Voices in Education

We Asked Teachers: 5 Best Tips for First-Year Teachers

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August 14, 2017

As the summer winds down, veteran teachers head back to school alongside their newly minted counterparts. Returning to the classroom can be daunting for any educator, but for a first-year teacher, the excitement of the first day of school might be mixed with nerves, anxiety, and uncertainty. How do you prepare for the unexpected? What will get students engaged and excited? How can you connect with fellow teachers?  Educators can recall these uncertainties, questions, and more.

PBS reached out to veteran educators to ask what advice they have for first-year teachers. Educators are fantastic at sharing their experiences, and we received hundreds of responses from teachers with all levels of experience who reflected on their time as rookies. They share with us what has worked for them over the years. 

1. Be (as) prepared (as you can)

Many teachers wrote in about the importance of preparation and organization – taking notes on what works and doesn’t work in the classroom, having consistent expectations for students, and practicing good time management. At the same time, they suggested being flexible and open to making changes on the fly. 

One teacher wrote in with these wise words: 

"Over plan and over prepare. No amount of school can fully prepare you for a classroom of your own. You will learn so much in the first year about little things they never thought to teach you. So over plan and over prepare for the areas they did teach you well so that you can enjoy your first group of kids instead of constantly playing catch up." --6th Grade Teacher
2. Tune in to your students' needs

You aren’t the only nervous one in the room. Students are excited and nervous, too! Remember to keep their feelings in mind and build a base of classroom norms while encouraging your students’ desire to learn. 

One teacher suggested: 

"Don't get too caught up in the day to day mechanics of teaching. It's too easy to miss students’ excitement and natural curiosity if you are too concerned with getting through the lecture before the end of class." --Rachel Phillippi, 10th Grade Teacher

Another added: 

"Teaching skills are like a pyramid. You want to get to the top, with rigor and hands-on work and authentic science. But don't skip the foundation of expectations, routines, and building the "why" – why are we learning this?" --Dan Adler, 6th Grade Teacher
3. Never stop learning

Even as a teacher, your learning never stops. You can learn from professional development courses, collaborations with other teachers, your own research, your students, and the day to day work of running a classroom.

Collaboration is key, suggests this teacher: 

"Know what you don't know! Be willing to continue learning and don't fall into the trap that you automatically assume veteran teachers are living in the past because you've just finished learning about current best practices. In many cases, they are up to date and they have experience on their sides! Collaborate!" --10th Grade Teacher
4. Connect for advice and support

Mentorships and connections to other teachers are invaluable to newbies in the field. Reaching out to those who have done the job for years, and asking for help, can make a world of difference for new teachers. 

Finding great mentors for support: 

"It's going to be harder than you thought, but realize you aren't expected to know everything, so ask for help!! Look for someone who will help be an emotional support as well as a mentor to guide you through the year. You will gain a friend and get the needed support necessary to make you want to keep teaching!" --Kindergarten Teacher
5. Take care and persevere, keep calm and teach on!

Teachers work hard in and out of the classroom – and those who wrote in stressed the importance of taking breaks, making time for self-care, and keeping at it.

Educators weigh in about the building blocks to teaching: 

"Lighten up on yourself – you won't be good at everything right away, it takes years! So, get your rest so you can give your kids the love they need. Every day, try to do one thing just a little better. You are a learner, too!"  -- Margie Rogers, 2nd Grade Teacher
"Teachers themselves, administrators and districts expect too much right out of the gate during the first year – teaching is a huge, important job. It takes time to build knowledge, skill and capacity. I would tell a first-year teacher to just hang on until year 3 or 4; keep building your structure, build supportive relationships with positive colleagues, keep reading professionally, reflect, keep a journal. The object of the game in year 1 is to survive and bring everything that you can into your practice, recognizing that each year will allow you to bring more to your classroom and students." --Shannon Betts, 7th Grade Teacher

We want to hear from you. Are you a first-year teacher, or do you have advice for one? Leave us a comment and keep PBS posted as you head back to school this fall! 

Emerson Goldstein

Emerson Goldstein PBS Education Intern

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