The first year of teaching can be overwhelming, to say the least. Here are a few first-year teacher tips to start your year the best way possible.
The first day of school may be right around the corner for you and the thought of beginning your teaching career is becoming quite real. It takes a pretty special person to want to walk into a classroom of 20-plus children each day and create an amazing learning environment in order to meet the various needs of your students. You are one of those amazing people! You made the decision to begin your teaching profession during a not-so-easy time to be an educator. Be proud of the work you are going to do and the huge difference you are going to make in your students’ lives.
Let’s take a look at some of the best tips for first year teachers in elementary education from veteran teachers like myself, who’ve spent a FEW years in the classroom. Be sure to check out the free resources included in blog posts that are linked along the way.
Tips for New Teachers #1: Get Your Room Ready
Here is what my teacher desk looks like… Let’s take a tour:
- If you look, you will see a computer on the table. Under the computer is a purple crate. That is where I store student portfolios.
- The white Sterilite Stacking Drawers hold my office supplies, band-aids (ESSENTIAL), and prepared teaching resources.
- Next to the sink, you will see the Sterilite Mini Drawers. This is where I put my small group reading materials (Science of Reading decodable readers and such).
- Can you see a green and white curtain? Behind the curtain are professional development books I want to keep handy and curriculum binders for the year.
- Finally… in my “teacher desk space,” I have my small group table. This table is not a place for me to pile my stuff on. It is used to teach small groups. Do you see the shelf behind my chair? This picture was clearly taken in August. Because by September 10th, that shelf looked a little like the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Just keeping it real.
- The purple tubs (Rubbermaid Roughneck Tote) serve two purposes. Seating and storage! They are STRONG! UM… I can sit on them and I am not a delicate flower. This table is about 200 years old and the legs would not go down any further, so these tubs were perfect. Students love sitting on their knees. TIP: I got these totes at WalMart (I think). They were really reasonable! AND in August/September, they have fun colors!
The most important thing is to think about the workspaces your students will be working in. Make sure your student learning areas are kid friendly and inviting! Your classroom does not need to be Pinterest ready… I promise! BUT it needs to be functional.
Tips For New Teachers #2: Building Relationships
Focus on the relationships you build. THIS will be what they remember. When they look back at their kindergarten year, they won’t remember if you had matching tubs. They WILL remember that you loved them and made them feel important. So, work on building those strong relationships from the beginning of the year all the way to the end of the year through both the bad days and the good.
These are a few of my kindergarten friends who traveled across 3 states to visit me a few summers ago. Be still my HEART!
How do You Build Relationships with Students and Families?
It starts before the start of the school year. As soon as you get your class list, sit down and handwrite postcards to all of your students. I always told them a little about myself (mostly about my family and dogs) and then I promised them that kindergarten will be magical. A few days later you can send a letter to your future classroom parents.
This is a version of what I sent each year. As a parent… these are the things that kept me up at night (Will my son’s teacher see how amazing he is? Will she love him? Will she treat his heart with care?) Until a parent knows that you are in this together, you are going at it alone. This letter starts the conversation. You can grab a copy of this letter by clicking HERE.
In my letter, I ALWAYS say 2 things:
- I promise to treat your child the way I would like my own child treated. I REALLY mean that. REALLY! When I am speaking to a class, correcting a student, giving “the talk” to my group when they seem to have lost. their. minds, I try to imagine their parents are there listening. I try to imagine my administrator is listening. I try to imagine CNN is listening. If I would be embarrassed in front of them, I should change my tactic.
- I am not perfect. MERCY! I am the least perfect person. I know this. I know there will be times when I fall short of someone’s expectations. I know there will be a misunderstanding at some point. We are human. We are dealing with young children. We are dealing with parents’ MOST PRECIOUS thing. There will be misunderstandings. This is why I included my cell phone number on every weekly newsletter I sent home. I would MUCH rather have a parent call me at 8pm at night to clear up a question, than have them fret and worry all night. Emotions tend to build when questions are left unanswered. I have taught in a variety of schools… high poverty-inner city included. I have never regretted this practice… EVER.
Pick up the Phone
During those first few weeks of school, contact each parent. This is such an easy way to build a solid foundation with your parents. My first call was ALWAYS something positive. EVEN if I was about to lose my mind, it was always positive. If that child is coloring on the walls, I might say, “Sally sure loves working with color!” ANY.THING, but keep it positive. At this time, you can remind parents to contact you if they have any concerns.
