First-year teacher? 7 tips from the veterans

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Articles aimed at new teachers can sometimes seem ominous:

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  • “5 Vital Tips for First-Year Teachers to Make it Out Alive”
  • “6 Tips for Surviving Your First Year as a Teacher”
  • “The First Year of Teaching Can Feel Like a Fraternity Hazing”

Those are all real titles of articles aimed at teachers who will be walking into their own classroom for the first time this fall. Daunting, aren’t they?

“Overwhelming is the word that best describes my first year of teaching,” writes an experienced teacher for Edutopia. “I wasn’t prepared for the multitude of things on my plate. I didn’t have a handle on classroom management, and I left each day feeling exhausted and defeated.”

The challenges are many: developing curriculum and lesson plans, managing diversity and inclusion, working with other teachers and the administration, communicating with parents, and teaching your students day-in and day-out. But there are many articles filled with advice from veteran teachers on how their first-year peers can thrive in the year ahead.

Here are 7 tips (with links) on how to succeed in your first year:

  1. Tap into your colleagues’ experience: “Find those master teachers with experience under their belts, ask them how they manage their room and use their advice to adapt your teaching style,” writes an elementary music teacher for TeacherVision. “Master teachers have been in the school environment for a while, and trust me when I tell you that your new school will have a completely different environment than the one you worked in as a student teacher. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience as you mold your teaching style to fit the needs of your students.”
  2. Learn to create quality lesson plans. A second-grade teacher gives this advice to new teachers, on NEAtoday: Start with the big picture (where do you want your students to be at the end of the year?). Try to avoid what the author calls “fluff:” small activities that may occupy students but don’t encourage deeper thinking. Get creative about resources; relate lesson plans to real life; and don’t be afraid to innovate.
  3. Set goals for your students and for yourself. “As a new teacher, you will probably be expected to establish goals that will allow you to reach certain benchmarks set by your state or school district,” writes a retired teacher with 40 years of experience for AFTVoices. “While those goals can be helpful as you learn to be an effective teacher, specific professional goals that you set for yourself tend to be more meaningful because they add intentionality to your practice as well as allow you to self-assess and reflect on how you can grow as an educator. “
  4. Establish classroom rules and routines: “Present the most important classroom routines in a positive way, as you would a regular lesson,” writes an author of a book on teaching for Scholastic. “Explain, discuss, and give students a chance to practice such routines and opening-of-day exercises.” Two small things that help: posting a general schedule that tells students when to expect recess, lunch, music, and class work, as well as a daily schedule showing the classroom goals for the day.
  5. Have an emergency lesson plan on hand: “I have one big piece of advice for first-year teachers,” a “sophomore” teacher told Education World. “Before the first day of school, have plenty of activities prepared for emergency use. I learned the hard way that kids will misbehave if they have nothing to do. A class full of bored kids won’t all sit quietly for 10 minutes waiting for you to figure out what is next.”
  6. Keep your perspective: Teaching can be hard. “Classroom teaching is, I believe, the single most difficult job on the planet,” writes an assistant professor of education for EducationPost. “Nothing comes close to being onstage in front of young people for more than six hours a day, every day, 180 days a year, not to mention the lesson planning, assessment grading, parent contacting, PD attending, and dance chaperoning. But the difficulty of teaching is in direct accordance with its importance. It’s difficult as only the things that matter most in this world can be.”
  7. And don’t forget to have fun! “Be creative. Don’t just do movie day – that’s for substitutes. Can you do a field trip? Plan one, and work some ice cream in there somewhere. Music-sharing day? Be careful, but that can be one of the best bonding experiences for a class,” writes a teacher in Taiwan for BoredTeachers. “The most fun I’ve ever had in class was when we’ve laughed at something we’re reading together, or watched each other play study games and make mistakes. Turn a reading day into a skit day. Play music that relates to the lesson. From a disciplined class comes a fun class, and from a fun and comfortable class comes a culture where students can open up and be inspired. And that’s the whole point anyway, isn’t it?”

Classroom management can be one of the biggest challenges for new teachers, especially when you’re standing in front of a group of students who have different abilities, different behavioral needs, and different backgrounds. DominicanCAOnline offers a large selection of courses meant to enhance your skills (and fulfill your continuing education requirements); some of the most relevant might be Creativity and the State Standards, Learning Spaces: Reshape Your Classroom, and Innovative Strategies. With over 40 courses to choose from and a Teach In The Know program for early career educators, you will certainly find a course that meets your needs.

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