A Complete Guide to First-Year Teaching

How to Avoid Stress and Failure to Achieve Success

First Year Teacher
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Being a first-year teacher comes with an abundance of obligations, emotions, and questions. First-year teachers experience a range of anticipatory feelings going into their first academic year, including excitement, fear, and everything in between. Being a teacher is a worthwhile but stressful career that brings many challenges, especially for new teachers. Often, one's first year of teaching is by far the most difficult.

It may sound clichéd, but experience is the best teacher. No matter how much training a first-year teacher receives, nothing will prepare them better than the real thing. Teaching involves the coordination of many different uncontrollable variables, making each day its own unique challenge. To overcome these challenges, a teacher must be ready for anything and learn to adapt.

It is important for teachers to view their first year as a marathon, not a race. In other words, success or failure is dictated by many efforts over a long period of time and not a single day or moment. For this reason, first-year teachers must learn to make the most of every day without dwelling too long on the bad ones.

There are several strategies for making each day count and ensuring that your teaching goes as smoothly as possible. The following survival guide will help teachers begin their journey into this incredible and rewarding career path on the best possible foot.

Experience Is the Best Education

As mentioned, experience really is the best way to learn. No formal training can replace field experience, including all the failures that come with learning to teach. Students often end up teaching their educators just as much as—if not more—than their educators teach them, and this is never truer than during a teacher's first year. The experience of learning and growing with your students is invaluable, and you should carry the lessons you learn with you throughout the rest of your career.

Arrive Early and Stay Late

Contrary to popular belief, teaching is not an 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. job and this is especially true for first-year teachers. By default, first-year teachers require more time to prepare than veteran teachers—there are many aspects of teaching that take time to figure out, so always give yourself a buffer. Arriving early and staying late allows you to properly prepare in the mornings and tie up loose ends at night so that you're never scrambling in a room full of students.

Stay Organized 

Being organized is a key component of successful teaching that takes time to master. There are so many variables to account for on a daily basis that can easily render keeping up with responsibilities nearly impossible when you are not organized. Organization and effectiveness are linked, so don't be afraid to put the time into staying organized for more effective teaching. Go to more experienced teachers in your building for advice on how to organize materials and lessons.

Build Relationships Early and Often

Building healthy relationships with students often takes a lot of hard work and effort, but it's more than worth it. Solid relationships are a vital component of successful teaching and harmonious classrooms. For teachers to succeed, these relationships must be forged with administrators, faculty and staff members (including other teachers), parents, and students. You will have a different relationship with each of these groups, but they are all beneficial to you.

Students

How your students feel about you will impact your overall effectiveness. There is a definite middle ground that lies between being too easy or too difficult on your students; too friendly or too stern. In general, students love and respect teachers who are consistent, fair, humorous, compassionate, and knowledgeable.

Don't set yourself up for failure by worrying too much about being liked or attempting to be friends with your students. This will result in unhealthy relationships and dynamics. Instead, start more strict than you plan to be and ease off as the year progresses because you can always get easier but you can't get stricter. Things will go much smoother if you use this time-tested classroom management approach.

Administrators

The key to building a healthy relationship with an administrator is to gain their trust by behaving like a professional and doing your job well. Hard work, reliability, dedication, and concrete results will help maintain a healthy relationship with your administrators.

Faculty and Staff Members

All first-year teachers should rely upon one or several veteran teachers to assist and guide them through the first few years—sometimes mentors are assigned to new teachers and sometimes you have to seek them out yourself. These support systems often end up being lifelines. You should also work to develop healthy relationships with other school personnel so that you can call on their expertise or help when you need it.

Parents

Parents can be a teacher's biggest supporters or greatest opposition. Building a healthy relationship with parents relies on two key factors: making your goals clear and clear, frequent communication. Make it clear to parents that your number one goal is to act in their child's best interest and always use research and evidence to support any decisions you make. The second factor is that you communicate with each parent often using various methods, keeping them up to date and providing them with actionable feedback about their child's progress.

Have a Backup Plan

Every first-year teacher carries their own unique philosophies, plans, and strategies for how they are going to teach. More often not, these change dramatically, sometimes very quickly. In as little as a few hours, you might realize that you are going to have to make adjustments to a lesson or plan. Because of this, every teacher needs backup plans when trying something new and even for any routine.

Don't let unforeseen challenges derail your teaching and don't see changing your plans as a failure. Even the most well-prepared and experienced teachers have to be ready to think on their feet. Challenges are inevitable—always be flexible and prepared to mix things up when something just doesn't go according to plan.

Immerse Yourself in the Curriculum

Most first-year teachers do not have the luxury of being picky with their first job. They take what is available to them and run with it, and sometimes that means being handed a curriculum you're not overly comfortable with. Every grade level has a different curriculum and every school chooses what curriculums they will use; as a first-year teacher, you must be prepared to quickly become an expert on whatever you will be teaching.

Great teachers know their required objectives and curriculum inside and out. They continuously look for methods to improve their teaching and presentation of material new and old. Teachers able to explain, model, and demonstrate the material that they are teaching earn the respect and attention of their students.

Keep a Journal for Reflection

A journal can be a valuable tool for a first-year teacher. It's impossible to remember every important thought or event that happens throughout the year, so don't put that pressure on yourself. Writing down and organizing important information makes a lot more sense. It is also gratifying and helpful to look back and reflect on events and milestones throughout your first year.

Keep Lesson Plans, Activities, & Materials

You probably learned to write lesson plans in college and got used to a certain template and approach to these prior to having your own class. Once you are in the classroom teaching, you will quickly realize that the lesson plans you learned to make are very different from the ones you need. Whether you have to overhaul your lesson planning methods or simply make a few small adjustments, you will find that authentic lesson plans and lesson plans for college courses are not the same.

As you begin creating effective and authentic lesson plans, start saving copies for a portfolio early on. A teaching portfolio should include your lesson plans, notes, activities, worksheets, quizzes, exams, and anything else that might be useful to you in the future. Though this will require a lot of time and effort, portfolios are a terrific teaching tool that will make your job easier and make you a more valuable teacher to hire should you change schools or positions.

Prepare to be Overwhelmed

Frustration is natural in your first year. If you, like many other first-years, hit a wall during this demanding period, remind yourself that the job will improve before long. As time passes, you will naturally grow more comfortable, confident, and prepared. What feels like an overwhelmingly fast academic year will begin to slow down and you will start to feel settled the more days you put behind you. Remember that being an effective teacher doesn't necessarily mean always feeling relaxed and it's okay to let yourself be overwhelmed sometimes.

Use Lessons Learned Moving Forward

Your first year will be sprinkled with failures and successes, curveballs and opportunities—the first year is a learning experience. Take what works and go with it. Throw away what doesn't work and keep trying until something does. No one expects you to get everything right all the time, and they especially don't expect a first-year teacher to have it all figured out. Teaching isn’t easy. Master teachers are dedicated, not perfect. Use lessons you learned in year one to propel yourself through a second year and do the same the year after that. Every year will be more successful than the last.