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Dear First Year Teacher,
I know how you might be feeling because I was once you, standing in the middle of my classroom, looking at my bare walls and the mounds of books (and the accompanying dust) that the former teacher had left behind.
I remember walking through the hallways, peeking into other teachers’ classrooms in hopes of being inspired by their seating arrangements and their Pinterest-perfect classrooms. Most of those teachers were already working on unit plans and anchor charts because they were in the same classrooms they taught in last year. They didn’t need to assemble any furniture or hang up butcher paper on their walls. And they already knew what to expect.
Meanwhile, the only time I led a classroom of my own was in my garage. When I was 5. And my stuffed animals were my students.
This was the real deal. Everything I had spent years working toward was finally going to happen and play out FOR REAL.
And it all felt so daunting.
My grade level team was so inclusive – trying to involve me in conversations about class projects and lesson plans. But it was difficult to focus because my mind kept screaming, “I’M NOT READY. MY CLASSROOM IS NOT READY. I NEED MORE TIME.”
I know you must feel pressured to have everything ready to go for the first day of school.
But, take a deep breath. And trust that even the most effective, “together” teacher you know has been in your shoes once before.
Here are a few things that may be helpful to you as you are about to embark on this beautiful journey.
1) You CAN start the year off with bare walls.
Some teachers even leave their walls empty all year long. There have been some research studies around whether too much decorating can be a distraction for students. But I left my walls untouched because I didn’t have the time. Between the day I got my classroom keys and the first day of school, there was way too much to do to actually think about what was going to be plastered on my walls. And it ended up being a truly wonderful thing because, over the course of the year, the students and I hung things up that were helpful and/or meaningful to us. It really drove home the message that this was our classroom and not just mine.
2) You don’t actually have to have unit plans and lesson plans mapped out.
One of the veteran teachers that was mentoring me reminded me over and over that my focus should be on the first week of school. The content can come later. There is just so much new information coming at you when you’re starting a new job. You have to learn your students, the bell schedule, the curriculum, the school-wide polices, etc. It can all be so overwhelming. But if you focus on just the first week, on easing your way into it, it feels so much more manageable.
3) Create a list of rules and procedures.
What are systems you want in place in your classroom? What should a student do when they need to use the bathroom? Are snacks allowed at their desk? Write down every single expectation you have for your student and then create a procedure that goes along with that. Literally step by step. As if you were about to explain it to a toddler.
These are things you will want to cover during your first week of school. If you are an elementary school teacher, I recommend going over each procedure with them and practicing it multiple times until they are little experts. Once all the procedures are established and ingrained in their mind, it will make your life a heck of a lot easier when the content is introduced.
4) Prepare icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities for the first week.
Aside from assigning the students their textbooks, we didn’t touch a single book during the first week of school. It’s important to build relationships with your students and let them know right off the bat that you care about them as a person. Not only do you get to know them on a more personal level, but you also help them get to know their classmates and create a sense of camaraderie in the classroom.
5) Ask for help but recognize that you’ve got your own style.
There are so many veteran teachers that would love to share their wisdom and expertise with you. I had some of the best mentor teachers that reminded me to breathe, debriefed with me at the end of each day, and allowed me to cry on their shoulder when I felt that I was failing. Teachers are the most empathetic bunch of folks I know. If you ask for support, you will receive support. But, at the same time, recognize that just because you’ve got a super cool mentor teacher who’s been teaching for 20 years, your classroom dynamic isn’t going to be the same. 1) They’ve got a couple more years under their belt, y’know? And 2) You are you. There is no need for you to try to emulate someone else when you’ve got your own amazing qualities that landed you in the position you are today. You’re there for a reason. So, when you’re feeling down on yourself, just remember someone had enough faith in you to hire you and place you in a classroom with children.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR FIRST-YEAR TEACHERS
Check out some of the links below for advice and/or resources for new teachers.
- Education World’s First Year Teacher’s Primer
- The First Day of School
The best-selling book ever on classroom management and teaching for student achievement. This book walks you through structuring and organizing a classroom for success.
- What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching
This U.S. Department of Education on-line book is a great resource for beginning teachers!
- Your First Year: How to Survive and Thrive
A book filled with practical strategies and advice regarding management, collaboration, and lesson planning.
- The Classroom Management Book
A book about how to organize and structure your classroom environment to make your kids feel safe and secure while also creating a positive environment for learning to take place in.