Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tips for a First Year Teacher... from a survivor

I'm going to preface this with the stats of my first year teaching. 

Challenge: I opened a brand new school that we weren't allowed to move into until the Friday before school started on Monday. 

Challenge: I was on a 2 2/3 membered team. 

Team Member 1:  Taught six classes (like me) Pregnant and due in October
Team Member 2: Only taught two 8th Grade Classes and four 7th Grade classes 
but there was a 7th grade teacher who went on Maternity leave in November
Team Member 3: Had two classes of GT kids and was going through chemotherapy. 
Me: First Year Teacher with 173 students and a year of subbing under my belt.

Challenge: First year of the STAAR Test for 8th Grade US History which asks questions at a higher level than the AP test (No joke I had an AP US History teacher tell me that)

I was in survival mode from October on. I worked until seven MOST nights and felt like I was constantly treading water. However through that-- I think was some of the most career impacting work I've done.

1) I started YouTube Videos to help my kids outside of class.
2) I started a Mock UN Club at my school (Model UN but only for my District)
3) Created "Harry Potter" Review Day
4) Gained respect of my colleagues as a first year teacher who hung tough
5) Watched a class transform from nearly uncontrollable to the class I laughed so hard I cried almost every day

Being a first year teacher is HARD. I get it. 

That being said...

1. Dress sternly. 

This seems weird because most teachers gear towards brightly colored clothing. But this can make you look like an easy target. That first week or two, dress in clothes that make you look very "take charge" after that-- it's all the fun colored clothing you can handle!

2. Find your "Scary Teacher Voice".

I hate to say "Mean Teacher Voice" because I don't feel like my voice is really mean, but it does scare kids. I don't write kids up really and quite frankly I have a VERY long fuse but there are somethings you just don't do. I use it when I tell students about my desk. I speak VERY sternly and my face reflects the sound of my voice. 

3. Assert your boundaries. 

Don't let students go behind your desk. As a young teacher you want to be very laisse faire. You want to not care that they sit in your chair etc. but when you let them sit at your chair, you give them a sense of control over you in your classroom. 

My first year I wasn't very good about this and my kids ended up pulling graded papers off my desk, stealing candy from my cabinet, and taking writing utensils off my desk. 

This year: No such problems. I had a pretty crazy group. While my kids will come to my desk to talk to me and see no problem with that-- they recognize there are BOUNDARIES. 

Also, don't buy into the kids gossip. You are young and the will want to talk to you about things that go beyond your scope. Don't talk about your love life and don't fret over theirs.

4. If you feel overwhelmed ask for help.

My first year I wanted SO BADLY to prove myself. For more reasons than one I felt like I had something to prove. It wasn't until I was staying at school until seven every night and working at home until ten that I realized I couldn't do it all. I talked to my DI and asked if she could help. She called in a few favors and offered to cover a class for me so I could get caught up. Your administration is there to support you if you need it! Utilize them!

5. Don't worry if you don't "fit in" right away.

In a new situation you always want to feel like you fit in. For reasons I can't describe I felt SO AWKWARD my first year teaching. Lunch seemed weird and forced and things I said at lunch seemed to land flat. I say I'm weird but honestly I'm usually a social butterfly so this was REALLY hard for me. 

However, I made one REALLY good friend. She was a fourth year teacher and a ROCKSTAR. Her then fiance (now husband) told her while we were moving into the school that she should be friends with me after I made a quip about how he should definitely let her buy a Zebra Rug. She was all I needed and she inspired me to push myself harder.  

The next year things got a lot more comfortable. People got shuffled some but with those who remained there was a sense of camaraderie. We were survivors of opening our school. I made sure to welcome those who were new to our floor and team because I remembered what if felt like to be so uncomfortable.

Be kind. People respect kindness even if they feel it is unwarranted. Smile at people and be willing to share. 

6. Be the light.

When you get on a team it can be pretty clear what kind of team you are stepping into within those first moments of planning. The most dangerous trap to fall into is the negativity trap. If you hear/see this-- don't feed into it! Be the light! Be the light of positivity on everything. It makes negative people feel uncomfortable and they will stop complaining around you-- you don't need that.

7. Find a way to love every child.

There are going to be kids that are hard to love. Know those are the kids that need you to understand them the most. Try to expose the good in them whenever possible. 

I had a student this year whose favorite line at the beginning of the year was saying (in a joking way) "You just hate me". I called him up to talk to me. I told him I loved my job and I loved all my students and for him to claim that I could "hate" a student was hurtful to both me and my character. It ceased to be an issue. In fact he was a kid who put on the best show when I had observers come to the room. He shook their hand, would explain any rule I asked, and would evil-eye any student who made me look like a less than "perfect" teacher. He was protective of me and yet was still prone to outbursts of blatant disrespect. I continued to work with him all year and he has one of the greatest hearts in the world, but struggled dealing with the emotional ups and downs that come with being a teen. 

Find the good in your students and constantly seek to see it in them and remind them that it is there!

8. Find ways to enjoy your job and make lessons your own. 

I created Harry Potter day in a time that I was DESPERATE to do something fun and creative. I wanted something that would excite my kids about learning and it REALLY did. They LOVED it. It is now a staple of every semester in my classroom.

I wanted to have fun with my students so I founded our Mock UN club because it sounded interesting to me! It was the BEST thing I did with my first year teaching.

9. Don't let people belittle you because you are a first year teacher.

My first year it drove me NUTS that people would claim my energy and enthusiasm came from being a "first year teacher". They would say that was the reason I was doing all the things I did. "I wish I was a first year teacher and had that energy" or "It must be  nice to be a first year teacher". Little did they know that energy is something that pulses off of me in waves. 

On the flip side, I had teachers say my lack of experience meant I knew "nothing". 

You are a teacher. Everything outside of that will be reflected in the success of your students. 

10. Build relationships with these kids. They will FOREVER be in your memory as your first babies. 

My first group I will never forget. I will never forget those moments. The ones that pushed me and molded me as a teacher. They set me up for greatness and will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

I remember each class fondly for their own unique quirks. :-)

1st Period: Clever and Sneaky (They convinced a sub birds were flying at the window as a student from the middle of the classroom through erasers at the window-- the sub's note said the kids were helpful)
Advisory: HILARIOUS and LOUD. We played a lot of Phase 10-- I loved this group
3rd Period: HUGE class. Thirty Three kids by the end of the year. They were a quiet group that worked hard. One student would walk in after the weekend and shout "Did you watch Harry Potter Weekend?!?!?"
4th Period: Individuality ran rampant in this class. They wanted to be sure I knew their opinions.
5th Period: My students who LOVED books. I talked about books with them often and saw almost half the class at "The Hunger Games" midnight premiere when I went with my friends. 
6th Period: Laughed until I cried almost every day
7th Period: Off
8th Period: Supremely Awkward but hilarious class. They loved to make things uncomfortable. 

UPDATE: Last year I had two teachers go out on maternity leave (one in the Fall and one in the Spring). This year (knock on wood) will be the first year no one on my team goes on maternity leave! 

Any other suggestions or advice for first year teachers?


  1. Hello Teacher Blogger!
    I wanted to thank you for your participation in the Middle School Blog Log on the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.
    Some changes are coming to the blog log. We have a new and more colourful button that I feel will attract more traffic to the site and our blogs. Please update our button on your teacher blog with the new code located at Middle School Blog Log
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    Thanks for all you do. I read your blogs via bloglovin and so jealous of all your creativity.
    Kristy @ 2peasandadog {at}

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