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Advice for First Year Teachers // 2023-2024 School Year

The 2023 - 2024 school year is here! This summer I took time to complete online graduate courses through a local college, reflect on best practices relating brain research to teaching, and prepare plans and materials for my long term sub. The beginning of this school year will look quite different from my previous years teaching. One, I finally feel more settled and relaxed in my new district, school, and grade, and second, I will only be at school for about the first week before beginning my maternity leave.


This will be my seventh year teaching. I taught 4th Grade for 5 years, and this will be my second year in 5th Grade. As an educator, it is continuously important to reflect upon the previous year as you prepare for the upcoming school year. At the beginning of my third year of teaching (the year we went into distance learning), I wrote out a list of 10 pieces of advice I would have told my first-year teacher self and wanted to share them with you. I've adjusted a few thoughts here and there, but for the most part, I believe the advice is still applicable. Even if you are not a first year teacher, I hope these can serve as a reminder for your upcoming school year. At the end of the list, I share my goals for the upcoming school year.


Let's get started . . . 10 things I wish I knew as a first year teacher!


1. Know your curriculum!


Let's start with a reality check. Make sure you know your curriculum. Collect all of your teaching manuals and books into one area at an easy reach, read through the first couple of units for each subject you are teaching, and explore the printable and online resources that accompany each one. You do not need to be an expert on every unit by the first week of school, but it is important that you are aware of how the curriculum flows so you know what to expect. Once the first day of school rolls around, each day is going to get busier and busier, so trust me when I say make sure you take time to review the curriculum you will be teaching. If you have a team teacher, ask them to assist you in listing the units and chapters to focus on. This will help you with lesson planning and curriculum planning.


Now that we have that one out of the way, let's focus on advice that will help you remain calm, confident, and reassured throughout the school year.


2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!


This is so important to remember! Your administration and coworkers most likely know it is your first year teaching and will be more than happy to assist you in whatever you may need! Keep a notebook or notepad at hand to jot down ideas or instructions. Even as the shyest and quietest person, I found it so relieving knowing that I could ask my coworkers even the simplest of questions. Every teacher was a first year teacher at one point!


3. Be open to the advice and ideas suggested by your fellow teachers!


Remember that while you have great ideas and are capable at your job, ALWAYS be open to any advice, ideas, and feedback given to you by your administration or fellow teachers. They have the experience, are simply sharing what has worked for them in the past and want to pass this information along to you. Seek inspiration and ideas from teachers that do not teach your grade level or do not work at your school. Instagram & Pinterest are wonderful and easy ways to search for ideas, but do not let it consume you. Do not feel like you have to have a perfectly decorated & organized classroom your first year (or any year) to be a fabulous teacher!


4. Discover what works best for you!


Okay . . . this one took me a long time to realize and then apply into my own teaching practice. Receiving numerous pieces of advice and scrolling through photos of picture-perfect classrooms can honestly become overwhelming and discouraging. With that said, take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt and apply what works best for you! Don’t be afraid to try something new if it aligns with your teaching philosophy. Trust your instincts. Throughout the year you will discover what works and what may not work quite as well in your classroom. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because just like with our students, that is how we learn and move forward!


5. Discover what works best for your students!


On the same note, discover what works best for your students in your classroom for this school year. Every student learns differently, every class is different, and every school year will be different. You know your students best during their time in your classroom. Trust yourself, trust your lessons, and trust the classroom management routines you have been reinforcing. Give new ideas a chance, and if it doesn't work, then reflect on what did not go well and adjust it adjusted for next time. For example, a classroom management tool that worked my first year of teaching (student tickets) did not work as well during as my second year. I tried something different (Class Dojo) that was more suitable for my class, and I now continue to utilize it annually. Also, knowing your students’ strengths, areas for improvement, learning styles and needs, and personalities will allow you to recognize what will work best for them.


6. Organization will be key!


Finding a method of organization that works best for you will be key in your first year of teaching. It is important to keep track of everything - important dates, assignments/assessments, faculty meetings, report cards & progress reports, forms, student progress, parent conferences, more forms, curriculum, etc. I recommend using a teacher planner to organize weekly lesson plans and dates for each month. I have a binder for each subject that holds all the standards I need to cover and a file folder for each subject to organize master copies. These file drawers are great for organizing and separating daily & weekly copies. While these are just a few organizational ideas that have worked for me, find what works best for you and be open to adapting new organizational methods.


