Guest Post: 10 Tips for First Year Teachers!

10 Tips for First Year Teachers

Guest Post by my friend and colleague Chris Edwards.

I will be the first to admit that my first year was a train wreck.  I had some success but throughout that year I experienced so many more failures. Now that I am 7th year, I felt that I could lend some advice and support for all of our future first year teachers. So here goes.....

1) Find the most positive/passionate staff members in the school and befriend them right away.

It doesn’t matter what their position is, find them and cultivate a relationship with them. In my first year, my best friends were the secretary, the bookkeeper, and the plant operator. No matter how my day was going, good or bad, I could always go to any of them and talk about whatever was going on and if I needed anything done in my room a door unlocked or a special piece of furniture, the plant operator gave me the hookup…. of course, you need to be sure thank those people with cards, food, food, and more food…. people like food. Donuts and pizza are cheap and delicious. Candy bars and chocolates go a long way in showing appreciation to those who help you along the way!
I also found 2 other teachers who radiated passion for their subject. I latched on to them right away and they are now 2 of my best friends. Stay away from the Debbie downers and the complainers they’ll just bring you down with them and you’ll run the risk of becoming cynical yourself.

2) Find out who the master teachers are in your school and pick their brains.

It is your first year and though you may have an idea of what you want to happen in your room…sometimes that isn’t the reality. Find those master teachers who have been there for a while and ask them how they manage their room and adapt that to your teaching style. Speaking of teaching style…

3) Develop your own genuine teaching style

One of the most common mistakes I have noticed with new teachers and honestly a mistake I made was trying to teach in the same style as your cooperating teacher during your internship experience because you saw how effective that was for them. Sorry to tell you, but that doesn’t always translate to a different set of kids in another school; especially when you don’t have the cooperating teacher in the room with you making sure the kids don’t act like buffoons.

YOU CANNOT BE ANYONE BUT YOURSELF!!! I tried for much of my first year to convince myself that I had to be exactly like my cooperating teacher and I bombed. It wasn’t until 3/4ths of the way through that I let go of that and started being myself. The kids noticed a more genuine side of me and I started getting the results I was looking for. Plus, it gave me major momentum heading into my 2nd year.

Your teaching style should directly mirror your true personality. If you are a goof, be a goof…maintain classroom management (coming up!) but be a goof. If you are quiet and reserved be quiet and reserved! Don’t change your personality into becoming something you’re not. Kids notice these things and it is much harder to continually put on a façade than it is to be YOU and make the kids adjust…they will!

4) Create an environment of positivity and a culture of team and family.

You may very well be the only positive adult in a student’s life. Your room may be the only place a student will feel safe, loved, wanted, and part of something. Create that environment immediately. I didn’t discover this until year 2 and once I figured it out, things took off! When I taught middle school, my first 2 days of year 2 were spent entirely on team building/getting to know you/positive self-worth games and activities. I used the book: Great Group Games: 175 Boredom-Busting, Zero-Prep Team Builders for All Ages and 104 Activities That Build: Self-Esteem, Teamwork, Communication, Anger Management, Self-Discovery, Coping Skills…. both amazing books and fun…. YOU should JOIN IN ON THE GAMES TOO!
Once my students realized that I cared about who they are and understood the room they were walking into was safe, the learning really began. Some teachers will tell you that you don’t have time to do something like this…it is a LIE!!!  You cannot afford NOT to do it. Every master teacher I know has done this and it works. Of course, this all correlates to...

5) Develop great classroom management.   

Students will be less likely to act up and not engage in tomfoolery if they know that 1) the teacher cares for them, 2) they know they can make a mistake and not get made fun of or put down, and 3) they have a history of success in that room.

Celebrate every little victory for the whole class. If you are teaching a concept and you noticed that the light bulbs just went off in their head and they are experience success, tell them how proud of them you are. Me…I just ran around the room slapping high fives and called it the victory lap…again…that is me…that may not be you. Even just the simplest of positive words will go a long way in your classroom.

Celebrate every little victory for each kid. For some it will be outward praise but keep in mind that some students would appreciate just a little note of praise on an assignment you hand back or just a silent thumbs up or smile.

