Hey hey, teacher friend!!
Oh MY, congratulations on graduating and landing your very first teaching job! I’m so INCREDIBLY stoked for you. I remember that feeling and it’s so SO good. OR maybe you’re going back to the classroom after being away for a bit? THAT’S super exciting too! You already have amazing knowledge of your own, but these little tidbits will definitely add a few thoughts your tool belt as well!
So, before you get out there and make the coming year the best one EVER, here are my top 20 tips for surviving your first year of teaching.
** This post contains a few affiliate links. If you purchase any of the products I already love and am linking for you, I’ll receive a small percentage of the profit that the website makes from your purchase at no extra cost to you. :) Such a win-win-win! **
1. Write out all the procedures you plan to cover in the first week.
Making a list of all the procedures want to cover with your students when they come in the first day (and week!) is a great way to make sure you explain all the procedural information your students will need. Think about what you need to know the first day of a new job and all the most important procedural information your students will need to know.
Where’s the bathroom? What do students do when they come in in the morning? What are each of the important areas of the classroom? What kind of behaviors are expected during whole group or work times? What does the schedule look like? What do they do if they have a question or need to talk to you? Just make a BIG list and then narrow it down to the most important things that students need to know in the first week. Here’s an example of a list I made one year.
2. Be a supportive and contributing team member.
Hopefully, the people you work the most closely with are the best group of people you’ve ever met in your entire life. But, even if some are challenging at times, do your best to be supportive and contribute your strengths to your team. Maybe you don’t love science, but have some great ideas for spelling…contribute those! Maybe you absolutely hate planning on paper, so offer to keep track of team plans in a Google Doc or AirTable spreadsheet. Maybe you can’t STAND lunch duty, but would LOVE to be outside for recess every day….offer that idea! I encourage you to share any of your strengths to contribute as much as you can to the happiness and success of your team. Everyone pitching in helps create a super supported, happy group of teachers!
3. Over-prepare for Meet the Teacher Night.
Getting yourself over-prepared for Meet the Teacher Night will help you feel prepared and ready to meet all your students and their parents, as well as take a LOT of the pressure off for the actual night. I would definitely recommend creating or purchasing handouts to give to parents that collect information from them AND provide them with information they’ll need to know about your classroom. Peek here and here for a few of my favorite resources for Meet the Teacher night success!
4. Always have snacks and treats hidden in your room for YOU.
ALWAYS. HAVE. SNACKS. You’re going to have slow days and days that go by so quickly you don’t remember anything. So, keeping snacks and treats in your room and ready to eat is a great way to keep your energy up and your brain clear. My snacks of choice are chocolate, goldfish, and trailmix.
5. Start the year off finding everything that’s right about your students.
This one is simple, but so intentional. From the very beginning, purposely notice the amazingly GREAT qualities of your new learners. I guarantee that there will be a million times that you need to remind about something, redirect behaviors, and shut some actions down completely, so do your best to build a relationship with each of your students right from the start by simply noticing and naming all the amazing things about them. Comments like, “Wow, that was so thoughtful, Casey!” and “Thanks for being such a nice friend, Laura.” will go a LONG way for your students’ hearts and help them know that you care about them, are interested in them, are on their side, and want what is best for them. Then, when discipline needs to come into play, they know deep down that you care and you’re just trying to help them make great choices.
6. Buy a personal laminator.
Even if your school has a laminator you can use, I highly recommend buying your own. It’s so much more convenient, the lamination is much more durable, you can laminate any time you want to, and you don’t have to worry about waiting in line or supplies being gone when you need them. This laminator is amazing with these pouches…super easy to use and ready for you ANY time you need them.
7. Communicate with parents OFTEN.
Parents LOVE to be kept in the loop about what’s happening with their child. It’s a great idea to give parents a few calls with positive reports early in the year to communicate to them that you love their kid and have their best interests in mind. Then, when you need to call because something challenging has popped up, the parents know you’re on their side and their kid’s side and aren’t out to “get” anyone with your insight.
Also, I strongly suggest that you communicate with parents in written form as often as you can squeeze it in. A weekly newsletter, a group email, an app for parents (like SeeSaw) that you can update with the latest news from school…all of this is a great way to communicate AND DOCUMENT that you’ve been communicating. Parents LOVE communication, administration LOVES communication, teachers LOVE communication! And, when you put things in writing, you have proof of your amazing proactiveness in communicating important information. You can send home newsletters through email as PDFs, hard copy newsletters, daily behavior charts with updates, or even just a few group emails to all the emails you’ll collect at Meet the Teacher Night.
