one time. Focus on one or two things at a time. Stay positive! Unexpected things will come up. Do your best and stay positive."

- Bridget (1st Grade Teacher)

I will add my two cents (or twenty cents) by saying that my secret to classroom management, along with consistent routines, is to get to know each of your students well (I understand this is easier in an elementary setting) and let them get to know you too. When parents know that you know and love their child, you will gain their respect and support as well.

A note about parents: If you have parents who are involved and are able/willing to help in the classroom, this is a great way to build a classroom community. Some parents (whether they are willing to admit it or not) may be concerned that their child will have a new teacher for the school year. Using parents as Shelly suggested will impress parents by showing them how organized you are and help to alleviate their concerns.

I would agree that it is important not to try to be exactly like another teacher. Be yourself. Much of the advice here has been to make things your own. Adapt ideas, etc. to match your teaching style. 

I considered my first year of teaching to be a ‘sacrificial year’ of sorts. I knew that I would spend more time than usual preparing and planning. That investment of time paid off not only during my first year but in subsequent years. One of the trickiest things about teaching (first year or not) will be finding and maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Teacher burn out is VERY real (that is a subject for another blog post) so be mindful of how you spend time outside of your class.

I am sure that you may feel overwhelmed by responsibilities that come with teaching but happen outside of teaching time in the classroom. When prioritizing these activities make sure first, that you are prepared for what will happen in the classroom tomorrow. The ability to ENJOY teaching is a combination of preparation and a love for your students.

My final piece of advice is to play the ‘rookie card’ often. You only have one first year of teaching. Cut yourself a lot of slack that first year and make sure that you are having FUN frequently, if not daily. Teaching is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling professions there is (in spite of the challenges). Welcome to the big leagues!

Start your teaching career with training and tools that help you provide effective explicit phonics instruction in the classroom—allowing you to reach the beginning and struggling readers in your care.

Interested in learning more about Early Literacy? Explore our FREE educational resources to learn how you can help the young readers in your life!

Related Articles:

Teaching Reading Strategies

Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom

The Rules of the English Language: Is There a Method to the Madness?

Overcoming the Six Biggest Challenges of the New School Year

List of Reading Strategies


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certificate training and assessment said

The best use of your time will be listening to other teachers- get to know them- and wait for them to try to get to know you. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!

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email marketing said

Great post. Wish I had you when I was in the US. I did a research paper on the attitudes towards learning throughout the world. More and more schools are looking at the numbers rather than the quality they are producing. Poor economic times have made producing high rote achieves, rather than curious and interested learners, so the schools can compete for better funding, making the students attitudes more important than what is going on in the classroom. It is nice to know there are still teachers with your integrity teaching today, with their family balance in check. Thanks for such a rich article with pointers for anyone willing to learn on a higher level emotionally as well.

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PGDM said

These are really great tips and very helpful for those looking forward to take teaching as their profession. Thanks for sharing. Keep Posting.

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Stephanie said

This is a great article that you wrote. It really is important to understand that your ears are your best asset during your new teaching career. I can resonate with each bit of detail you put in here! When I am prepared, I feel so whole inside after a lesson is completed. It makes a HUGE difference. As a side note, first year teacher sometimes like to clutch the manuals. Sometimes, just putting the manual down and teaching from the heart, is what works wonders. Also, asking questions is so important. No matter who you're asking questions to, whether your students or colleagues, you are a 'new' student, too and it shows that you care. Consistency is certainly key from DAY 1. Your post was great!

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Hal Portner said

A great list of suggestions.
For additional ones, read Being Mentored: A Guide for Proteges, by Hal Portner (Corwin Press)

1. Participate
Take the Initiative
Developing the Relationship Takes Time
Earn and Keep Your Mentor's Trust
Clarify Communication
2. Take Responsibility
Don't Wait, Instigate
Feedback and How to Receive It
When to Give Feedback
Mismatched Mentoring Relationships
Responsibility to Yourself
Responsibility to Others
Get to Know Your Principal
Clarify Ground Rules Early
3. Observe
Be an Objective Observer
What to Observe
Expand Your View
Don't Imitate, Create
4. Ask
Whom to Ask
Where to Ask
How to Ask
What to Ask
Why Ask?
5. Chart Your Course
Find Out What You Don't Know
Set Priorities
Identify Resources
The Power of Planning
6. Network
Support From Collegial Groups
Guidelines for Support and Discussion Groups
Networking on the Internet
Working With College and University Professors and Cohorts
7. Take Informed Risks
Look Before You Leap
Should You or Shouldn't You?
Help the Risk Succeed
Risk With Conviction
8. Reflect
Keep a Professional Journal
Guided Reflection
Focused Reflection
9. Give Back
Leave a Legacy
Be a Change Agent
Experienced Newcomers
The Gift of Renewal

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Francesca Noel Davidoff said

Do not be afraid to take notes during your first year as a teacher. As an Early Childhood Educator/Special Education Specialist, of 30 years, I remember my first year was the hardest. I was going to school, earning my 12 ECE units, while learning the ropes, and I kept thinking to myself, that if I was going to make it in this field of work, which was my passion I was going to take observation notes, and never be to afraid to ask questions. My mottos are: There is never such thing as a dumb question ! & Your best teacher, is yourself. So, teach yourself everyday, how to be your best avocate!!! And best of luck to all.

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Maria said

For me the toughest advice to follow are the "have a routine and stick to it" ones and the "be strict till October" ones. I just can't fake being good at procedures or being strict. It is often to my detriment, but if it's not in me, how can I fake it for more than a few exhausting days at a time? It's so tough for me to be consistent.
Anywho, this year I'm adding a few more weapons to my arsenal. First, I'm adding an "Oops, I forgot my homework" form for students to fill out for accountability and to help me keep track. A digital instant download can be found here to give you an idea of what you can do with it.
And, second, I am not going to be caught blindsided with study hall this year! Last year, I did not know I had a study hall until the kids came pouring into my room! I was frazzled and tired from my first day and didn't know how study hall worked, so I let the kids get way out of control and then I couldn't pull them back in. :( Sad, but true.
This year I am posting this cool "Keep Calm and Study On" Study Hall Procedures poster front and center, with some tweaking to fit my rules and style better. See here to get some ideas:
Thanks for reading and good luck to everyone.

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Linda Winters said

I would never leave my classroom until the next day's assignments, art projects and books to be read were all in place. This gave me time to have a cup of coffee at my desk and ease into the morning before the children arrived. Upon entering the room, have the children take their coats off and do some type of activity, like work in groups of twos and work with vocabulary words, number cards, colors, or sounds for the first 10 mins. while the rest of the children come in the room.

Three important things happen It set the tone for the day, helps them with their skills and also keeps the children from getting into trouble. Change the activity often. After this exercise I then begin "Circle" with my favorite book to start the day. P.S. Read often to your children and enjoy the boys and girls.

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Mrs. R. said

What a breath of fresh air! Thank you for sharing all of these tips. It's so helpful to be reminded that others have been where you are and is reassuring that you are on the right (not perfect) path. Thank you!

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