Tips for New Teachers #3: Connect with Your Colleagues
Novice teachers can be given some great pieces of advice from support staff and veteran teachers. Work on developing your professional relationships with those who are on board with what is best for students. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! Mentor teachers can be an amazing resource for new educators.
Tips for New Teachers #4: Set Up Student Binders
Every year, I would create student binders for each of my students for the new school year. These are an important classroom management tool and a great way to keep communication open with parents. The binders kept students organized and helped resources get home to parents at the end of each school day.
You can read more about setting up organization binders for students in this blog post:
Tips for New Teachers #5: Procedures!
Hopefully, during your student teaching, you were able to identify a set of classroom rules and expectations that you want for your own classroom. Effective classroom management is so important, especially on those tough days.
Know that your first few weeks of school will be about covering procedures. You will want to over-train your students and reteach them continuously. As you get to know your students and they get to know you, you will expect procedures to be followed. Here are a few tips for new teachers that I learned as a parent that carried over to the classroom:
- Say it once and mean it. If you find yourself repeating yourself… DON’T! Make an anchor chart if necessary. But if you repeat yourself 3 or 4 times, students will learn that you don’t mean it until the 4th time and your face is red and your head is about to pop off. Discuss procedures and consequences with your classroom ahead of time.
- Never argue… ever! If tempers flare, be the calm one and just repeat the procedure.
EXAMPLE: A child is drawing on the desk.
You: Pencils are for writing on paper.
Child: I wasn’t, I was just blah, blah, blah.
You: Pencils are for writing on paper.
Child: But I wasn’t, I was just blah, blah, blah.
You: Pencils are for writing on paper.
After the child realizes you won’t engage in a battle, they will usually stop.
Tips for New Teachers #6: Make a Plan for Early Finishers
While you are setting up and teaching your procedures and routines, this is a good time to make a plan for early finishers. You are going to have students learning in different ways and at different speeds. I introduced dessert tubs (early-finisher activities) early in the school year to keep students engaged in learning, even if they finish a task early. These were especially useful during center time.
You will want to use activities that don’t require a bunch of questions but are rather predictable and simple for students to complete independently. There are some ideas in this blog post for you:
Tips for New Teachers #7: Map Out Your Content
You need a year-long plan to know where you’re headed on this 9-month adventure. A curriculum map gives you a starting point and guides you through the entire year. Check your state’s standards so you don’t miss something important.
You can download our completed curriculum map that includes a scope and sequence for kindergarten, first, and second grade from this blog post:
Tips for New Teachers #8: Engaging Curriculum
This tip is an essential piece of advice and goes hand and hand with tip #7. Nothing takes care of behavioral problems like having an engaging curriculum. If your class is not having fun or if you are not prepared, you are walking up a LONG HILL. Take the time to put together effective lesson plans. Work with your grade-level teacher friends and follow best practices.
If you would like to check out some curriculum units with lesson planning and teaching resources included, here are a few links for you:
- Read Aloud Books: Reading Comprehension Lesson Plans
- Decodable Readers with Lesson Plans
- Writers Workshop: Writing Lesson Plans
- Daily Math Lesson Plans
Tips for New Teachers #9: Make a Substitute Teacher Folder
There will most likely be days that you will need to be gone from the classroom. Whether it be furthering education opportunities, a mental health day, an “I can’t leave the bathroom day”, WHATEVER… taking the extra time to create a substitute binder should be added to a to-do list for new classroom teachers. And veteran educators should be updating their binders, as well. You’ll include important information such as schedules, emergency procedures, important phone numbers, student health concerns, etc.
You can snag my editable substitute teacher binder for FREE in this blog post:
Tips for New Teachers #10: Keep Positive
This is a hard job, but it is an important one. If you are like me, you will have days where you are wondering if they are hiring at McDonald’s and you will practice the line, “Do you want fries with that order?” But I am telling you, it is the best job ever!
Remember why you decided to become a teacher. When you have a rough day, remind yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of complaining about “kids today.” Seek the company of positive people. They will lift you up. Don’t listen to people who say, “these kids can’t.” Seek to continue your education on how kids learn and the best instructional practices.
This is such an exciting time! I wish you a successful first year! New kindergarten teachers and first grade teachers, be sure to check out some of my other blog posts for new ideas and activities. Plus, sign up for my newsletters for free files throughout the year!
Here are a few additional blog posts about classroom organization and management: