Top 8 Tips for New Teachers That You Probably Haven’t Considered
Being a first-year teacher is rewarding, challenging, and filled with lessons that you plan for your students and that you learn from yourself. While your first year is likely to include late night planning, anxiety with each classroom observation, and tons of trial and error, there are some things that we wish we would have known during our first year of teaching. Taking the time to keep these suggestions at the front of your mind will not only allow you to deal with the challenging moments, but will make your first year one that will be positive, productive, and purposeful for your students! Here are our top eight tips for new teachers that you may not have heard or considered:
1. Embrace discomfort.
This teaching thing? It’s hard, and it should be. If you are doing it well, it means you are actively pursuing and working towards getting 100% of your students engaged, 100% of the time. That takes a relentless pursuit of continuous growth that will include making mistakes, failing, and feeling challenged beyond your capability. This is uncomfortable but oddly enough, it is that exact discomfort that will propel us further. Our desire to push past that feeling towards one of progress is what will drive you, but without that discomfort and that productive struggle of your own, you are at risk of not being the best possible teacher you can for your students. Embrace it, you need it.
2. Build authentic relationships.
The relationships you have with your students will be the deciding factor in their success in school this year. Without life-altering relationships, you risk your ability to gain students’ trust and to support them in taking risks that will expand their learning and engage in productive struggle. Too often, teachers believe they have relationships with their students but define it by their own perspectives of their interactions with them. However, the real key is recognizing if your students believe you care about them and love them. Their perception of your relationship is what matters. Do your students really know how much you care? How do you know? One way we find works well is to ask a colleague to do casual interviews with some of your students, asking them questions about how they know you care about them. Surveys about their priorities and goals are great ways to get to know them as well!
3. Respectfully avoid negativity with positive framing.
Remembering back to our first year of teaching, we fondly recall feeling excited, nervous, and incredibly optimistic about this new career and the impact we were intent on making. We sincerely hope you never lose that drive! However, many teachers have allowed past experiences and perhaps years of frustrations at the lack of changes or success in their own teaching to alter that perspective to one of negativity. Yes, there are many things that need changing about our schools and our education system. We dedicate our lives on working towards solutions and recognize there is much work to do.
It’s important that all adults in a school embrace empowered mindsets and a perspective of hope, optimism, and determination to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. Keeping an empowered mindset and assuming the best in others will give you a solutions-oriented perspective versus one that may perseverate and exasperate a problem-focused state.
Consider balancing respectful responses to those with disempowered mindsets while being sure to avoid the times when negativity pervades a staff room or discussion. When a colleague complains about another new change in your school, or about a student whose behavior challenges them, acknowledge their frustration and support them with a new perspective. Say something like, “I know you have been here for so many changes, I can’t imagine how that feels. I am working on understanding the reasons behind the changes and implementing what I can without overwhelming myself too much. Do you want to work together on that?”
Your days will be challenging. When you discuss your situations, experiences, and challenges through a positive frame, you will not only be more inclined to find solutions, but you will inspire others to do the same.
4. Establish clear procedures and routines.
Establishing trust in your classroom will only come when students see that you are always going to be consistent in both your expectations and your demeanor. Establishing clear procedures and routines gives students peace of mind in knowing what is expected of them and why certain systems are put in place. When routines and systems are consistent, students appreciate and respond to that feeling of familiarity and stability in their teacher and their classroom. This sense of safety and dependability establishes a foundation of trust, setting the stage for those life-altering relationships that are pivotal to their success.
One effective way to ensure you are establishing routines and clear expectations is to plan out precise directions. By planning your expectations in advance, you will reduce any uncertainty which can result in misbehaviors or confusion. Precise directions should always include what students do with their brains, bodies, and mouths. For example, a precise direction might sound like, “Students, when I say go, turn to your shoulder partner and discuss the question on the board in a library voice. Go.”
5. Seek out mentorship with other educators outside of your school.
In our work as consultants for schools around the country, we know that each school has a different culture than the last. Every school has a defined culture that is unique to them, and it is pivotal to engage with professionals outside of your school to discuss, experience and consider other ways of doing things and different perspectives. Shutting your eyes and ears to alternate angles and viewpoints will hinder your own growth as well as the input and ideas you can share with your own community.
Think outside your school and don’t limit your choices when seeking a mentor to help you through your journey as an educator. Take time finding the right person – someone you can trust who will both support and challenge you to meet high expectations; find a No-Nonsense Nurturer. Experience, likeability, and proven success as an educator are all important characteristics, but when seeking out a mentor, find someone who doesn’t simply share your views and passions for issues, but someone you can trust, confide in, and know is truly invested in YOU. Seek out individuals who are approachable and available with an ability to listen. A mentor should push you out of your comfort zone but provide you with support without enabling. This person should address and offer solutions to issues others may not notice or are afraid to address and should provide you with a sense of calm and control.
6. Engage with and in your students’ community.
Parent and community involvement is often put aside during that first year of teaching because there seems to be so much to do just to get through your school day! However, engaging with the community of your students will give you further insight into their lives, culture, and priorities. Being able to connect with community organizations, parent groups and the neighborhoods of your students will allow you to build deeper relationships while providing opportunities to your students that will enhance their learning in a relevant way.
Talk to your leader about conducting home visits to visit your students in their space and connect with their families face-to-face. Make it a priority to attend out-of-school events to engage with students on a personal level. We also recommend integrating their interests and cultural backgrounds into your daily lessons, classroom decor, and classwide incentives.
7. Take care of yourself.
A piece of advice that Barack Obama gave Hillary Clinton when she ran for president the second time was that the first time she ran (against him), she worked much longer days campaigning than he did. He advised her not to make that same mistake again because she and her team were exhausted and less effective by the end. He encouraged her to “work smarter, not harder” (Clinton, 2018). This advice holds true for first-year teachers, too. The pursuit of 100% engagement, 100% of the time means there will never truly be a “perfectly planned lesson” or that there isn’t more you could be doing to reach more students at a deeper level. However, if you don’t prioritize your own health and get the sleep you need as well as the nourishment your body requires, you will run yourself into a losing battle. Your balance of a personal life with your work life must exist, otherwise the cognitive load you carry will inevitably push you to a point of exhaustion, frustration and a lack of motivation. Your students deserve nothing less than your physical and emotional best, so taking care of your mind and body is essential.
8. Reflect daily.
We started this list reminding you that this work is hard. It’s arguably one of the most challenging careers out there because the stakes are so high and the resources are traditionally so low. If teachers truly are the determining factor for our students’ success (Kafele, 2010) then we have to ensure we are always working to improve. Written daily reflection will give you insight into what has been happening and how you can continue to push yourself for your students. Your consciousness of growth will define your progress. In order to establish this daily habit, however, schedule it into your day so that it is prioritized.
With these tips (and great coffee), we are confident that your first year will be exciting and rewarding…as well as exhausting! Just remember that with each year, although the work, learning and improving never ends, experience pays off and every year will get better for you and your students.
By Richard Frank, Ed.D. and Carrie Lupoli, M.Ed.
Richard Frank serves as CT3’s Partnership Manager with Tulsa Public Schools. Click here to read more about his background as an educator and access additional blog posts and articles that he’s written.
Carrie Lupoli is CT3’s Director of Program Operations. Read more about her background, as well as access articles that she has written, by clicking here.
To read more about No-Nonsense Nurturer, visit this page.