5 tips for new teachers (plus 3 books to read)

After the first six to eight weeks of school, I am wondering about the many new teachers out there. There was so much advice on twitter and elsewhere. I hope it helped, but I also know that for me, the second six weeks of school were harder than the first six, because at that point, I realized how much support I needed. Plus, I had 30 weeks left of school.

One of my greatest challenges as a teacher early on was the pressure to be something I wasn’t. It wasn’t pressure from standards, or a principal checking in on me, or some end of year test my students had to pass. I don’t think these things drive great teachers. What drives a great teacher is an internal voice that tells us whether we are doing well or not. My greatest challenge was meeting my own expectations.

For a new teacher, I think that those expectations are often set by the teacher next door. Going into my first year, I was lucky and unlucky enough to have great teachers around me. I was lucky in the sense that I had resources next door that could help me through almost anything. I was unlucky in the sense that their strengths made me realize where my weaknesses were pretty quickly. As Aaron Hogan writes about in Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, I was like most other new teachers, unwilling to ask for help for the first few months.

I put so much pressure on myself to be great right away. My expectation of knowing everything was completely unrealistic. I had completed my student teaching succesfully and even spent two years assisting in multiple classrooms. I thought, I should be able to handle the kid who won’t listen. I should be able to deal with the over-competitive boys on the playground. The girls who are best friends, but need a conference to work out their problems at least twice a day shouldn’t rattle me. In some ways, my struggles were a case of I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My student teaching had taught me a lot of things, but it would have been impossible for it to teach me everything.

What I needed to realize was that I couldn’t know everything and there were people nearby to help me with the things I didn’t know. Here are a few tips I would give to any new teacher going through similar challenges:

  1. You know who you want to be as a teacher. Stick with it and find your PLN. What does your ideal classroom look like, sound like, feel like? What is your why? Have a clear vision in your mind of how your ideal class would look if someone were to walk in at a given time. How do you want your students to feel in your classroom? What will they be doing that shows that feeling? Find a group of teachers with similar styles and more experience. Ask for their help. What works for them. Use their advice and make small shifts in your teaching. You will find what works for you and what doesn’t until you reach your goal. Keep moving in the direction of that vision, even if the path changes slightly as you go.
  2. Know that your class will not look, sound, or feel the way you want it to right away. Well, you’ve probably already figured that out. Plus, it probably won’t look, sound, or feel the way you really want for a few years. But slowly, you will see that vision take form. You might even change that end goal slightly, but not without working hard toward that original vision.
  3. Be willing to change, but change with clear reason and purpose. That vision you have is imperfect. You will see other teachers seemingly work magic and you will probably want to adopt their strategies. You should definitely consider their strategies and how it would work for you. Before you make the change, however, make sure it is not out of frustration that something isn’t working, or as a quick fix. Think about how it fits into your ideal classroom. If you think it might fit, give it a try. If it doesn’t fit your style, don’t force it. Or adjust it so that it does fit your style and classroom.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. First, find that teacher down the hall with magic powers and ask them how they make those strategies (maybe even the same ones you are using without any success) work so well with their students. If you want to be good at anything, find someone who is really good and ask for advice. Bring specific questions and ask them if it’s okay for you to come back. The vast majority of teachers want to help other teachers do well. The best teachers care about all the students in their school, not just the ones in their room. Ask those teachers for help. They have probably been exactly where you were. Second, get on social media and connect with the many educators out there who are willing to spend their time sharing their hard work with the world. You will find that the resources are endless.
  5. Find (some) balance. Your first year will be exhausting. While working harder is often the default mode to overcome our worries, you need to take time for yourself as well. Go to the gym, eat healthy, develop a healthy routine for sleep and relaxation. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and it’s easy to empty your cup in that first year of teaching.

If you are a new teacher and stumble upon this blog post, I am assuming you are, or might soon be, in the same place I was in my first year. I hope my words give you some solace, but there are much more valuable information to be found as well. Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth would be a good starting point. The Power of Our Words could help if you feel like your students aren’t listening to your ‘words of wisdom.’ Teach Like a Pirate will re-energize you and give you tips on how to design lessons that engage and empower your students, and you.


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