Six years into teaching, and I still think about things I would tell new teachers.
Every day, something happens that makes me think, “I wish I knew that my first year teaching.”
And I always say, “I’ll make a list and write it all down!”
If only that happened as often as I would like.
There will always be things you learn more about as you continue teaching and putting in more years into your craft. But, there will be things that if you know right off the bat will make your life so much easier.
So, below, are my 12 things I wish I knew as a teacher (and I’m sure I’ll think of more to make another post about eventually).
- Take the breaks. If you have a duty-free lunch break, take it. If you have a 30 minute prep time, use it as prep. If you get a duty-free recess for a quick bathroom break, take the bathroom break! The days you don’t have those breaks or under circumstances that you lose them, you’ll be so grateful for when you have them. Even if you see another teacher working during their breaks, still take your own. Fill your cup so that you avoid burnout.
- Everyone has a style and it takes trial and error to find yours (and TIME). I’m sure you’ve heard that what works for one teacher doesn’t always work for another. And it’s so incredibly true. Try new techniques or procedures or rules, but don’t keep what doesn’t work for you. Experiment with different types of activities and small groups, but tweak it so that you can keep it consistent. Students can tell when something is authentic to you as a teacher or if you’re forced to do something you don’t want to. Try new things and be inspired, but don’t sacrifice your personal teaching style in doing so.
- BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES. Set them firm and set them early. This includes boundaries for students, boundaries for work hours, boundaries for hours worked a day, boundaries on duties… We will all experience burnout at some point. The best way to minimize it is set your boundaries and know your limits. If you know that you have little motivation in the afternoon, try to be productive in the morning. If you know you’ll be busy at a certain time of year and get asked to take something else on, “no” is an answer. Know your boundaries and be firm and fair in enforcing them.
- Make lists and prioritize. Fun fact: you will never get everything done. It’s like an unspoken rule of teaching. You will always have something you can prepare, or grade, or create, or clean, or organize, or…..you get the point. Make a list of “have to’s”, prioritize what has to be accomplished, then let the rest go.
- Planners are magical – find one that’s useful, or make your own. Just like with a teaching style, everyone has their own way to plan. A quick Google search will find you so many planners on every corner of the internet. You can take time to research one to fit your needs, or play around with different online formats to create your own! Think of what works for you:
- Do you like to be detailed or have bullet points?
- Do you like to go by hour or by subject?
- Do you need lots of notes or just a little space?
- Not everything has to be graded….or sent home. While all student work should have a point, sometimes assignments are done as a time filler or review that you have no intention on grading. Or, other things come up and suddenly that multiplication review sheet isn’t as important to grade. While this should not be done all the time, sometimes the answer is to recycle the assignment. You still should review their work as an informal assessment, but not every piece of work has to go into the gradebook.
- Doing things at home or during non-contract hours doesn’t make you any better – just exhausted. You are welcome by all means to work on things at home if you want to. We don’t get paid extra for overtime. We get paid salaries based on specific contract hours. If you want to finish a project while binging Netflix or grade papers while at a coffee shop, go for it! But, it is not an expectation to take anything home to complete (or stay late at school to finish).
- Students don’t need extravagant lessons, they just need a teacher who cares about them. If you love classroom transformations, go for it! Just like with #7, do what works for you because you enjoy it. If you are someone like me and sees these transformations online and wonder if it’s worth it to put in the time (and money) to pull it off, then have a blast! It makes you no less of a teacher if you don’t do these things. Engage students, get them into the content, and have them learn new things. If you show them that you care about them and there is mutual respect in the classroom, the fancy transformations aren’t necessary to learning.
- Best lessons come from student input and interests. You can plan down to the letter, and still have little engagement. The best lessons will always include student input. This could be the mode in which they show their learning, such as creating a poster or writing a paper or doing an oral presentation. This could be a choice of topic, such as letting students pick what they want to study in an expository paper. Allowing students to have a voice while addressing the standards and skills will cultivate the best lessons.
- QTIP. AKA – Quit Taking It Personally. Have you ever been hangry and snapped at someone? Or have had an awful day and knew that you were going to snap at the next person who tried to ask how you were? We’ve all been there at some level. When students act out, remembering QTIP and coming from a mindspace of, “Something is off. How can I help them?” instead of going to immediate discipline builds rapport. It can be hard depending on the behavior or response, but when students know that you care enough to hear them out before disciplining them, they open up more and build respect with you quicker.
- Building relationships before building on curriculum. I’m keeping this short and sweet – the first week (or even month) of school should be community building. Get to know the students, identify where they’re at academically (and emotionally), and build from there.
- Let students know who you are. This has been something I’ve noticed since I began teaching. Some teachers don’t let the students know them. The students are not going to be your BFFs, but allow them to know who you are as a person. What things you like, what you like to do outside of school… And show them in the classroom. I have what I call my Nerd Corner. Behind my desk, I have different items that show what I love. This includes my Pokemon plushies, my Mandalorian gear (Grogu is a crowd fave), a cow and a cheetah stuffed animal, a basketball poster, an Oregon State Beavers poster, and lots of pictures of my family. The students love to see these things, and it breaks the ice so quickly at the start of the year. They see what I enjoy and realize that we have things in common. They love to bring that up throughout the year and it is such a community builder. Show what you love in your room and the students will connect with you.
I hope this at least scratches the surface and gives you some pointers as a first year teacher. There are always more tips and tricks and things to know, but the goal was to give a place to start.
Thanks for reading along and happy teaching!