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12 Tips for New (and Returning) Teachers

If you were like me starting teaching, you were excited to set up your room, nervous to meet everyone in the building, and looking forward to working with your students.

After almost six years of teaching, I’ve also worked with quite a few new teachers. We talk about things we assumed about the first few weeks of school – and also what college did not prepare us for. 

I formed a list of what to tell new teachers every year. Things that not all teacher prep programs cover, or things to know about our specific school.

Below are 12 different tips to help new teachers as they journey into the classroom! Or, as a good reminder for all teachers when going to a new school or as a refresher at the beginning of the year.

Get to Know the Layout

While you quickly find your own classroom on your first day in the building, take time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the school before students come. Where the office is, the bathrooms (student and staff), the gym, cafeteria, playground, staff room, copier, mailboxes…. Everything!

Take a chunk of time to truly walk around and get the layout of the school. This will help make the first week a little less stressful, since you’ll already have an idea of where to go for different things.

Get to Know EVERYONE

I will be the first to admit that I’m awkward and get intimidated introducing myself to others. But, the more staff members you can meet in the building, the better!

This could be during those ice breaker activities in meeting before school starts, or just wandering down the halls to see who you can meet. Get to know your fellow teachers and build those connections early to help establish a good school culture and find others you can work with!

It’s also important to get to know your classified staff – secretaries, educational assistants, custodial staff, and so on.

While they may not work in the same role as you, they are incredibly important to helping the school run and wonderful resources when you need help or have a question. Take time to get to know everyone at your school!

Lessons and Activities Before Aesthetics and Themes

We’re all suckers for pretty things. If you want a theme in your room and it’s a priority for you, then go for it!

However, try to avoid prioritizing your classroom theme over true classroom prep. Your classroom could have the most amazing theme, but if you’re not ready with lessons for the first week for your students, no one will care.

Take time to be prepared for your students before preparing your classroom walls. Preparing your storage, organization, and layout of your classroom has immediate importance over what the room’s theme is.

(The second point to this is to try and save money your first few months teaching – figure out what your groove and theme is in the classroom before spending money on decor that you might regret later)

Put Yourself in Your Classroom

With the last point in mind, still incorporate who you are into your classroom! This could be through pictures by your computer, fun posters that relate to things you like, or supplies that reflect your personal style.

When students can see things that you enjoy in the classroom, they start building connections with you. In my classroom, I have what I call my “nerd corner.” Behind my desk, I have a setup of some of my favorite things – Baby Yoda plushies, a stuffed animal cow and cheetah, posters of my favorite sports team, and pictures of my family. I also have a cabinet that on the top I have all the plushies for the Eevee evolutions.

Over the last few years, I have had many students who come in nervous to see their new room and to meet me, and an immediate ice breaker is when they see things that I love around my room. “Wait, you like The Mandalorian, too??” “Whoa, Mom, she has Eevee’s and Pikachu in her room!”

It makes me happy to have things I love in my room, and I love that it breaks the ice for students who might otherwise be nervous coming into my classroom the first few days. Show students who you are and they will respond in kind.

Get to Know Your Students and Families

  • The quickest way to build rapport with your class? Get to know them! This includes:
    1. Getting to know what they like (and dislike)
    2. Allowing them to express themselves
    3. Asking families to share any information about their students that they want to share
    4. Clearly sharing expectations with students and families
    5. Sending home weekly information to families
    6. Allow students to be kids while still having realistic expectations in the classroom

Getting to know your students allows you to build respect both ways, and create a positive culture in your classroom. You can click here to look at my other blog post on how to build rapport with your students.

Over-Prepare for Week One

One of the worst parts of the first week of school is when you have to fill time and are unsure what to do.

Being over-prepared is better than being under-prepared. Take time to find simple games and activities for students to do as time fillers the first few weeks to really build the rapport and positive environment in your classroom. The more you have ready, the easier it is to get the day to flow if something goes shorter or longer than expected.

Below, I’ve listed some of the things I’ve learned from the first few weeks of school that students enjoy:

  1. Read Alouds – Even older elementary kids enjoy read alouds if you give the books some personality! 
  2. Art Projects – From creating selfies to name art, you can go simple or more advanced!
  3. Bucket Fillers – Students create their own buckets that show what they love (fills their buckets) and what they don’t (dips into their bucket). It’s a great way to see how the students are similar and different!