Be consistent in your consequences. This is by far that hardest thing to do. You will not have a perfect class every day. There will be times when you will have to deal with shenanigans. BE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR CONSEQUENCES. Even if you really like the kid or your favorite student (yes you will have favorites, don’t let anyone tell you differently) acts up, you must follow the guidelines you set at the beginning or you will lose ALL credibility.

Process are important! Have a process for everything and teach it on DAY 1. How to enter the room, where to put their things, how to take attendance, how you begin class, how to get materials needed for the day, how they leave the room…. PROCESSES ARE IMPORTANT. Go over it with them and practice it with them until it is smooth. Do this at the beginning of class and don’t hesitate to reintroduce them to your class throughout the year especially after breaks.

6) Don't be afraid to show vulnerability to your students.

Let your students see you as human and not some drone. You’re asking the same of them so open up sometimes. Let your students get to know you but DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND AND REMIND THEM THAT YOU ARE STILL THEIR TEACHER NOT THEIR FRIEND. I literally tell that to them. “Listen ya’ll, I love you and I think you’re awesome people but I am not your friend, I am your teacher”. Tough for them to hear at first but trust me, they will respect it. They enough friends, what they need is a stable adult presence.

Let them know about who you are outside of school. Your interests, pets, spouse, kids, etc. I play a game called Who is Mr. Edwards at the beginning of year. The kids love it. It is a slide show of multiple choice questions about me that they may not know about me. The excitement they show if they get an answer correct is so funny! Something as simple as this is all you will need.

Hang posters in your room of things you are interested in. My students know that my favorite superhero is Superman because he is plastered all over my room. They know I love baseball because I have posters hanging on my walls. Trust me, it will work.

7) Don’t be afraid to mess up

Honest-sauce time…your first year will be an incredibly trying time in your career. You may feel that you are an awful teacher (I certainly did) or you may feel like they should be paying the kids and not you. Its ok! Every teacher felt that way their first year and they are LYING to you if they say they didn’t. It’s all about gaining experience and learning and adapting to situations that can only come from experience. I’m 7 years in and I am still learning tough lessons. Believe me when I tell you, your first year will be one GIANT tough lesson but if you seek out those positive people and master teachers I mentioned earlier, they will walk you through it and you will survive and then in year 2 you will come in with much more confidence and control of your room!

8) Control what you can control and let the rest go!

You will not be in complete control…. you won’t be able to control what happens to your students before/during/after school. You can only control how safe they feel in your room.  You may have students who come in hungry, sad, angry, or all of the above. They will come to school the best they can possibly be that day given all the outside situations. Understand that 95% of the time students are reacting to things that are happening outside of you classroom. You just focus on teaching them the best you can no matter how they come in or what baggage they bring.

You cannot control what the school board or government decides how to treat teachers. Sometimes it really stinks being the punching bag for everything wrong in the world. Your job is to keep plugging away for your students and be the best teacher you can be so that when they grow up and become voters, they will look back at the positive experience they had had in your room.

9) Be organized and lesson plan like your life depends on it.

Kids know when you don’t have a plan and they will take advantage. Over plan for every lesson. Ask other experienced teachers what they have in their “tool box” in case there is extra time left over in a class period or time block. Of course, you can always turn to those team building games! Administrators will know if you are unprepared too. As a first year teacher, your lesson plans may be looked at more than any other teacher. You will most likely be observed more times that other teachers. That's the way it goes. Use those observations as another learning experience and work with master teachers on developing great, rich, and engaging lesson plans. Google, Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and blogs are all great sources for creative lesson plans. Take advantage of those resources.


10) Go save the world, be naive and be idealistic.

You will have some teachers tell you that "you can’t save every child", "you shouldn’t be so naive", "you shouldn’t be so idealistic"…don’t listen to them. Don’t let other people’s cynicism keep you from trying to do good in this world. Obviously, you aren’t going to save every kid…know that going into it but if we aren’t trying what is the point? You will experience pain when a student you’ve been working with messes up but you cannot deter you from trying to reach every kid you can and when you do, the feeling is indescribable.
So again! Congrats on the new gig. I hope this article helps you out and calms your nerves about starting your career. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. If you liked the article or know someone who will, comment and pass it along. Look, I don’t have all the answers and I am not going to pretend I know everything or that I am done learning (because I still have a long way to go!). After 7 years, I still get lost but as long as you are learning from your mistakes and continue to grow your career will be a stellar one!

Good luck and Happy Teaching!


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