It’s a challenging time to be a teacher — especially if you’re just starting out. But it’s also a thrilling time. Education is shifting, and no one quite knows what the future of learning will look like.
Whatever happens, the influx of new teachers this fall will provide a much-needed infusion to a profession that has been stretched to its limit for more than a year.
Teaching is a taxing job even at the best of times. For new educators just finding their teaching legs, it can be overwhelming. It’s important not to expect too much of yourself as you begin putting your training into practice in a messy, unpredictable classroom. Keep in mind that it takes most teachers three to five years to find their rhythm.
“Year one is learning classroom management,” says technology director Sally Garza from Northfield, Ohio. “Year two is learning your content. Year three is perfecting your craft. Give yourself time to get good.”
An essential survival strategy for any new teacher is to find mentors and peers to learn from, consult for advice and turn to for encouragement. With that in mind, we asked seasoned educators to share their best tips for first-year teachers. Here’s what they said:
1. Focus on your practice.
Volunteering for extra tasks may seem like a great way to get to know your colleagues and integrate into the school culture. But you’ll have your hands full just getting a handle on your classroom. Spreading yourself too thin could cause your practice to suffer.
“Don’t take on extra tasks until you are completely solid in your classroom instruction and planning,” says award-winning technology instructor Leon Tynes. “Please know that this takes a few years.”
2. Set boundaries (and timers).
A teacher’s work is never done, but there’s a limit to how many hours you can stay after school. Without strong boundaries, you could be headed for early burnout. Teaching is a job you have to manage — or it will manage you, says Lt Klamik, a former technology integration teacher at Providence St. Mel School in Chicago.
“Set a timer for the amount of time you are comfortable staying after school and leave when it goes off,” suggests Chloia Zucush. “You will never be caught up.”
3. Treat your classroom as a lab
Every student, classroom and school year is different, and lessons that engage one class might fall flat with the next. Teaching often involves throwing a lot of ideas against the wall to see what sticks — especially in the first few years. Maintaining an experimental mindset is an important survival skill for new teachers.
“Mastering a class is like a puzzle,” Klamik says. “Keep trying different combinations. You'll either find solutions or the year will end.”
4. Let students learn from your failures
Every teacher wants to be perfect in front of their students, but that won’t teach kids how to accept their own setbacks, says Krissy Barnes. Trying, failing and reiterating is a much more effective learning strategy for students and teachers alike.
“Messing things up, showing failure, admitting those and trying again in front of them is a great way to model growth mindset,” she says.
Mastering content, honing instruction, managing a classroom — those things all come with time. Right now, resilience is what you need most.
“Don't give up,” Klamik says. “You climb a mountain one step at a time, not in one superhuman leap.”
5. Take notes for next year
Think of your first year as a rough draft, and revise as you go. Former technology coach Nicole Zumpano suggests keeping a blank calendar for jotting down ideas, notes and to-dos that can make your workflow easier for next time.
“Be good about writing down what works and doesn’t so you can revise next year, especially when it comes to instructions and expectations,” says Teresa Bowman.
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.