A great place to find easy activities is TpT! You can search up different activities, or take a look at the ones available in my store by clicking the links below:

Make Boundaries for Work Time

This is tempting for most teachers – take work home, get it done their outside the stress of the classroom. But normally, taking work home results in one of three things:

  • Least Likely – You actually do the work at home and complete it outside contract hours (and don’t get paid).
  • Somewhat Likely – You do some, if not all, of it, but then are burnt out and exhausted because you don’t have time to relax at home (and you still don’t get paid).
  • Most Likely – You forget you even brought the work home and do none of it anyway (and again, don’t get paid).

I will be the first to say that sometimes it is best to take a small, mindless project home to work on and prep when you don’t have time at school to complete it. That’s one thing.

But, if you continue to work once you get home or stay hours late after work to prep, you will burn yourself out. Setting boundaries on when to take home work and when to leave the work at school to finish another time will save your sanity.

It personally took me until I was getting my masters while teaching to setup these boundaries.

I couldn’t balance teaching fourth grade, completing 18 graduate course credits (over the course of a school year), a TpT business, time with my family/friends, taking care of things at home, and time to refill my own cup.

There are only so many hours in the day, and I had to prioritize and set those boundaries quickly for my own health. I became proficient in what activities/prep things were most important for my class and getting those done at school, and knew that once I got home my job did not come with me. Once I got home, my focus was on my dog, homework, household tasks, and myself. I had to prioritize to keep my stress from getting out of control.

So, those first few weeks, find a rhythm and learn who you are as a teacher to help you identify boundaries for your own work life.

Make a Morning Folder

Once you know what things you’ll use daily, put them in a folder in a folder on your benchmark bar! When you need it, right-click the folder and select “Open All.” Then, everything opens! I call mine my Morning Boot-Up and include things like attendance, background music, morning slides, and my school email.

Take Notes of What Does and Doesn’t Work for You

Every teacher is different, which means every teacher teaches differently! Find the systems that work for you and your teaching style. Try different lesson formats for the different facets of teaching, such as whole group versus small group, different ways to record grades, or various ways to structure your lesson planning.

You will do things that afterwards you’re like, “Hmmmm, nope, not doing that again.” And that’s great! You’ve tried something new. Now you know it doesn’t work for you – but you don’t know if you don’t try.

Additionally, do different things until it works for your students. The structure of the math lesson isn’t helping them learn fractions? Try a different teaching strategy or activity. You’ve tried small groups multiple times and their learning isn’t improving? Do something different.

Take note of what works and doesn’t for yourself and your students, and adapt your teaching from there.

Ask for Help!!!

This sounds so simple, yet can be the hardest to do. As a new teacher, it can be intimidating to ask for help – you might want to show that you’re self-sufficient or that you’re confused about something that everyone else in the room understands.

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to ask that “silly” question and know what’s going on, than to not ask at all and do something incorrectly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification on anything. If you have a mentor or support in the building, go to them. If you have a partner teacher, reach out to them. You can do it through email or in-person.

Find the way that feels the best for you, but ask. No one knows if you don’t advocate for yourself.

Do What You Can, Don’t Worry About What You Can’t

Contract hours are contract hours, and you don’t get any special award for working hours extra. Do what you can in the time you have, and then let it go.

This lesson is so hard because as teachers, we are there for the kids and want to help them as much as possible. But, as teachers, we’re prone to burnout. We’re prone to keep giving ourselves to others and help as much as we can and work long, unpaid hours to give our students the best lessons we can. It typically goes unpaid and takes a toll on many people’s mental health.

My dad has given me this piece of advice my whole life: If there is something you can do, then do it. If there is nothing else you can do, there is no reason to worry about it more. I take this into viewing my work hours. I know my contract hours, and what my personal cut off time is if I work past contract hours (for me, my absolute done is typically 30 minutes after the end of contract time). I prioritize my tasks and know what has to get done for the next day. And at my cut off time, I call it good.

My work will still be there tomorrow. I did what I could, called it good, and go home.

Don’t Compare Yourself

Comparison is a killjoy. You are your own teacher, you are learning, and you’re getting better every day. Judging yourself against veteran teachers or other new teachers does nothing except make you feel less-than.

Can you take inspiration from other teachers? Sure! But as soon as you start thinking that you’ll never be as good as someone else is the moment that you start enjoying your job less. Take it easy on yourself, and remember that you’re a lifelong learner.

Bonus Tip…

Remember to have fun! You get to work with kids and help them on their path to lifelong learning. Remember that they are kids, and while it’s important to learn, it’s also important to have fun. Let them be kids, and have fun during the year together.

Thanks for reading, and happy teaching!

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