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7 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching

Updated on September 22, 2017
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Alexis is a former special education teacher who is now an in-home therapist. She enjoys traveling, writing, and playing the violin.

Teaching Is Rewarding and Challenging

When I took my first education class in college, I was given the following wisdom:

“You will put in late nights the first 2-3 years. You will want to quit. You will make a lot of mistakes”

It was true. The training I received as a teacher didn’t really provide much substance except how to design curriculum, lessons, etc. It wasn’t until I started subbing my junior year that I got real practical experiences. My practicums and student teaching would help me further still. That said, jumping into someone’s class with their guidance is a lot easier than running your own classroom from day one.

The first classroom I stepped into was two months before the end of the school year. That said, I was able to jump in fairly easily and finished off the first year with a lot of positive change. My supervisor didn’t hesitate to offer me a contract for the following school year. I finished that year, but with more challenges due to starting from the get-go and a very challenging caseload.

There were a lot of things I learned after my first year and in the following two years. I ended up hanging up my teaching hat at the end of this school year to pursue another avenue, but I look back on my teaching years as a great experience and time spent changing the lives of my students. Still, if I could go back, there are quite a few things I’d change!

1. Ask Questions—To Someone Who’ll Answer Them

When you’re a new teacher, absolutely ask questions! You don’t know squat! Teaching is a collaborative job, and most schools will place new teachers with a mentor. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, because the administration is not always supportive. When this occurs, don’t sit back and try to figure it out, find other teachers in the school, ask other teachers you know or head to the internet for resources.

2. Teaching Is Trial and Error

When you walk into your first classroom, your training will not prepare you for everything. Actually, it’ll prepare you for little in the grand scheme of things. You will make tons of mistakes. Rarely is anyone a good teacher their first year. Just remember not to be too hard on yourself and remember to communicate with others and ask for help!

Also, one I wanted to throw in is that every school is different. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a school that turns out to be a terrible fit, but there are thousands of wonderful schools out there. If one doesn’t work or even if a grade level doesn’t work out, ‘trial’ another. A wise mentor once told me that it’s good for teachers to go to a new school every 1-2 years until they get experience and stick with one school. I didn’t believe her at the time, but after a few years and schools, she is right!

3. Structure Is Critical (We're Talking About the Small Things Too!)

One mistake I made my first year was not having a good structure when it came to little things. Case in point, you should have set times students use the computer, class jobs, homework schedule, etc. Sure I had them all in place, but they weren’t structured enough because I was new and therefore didn’t know what I was doing in some regards.

  • Teachers should also have good visuals around the classroom (something I definitely did). This could be what students are learning, homework, agenda, etc.
  • Don’t change the structure too often. If something isn’t working out after a month, THEN change it. Remember trial and error is your friend when you first start teaching

4. You Have to Look Out for You

My mentor told me this, and I learned the hard way how true this is during the past school year. You can pull all the late-nighters you want, serve on every academic team, have students who excel in every academic area, but at what cost? Your sanity, relationships and health, that’s what.

You have to establish a proper work-life balance from the beginning, otherwise, you’ll fall apart, and everything else will suffer along with it. Seriously, a perfect lesson plan doesn’t mean squat compared to your well-being!. If you need help doing this, learn to prioritize tasks or ask an experienced teacher for help. Yes, you will have an extra workload your first year, but it should NEVER impede your life, no matter what you believe or someone tries to tell you.

5. Classroom Management Takes Time

A common weakness amongst ALL first-year teachers is classroom management. There are so many components that go into this, that one paragraph isn’t enough to justify it. Therefore I’ll summarize it by saying that it takes years to get good at classroom management. You should have a good system in effect from day one (spend a week laying out expectations!) and use other teachers as a resource for developing yours.

Side note: Have a reward system in place!

6. Substitute Folders and Extra Work

I made a substitute folder, but I made the mistake of not having enough work. It is inevitable that you will get sick or need to call out. I had a family member pass away at the end of the school year and not having things prepared in advance (I should’ve, regardless) caused a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Subfolders and a folder for extra work when students finish early don't require much. Dedicate an afternoon/evening preparing five days worth of lessons early in the year. You will be very thankful that you did! Also making a fun folder for kids to get things out of for extra credit or ‘post-test’ isn’t a bad idea either!

7. Check Your Email During the Day

During a teaching practicum my senior year of college, I got an email from my advisor stating they were coming. I didn’t bother to check my email and was quite surprised to find her at the door, excited to see my lesson on time! I didn’t do so well because I wasn’t prepared for her arrival. If only I’d taken five minutes to check my email!

The sad thing is I’ve made that mistake more than once during my most recent year of teaching. You get caught up in a lesson and the next thing you know, you’re late for an impromptu meeting!

It’s a sad thing that teachers have to check their email so often. Especially when there is little transition time between classes or lessons, but establishing good classroom management and fluid lessons make it possible!

© 2017 Alexis

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