You landed your first teaching job. Now what? There are so many things to think about and plan for. Where do you start as a first year teacher? There’s classroom set up, classroom management, and classroom environment. Then there’s learning the standards and learning the curriculum. Furthermore, there’s building relationships with students, building relationships with parents, and building professional relationships with your new colleagues. You also have to get ready for the first week of school! AGGGHHH!! The list could go on forever! Today I want to share advice about problems you may see during your first year teaching. Please save yourself some heartaches and lots of headaches by considering this advice for first year teachers!
First Year Problem 1 - Running Out of Time
Without having tons of classroom experience under your belt, many new teachers find that time management can be tricky. Sure, you probably ran into this a little during your student teaching experience, but now you need to have it perfected. As a newbie, I often found myself spending too long teaching one content area. Of course, this meant I had less time to teach another.
There's Never Enough Time
This is especially challenging for first year teachers in a self contained classroom where you’re responsible for teaching all content. At least when new teachers are in grade levels that are departmentalized, the fact that they have to switch classes with a partner teacher puts some urgency in getting everything done within the time allotted for your instructional block. When you have all of your kids all day long, it’s all too easy to let your math lesson run a little long. But, what happens to the content you teach after math? If you do this habitually, the other content takes a huge hit.
The Right First Year Routines
For this reason, advice for new teachers includes the need to get a routine in place to keep your routines running right! There are several ways to keep yourself on track. Me? I came to live by timers. Nothing fancy. Just a regular old kitchen timer did the trick. I actually had several timers in my classroom. I kept one at my desk, one stuck with a magnet to my whiteboard, and a third back at my teacher table. No matter where I was in the room, I had quick access to a timer to keep me on track.
Find Another Way
If timers don’t work for you, ask your colleagues for ideas. Different things work for different people. For this reason, you need to capitalize on the learning communities at your school. Seek out ways to connect with others on your campus and seek out their advice and expertise.
First Year Problem 2 - Thinking that Running “Groups” was Differentiation
Part of being a great teacher is fostering a positive classroom environment that is academically challenging. Namely, one of the best ways to get this established is through differentiated instruction. In my first year teaching, I thought I was providing differentiated instruction just by setting up groups.
Looking back on my teaching, I was actually not differentiating. Just because you have your kids working in groups, does not mean that you are really differentiating their learning experience. If all of your kids do the same activity when they go to a center rotation, then it’s not differentiated, even if it’s during math group time.😘
To actually differentiate, you need to use data to plan lessons based on students’ needs. You’ll plan specific lessons, practice activities, games, etc. for different groups, based on the needs of the students in that group. Now, this sounds difficult, but it will become easier as the year progresses and as you gain experience working with your content and your kids.
How to Differentiate Instruction Your First Year
First year teachers need to know that you can differentiate the content students are learning, the process in which they learn it, or the product of their learning (i.e. the artifact or other work that proves whether or not the students met the learning targets). You can use flex groups to differentiate or you can use a tear out model to meet your learners’ needs. There are quite literally hundreds of ways you can differentiate across the content areas.
First Year Problem 3 - Curriculum Pacing
It’s okay to go off script! It’s okay to get off schedule! Every class has different demographics and different learning needs, so your instruction and the pacing guide may get a little out of sync. That’s okay! You need to do what is best for your specific group of learners. If you have a large group of students who are learning English as a second language, you may need to spend more time working with vocabulary. If you teach in a high poverty area, you’ll need to spend more time on both vocabulary and background knowledge. Every classroom at every school has a different need.
A Loose Guideline
Also, first year teachers should understand this need will vary each year. You’ll never teach the same lesson exactly the same from year to year. (Or at least, you shouldn’t be doing that!) Your pacing from year to year will vary. However, you will need to stay with your district pacing at least loosely. I recommend that you stay within about 2 weeks of your district pacing guide (if you have one provided). This is especially important if you live in an area with a high transient population. When children are constantly moving from one school to another, learning gaps are bound to occur. If you’re too far off the district pacing, then those gaps will be even more pronounced.
First Year Problem 4 - Staying Too Late or Taking Too Much Home
Listen, teacher burnout is real – even for new teachers. In order to be the best teacher you can be, you need to be well-rested and relaxed. You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Take the time to fill your cup!
A Healthy Balance
It is imperative to find a healthy work/life balance. As a first year teacher, I found myself working 12 and 14 hour days. Don’t do this! Go home at a decent time each day, have dinner, watch TV/read, go for a walk, and do all the things for yourself and your family. This will truly make you a better teacher because you’ll be recharged the next day. Don’t make your 8 hour work day into a 12 hour shift. It’s so easy to do because you will NEVER be caught up.
Inevitably, you’ll put pressure on yourself or you’ll have outside influences putting pressure on you to always do more. Remember, it’s ok to say no! You have every right to say no to working a ton of time off your contracted hours. You should say no to sacrificing your personal time. I promise you, the work will still be there tomorrow.
Sometimes It’s Necessary
Now, I’m not saying that you never need to work overtime. From time to time this will be necessary. I’m just saying as a first year teacher, please don’t make it the norm. At the end of the day, even though it is one of the most important professions in existence, it is also a job.
I hate to say it’s just a job because there’s so much more to being an educator than getting a paycheck. I truly believe it is the most noble profession in the world. Just keep it in perspective. After all, if something were to happen and you could not fulfill your teaching contract, you would be replaced. Just. Like. That.
Take time for yourself.
First Year Problem 5 - Unrealistic Expectations
In education, first year teachers are evaluated in the exact same manner as 30-year veteran teachers. Surprisingly, expectations are the same no matter if you’ve been teaching for 10 days or for 10 years. With that being said, you walk into the classroom with not only the high expectations you have for yourself, but also the high expectations from others. Clear goals and action plans to hold yourself accountable for meeting those expectations are a great thing to put in place early on. But know, it’s not going to go how you planned. Technology quits working, a kid throws a tantrum, the fire alarm goes off… Just stay flexible and roll with it.
Growth Mindset is a MUST Your First Year
Furthermore, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t quite reach a goal. Don’t beat yourself up for the lesson that falls flat. Keep your chin up when you experience setbacks that your fellow teachers seem to breeze right through. If your kids aren’t as quiet in the hall as you want them to be when an administrator walks by, don’t get upset with the kids or yourself. Keep a growth mindset and use it as a learning opportunity for your students to review and practice expectations and MOVE ON. Give grace to yourself and your students. You can snag this awesome classroom poster for free!
In conclusion, your first year teaching will be both exciting and challenging. It’s important for new teachers to prioritize self-care and seek out support from colleagues and mentors. Developing relationships with coworkers, setting clear expectations for students, and utilizing effective classroom instructional and management strategies will help create a positive learning environment. By continuously reflecting on your teaching practices and actively working to improve, new teachers will grow and thrive in their careers. Remember, the journey of teaching is a lifelong learning experience.