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Congratulations! You are finally a teacher! It’s a dream come true. I remember those days very well. I almost didn’t believe it was real until I walked into my first classroom and saw those naked walls and piled up furniture staring back at me. You will certainly get lots of advice from lots of people. Remember that in the end, this is your classroom--the classroom you’ve wanted for so long. Consider carefully about all the advice you are about to be given, especially the ten tips from me that follow.
- Stay informed, but don’t obsess over current political actions, education reform, biased news reporting and especially publicly posted comments related to education. There is great value in knowing what is happening in the world of education outside of your classroom, and I strongly recommend staying informed, but find a reputable, unbiased source of educational news. Support education advocates that align with your views, but as a new educator, leave the actual advocating to them for a while. You’re going to have your hands full.
- Don’t feel pressured to do it all. As a new teacher, you might find it a bit difficult to maintain a class website, write a teacher blog, head up a committee, advise for an extracurricular activity, create interactive whiteboard lessons for every subject, and tutor students for free after hours, all while you’re finding your way in our profession. In time, you may find yourself drawn to one or more of these very valuable, rewarding endeavors, but give yourself a while to find out who you are as a teacher, and then build on the strengths that naturally emerge. Don’t be afraid to say “no” during the first year.
- Save your money for really important things. You will be tempted to buy treats and gifts for your students. You will want pillows and chairs and rugs for your reading area. You will want each student to have a book box, and your class library to be overflowing with books in every genre. You will want educational software, homey room decorations, and almost everything you see in teacher catalogs. You will want things you see in other teachers’ classrooms. It’s important to remember that those things were accumulated over time. Some were probably donated, some scavenged at garage sales and clearance aisles, and others from friends who were moving. None of the classrooms you see was outfitted all at once during the first year. Our profession does require some out of pocket spending though. Every teacher will tell you that. So, spend wisely. Think of what’s really important. Work on building up that classroom library before you worry about having the perfect beach chairs to go with your “Oceans of Learning” theme. (That one can be a hard one, I know.) Don’t forget to check out those garage sales and dollar stores for bargains too.
- Respect professional boundaries between you and your administration, you and your students’ parents, you and your students, you and Facebook...well, you get the idea. You are a professional, and to be treated as one, you must act like one. Your reputation is forming in this first year. Let those around you see your excitement, your enthusiasm, your dedication, and your kindness, but when you need to vent, be sure that you confide in one person that you trust implicitly. Avoid mentioning anything negative online about your work. Don’t talk about the student who said something inappropriate (even without giving a name), or how desperate you are for winter break to start. You are under scrutiny as a teacher, and that includes Facebook and Twitter.
- Be consistent in everything you do. Enforce your behavior management system consistently. Establish routines and follow them consistently. If you start sending homework folders to parents every Monday, then follow through and do it EVERY Monday. As soon as the students start to feel a slack in routine, they will pick up on it faster than any academic concept you will try to teach them. Sometimes this may mean continuing something that you know you don’t want to do again next year, but for this year, follow through. Unless the practice is causing some kind of harm, do your best to keep up with what you start. There will be times that you must change something. For example, you may find that your center schedule is not working at all. Then by all means, change it. Don’t feel the need to over-explain why there is a change to your students, but inform them of the change and then move forward. It’s usually best for everyone when routine and structure are maintained as much as possible, but certainly make notes about what you want to change next year and act on it.
- “Style over substance” is a trap you can fall into without even realizing it! You have probably been dreaming about how you want your room to look, what you will put on each bulletin board, and how to arrange the desks. Maybe you’ve even picked up some things that will be perfect decorations. You’ve stocked up on things from the Dollar Store that were on other teachers’ “must have” blog posts. Now what? Always remember the heart of your mission: teaching content. You need to know your stuff, literally. Your students will learn reading strategies better from a confident, prepared teacher in a sparsely decorated room than they will from an ill-prepared teacher in a room straight out of “Classroom Beautiful” magazine. Now, the ultimate goal is to combine both of those elements, and in time you most likely will, but for now, make sure you spend as much time planning lessons and studying content as you do preparing your physical space.
- Organize everything. You don’t necessarily need a separate system for everything you do, but come up with a way to keep things from piling up. The absolute BEST thing I ever did was to number my students. As long as they put their numbers in the corner of their paper, you can alphabetize assignments in a snap. You can see in an instant whose work is missing. You can randomly call students by numbers to complete tasks or be helpers. They can line up in number order to avoid rushing the door. The best part is that you can number things in the classroom (job charts, supplies) with numbers, and then they are reusable next year!
- Respect your elders. Ok, I’m being a bit facetious here, but honestly, the veteran teachers at your school have a lot to offer. If a veteran teacher has advice about the token economy system you are going to use, listen. That teacher was once a new teacher just like you, and she is trying to save you the headaches that she’s endured. Of course, consider the advice, and then make your own decisions. You have a lot of pressure on you as a new teacher, and seeking out the advice of a seasoned teacher can be such a benefit to you. Watch and listen in your first days to find out which colleagues are positive and encouraging, and which are negative and complaining. Choose your friends and mentors wisely, because they will influence your own attitude. Before you know it, you’ll be the veteran teacher people are coming to for advice!
- Forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will say something you instantly wish you could rewind and take back. You will have at least one observation that you know didn’t show you at your best. Guess what? You will survive it all. No one little thing you do in your first year will define you for the rest of your career. You are not expected to be perfect. You will make mistakes, and you will learn from them. You will have a bad day, but they will be far outnumbered by great days. When you’re feeling like you let yourself down, forgive yourself and move on.
- Find a balance between work and school. As a new teacher, my classroom door opened to the outside, but I had no windows. Sometimes I would be working and working, and when I finally left for the day I’d be shocked to open the door and find it was already nighttime! It got to the point that my friends would show up at my door with dinner because when they couldn’t reach me, they knew where I was. I actually enjoyed that time in my career. I liked being in my room, making things, checking papers, changing bulletin boards, but even though I enjoyed myself, I found myself struggling toward the end of the year and began to force myself to leave at a reasonable hour. Finding joy and relaxation in my personal life actually made me a better teacher in the classroom. Make time for your friends and relationships outside of school. Avoid working all day on Saturday. Schedule time to continue with hobbies and interests you had before you became a teacher.
Denise Boehm has been a teacher in Florida since 1994. She is Nationally Board Certified, holds ESOL and gifted endorsements, and has taught grades 2-5, served as a drop-out prevention specialist, writing specialist, and is active on the leadership team, often serving as an acting administrator. Visit Denise at the Sunny Days in 2nd Grade Blog and check out her Teachers Pay Teachers store.
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