7. Show that you are committed, but do not burn yourself out!


My first year of teaching, I am not going to lie, I was on the verge of burnout (even experienced a panic attack or two). I would arrive at school long before 7am and on most days, not leave until after dinner time. Did I feel as though I was being productive and getting everything done that “needed” to be done? Yes. But, was I actually being productive with my time and taking care of my own needs? No. My own coworkers even recognized this burnout. During that year, I felt as though I was doing what worked best for me, but it was unfortunately leading to some very unhealthy habits. With that said, if you are a morning person like myself and want to arrive early, go for it. If you need to stay an extra hour or two one day of the week to catch up on grading, go for it. Do what works best for you while still remembering to take care of your needs. Your administration will without a doubt see your wonderful efforts and know you are committed to your students!


*Some specific tips for managing time include scheduling appointments after school, placing your gym bag in the car beforehand, or having coffee or social dates planned ahead of time. Doing these things will require you to leave by a certain time. I often schedule appointments or errands for after school. As necessary, I allow myself one day a week to stay an hour longer to catch up on grading or prepare for the upcoming week.


8. Set clear expectations with your students!


This is so important as a teacher, but especially during your first few years because it allows you to build upon your classroom management skills. Whatever it is you want your students to do and follow, tell them what you expect, demonstrate it (if applicable) and then practice, practice, practice! Continue enforcing these expectations until winter break and then review them when you return back to school.


9. Be prepared for parent-teacher conferences!

Remember . . . YOU are very capable at your job and YOU can be confident in what you have to share. Parents want what is best for their child and want to trust you with their child's academic and social progress. Be prepared for conferences with notes regarding student strengths, areas for improvement, important assessment scores, work habits, and suggestions for continued progress. Have writing samples or other work samples ready so parents can see and better understand their child’s progress. If you predict a difficult conversation, ask for your principal, a team teacher, or a school counselor to be present at the conference to support you and be a middle ground between you and the parents. If the parents know that everyone is on the same team, they will be more open to the suggestions given and discussed. With that said, communication with your students’ parents is an ongoing process that begins on the first day of school. This communication will be extremely important and valuable for conferences and throughout the school year. Document behaviors if you begin to see a pattern and keep a parent communication log. I really like this communication log Google Form from A Primary Kind of Life.


10. Be real with your students & enjoy your first year because it will be over before you know it!


As a first year teacher (and a control freak), I was definitely nervous about classroom management and making sure I had everything under control. Therefore, I made a point to build a wall between myself and my students only allowing them to see me as their teacher - not a real person. As the year went on, I slowly let that wall come down and was more open to being real with my students - when appropriate and when classroom management permitted me to do so. If I was in a great mood, I would make sure my students knew and would use that energy to better my classroom environment. Your students will feed off your energy and what you bring to your classroom. On the other hand, if I was having a rough day or sensed that my students were tired, I would sometimes share this with them. We would often turn these conversations into a brief social-emotional learning lesson, becoming a time for everyone to pause and just have a brain break from learning. Brain research tells us that students can have two types of brains: 1.) A learning brain, or 2.) a survival brain. When students know they can trust you and are in an environment where it is okay to make mistakes, they are more likely to be in a "learning brain" state. Sometimes these moments would become the most memorable moments in our classroom because I was being real with my students and together we were building a strong classroom community that could support each other. Don’t be afraid to share fun facts about yourself and participate in fun activities with them. They will respect you and listen to you once you’ve created and managed expectations in your classroom. Enjoy the time you have with your first class and know you will never forget them!


Hopefully I have not overwhelmed you! Rule of thumb . . . take and use what you need!


One thing I remind myself of each school year is . . . You never stop learning!


After your first year of teaching, I hope you will continue to seek advice and improve as an educator. Seek out advice from fellow teachers, ask your administration for detailed feedback, attend professional development workshops, and find books to read. If you are feeling overwhelmed, just know it will become easier each year, and you will come to know your own strengths.


Here are a few professional development books I have enjoyed over the years:


Going into my seventh year of teaching, I have a running list of tools and resources I want to apply and improve upon. This summer I completed eight workshops at a local college to continue my professional development, and I am looking forward to applying new ideas and practices.


Goals I will be working on this school year:

  • Continually implementing effective parent communication and documentation practices

  • Being consistent with my classroom management procedures

  • Applying brain research best practices by incorporating more brain breaks and opportunities for self-reflection in all subject areas

  • Effectively preparing for Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop lessons

  • Continuing small groups across all subject areas

  • Staying consistently organized and planned ahead


Congratulations on beginning your first year of teaching! Be sure to leave a comment below with the grade/subjects you will be teaching this school year. There will be many “firsts” in the first year with your own classroom, and therefore many opportunities to learn and improve in your profession.


Take time to list and organize the tasks you would like to complete as the school year begins.


Remember . . . take it one day at a time - or even one class period at a time - and be sure to take care of yourself so you can give your all everyday!


Blessings,

Morgan Elizabeth


ElizabethAndPlans


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My faith in Christ. Being a supportive wife. Educating the hearts and minds of children. These are my callings. I am so excited to share my journey, my inspirations, and my current projects in one place. 

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