8. Find a planner you totally LOVE.
There are a BUNCH of great planners to choose from…Erin Condren, Happy Planner, Plum Paper, ALL kinds of greatness on Etsy…how on earth are you supposed to choose?! Honestly, I can’t tell you which one is “best” because you have to figure that out for yourself. But, I CAN tell you that you definitely need to do some research and find one that makes sense to you and that you love using. You can create your own using powerpoint, purchase one from TPT like this one, or snag one from your favorite planner company. So far, Erin Condren’s monthly planner is my favorite, but I’d definitely suggest shopping around to find the best one for YOU and then use it DILIGENTLY. There will be LOTS to keep track of, I promise. Haha
9. Find a teacher bestie.
Teaching can be really hard some days. Super rewarding and wonderful too, but definitely challenging. You’re going to need someone to vent to, someone to “get” you, someone to tell you that they feel the same way and you’re not alone. So, just be on the lookout…they might be someone right next door or maybe someone you never expected.
10. Get comfortable with saying “I don’t know that answer yet, but I’ll find out for you!”
This can be a super tricky tip because it might feel like you’re admitting you don’t know what you’re doing. But, in my experience, parents, administrators, colleagues, and even STUDENTS really respect people who can admit that the don’t have all the answers, but are willing to figure them out. I learned at a very young age that being able to find information you need is just as important a skill as knowing everything in your head. Just be sure to follow through with what you say you’ll do and people will respect your transparency and willingness to go the extra mile to help solve their problem or ease their curiosity.
11. Start off your year with firm, consistent, kind discipline.
“You can always loosen up. It’s much more difficult to tighten up.” This is something my mentor teacher taught me from the very beginning when I was student teaching. Most of us want to be loved and liked by our students…that’s completely normal. But, I can tell you from YEARS of experience that your students will love you for giving them very clear expectations, boundaries, and consequences. So, be kind and fun, but also teach your kids where the boundaries are and remind them consistently of what will happen if they push those boundaries. They won’t love the consequences at first, but they will definitely learn to respect you for keeping your world and consistently following through on what you say. Set high expectations for your kids and they’ll surprise you with how amazing they can be. As they learn to do what’s expected throughout the year, you can start to loosen the reigns a little bit and allow for a little more banter and fun because your students will be very clear about how far is too far, and that allows for a little more fun for everyone. Firm, consistent, kind, and your kids will appreciate and love you for it. Start super tight and loosen as they learn!
12. Figure out the best way to take a bathroom break before the year starts.
You’re definitely going to need a few restroom breaks throughout the day until you teach your body to get on your daily schedule. So, chat with your team and other professional adults working close to your classroom to find out who is happy to keep an eye on your class while you shuffle down the hallway to the restroom real quick. And, of course, definitely offer to do the same for them whenever they need it.
13. Purchase easy sub plans.
Kids are sweet and wonderful and fun and GERMY. I lovingly refer to them as “little cootie factories” because those precious little hands get into everything, touch everything else, and pass everything around. I’m sending you all the prayers for a STRONG immune system, but chances are, you’ll come down with something at some point.
So, having easily-preppable sub plans ready to print off and plop on a desk is CRITICAL. It’ll help your over-thinking teacher mind rest in knowing that when you feel that unwelcome tickle in your throat or you notice that you’ve sneezed 7 times in the last 43 seconds, all you need to do is email a teammate with your plans and ask them nicely to print and lay them on your desk while you stay home with your tissues and Netflix. These and these are my current favorites!
14. Wear comfy shoes.
You’re going to be standing for 97% of your day and moving all around campus all day long. I totally LOVE and want to be a “cute teacher” who has the most adorable outfits and looks so put together and ready to take on the world. But, I’m just sayin’, when it comes to the shoes, pick comfortable ones that you can walk, sprint, jump, crawl, crouch, and stand in happily for extended periods of time. You never know when you’ll need to do any one of the previous activities at a moment’s notice. Good ole Keds or some Target sandals are my favorite choices.
15. Bring a lunch that doesn’t need to be heated so you can finish it and not wait in line.
If you’re like most teachers, you’ll have approximately 27 minutes to drop your kids off at lunch, walk back to the lounge, eat your lunch, clean up, make those copies you forgot about for science, use the bathroom, and pick your students up from lunch. So, spending 2 minutes waiting for the microwave to be free and then spending another 5-7 minutes prepping and warming your own food just isn’t ideal. My favorite go-to lunches are usually a turkey sandwich, a salad with some kind of protein on top, or a bunch of “snacky” stuff, like cheese cubes, snap peas, pretzels, and chocolate.
16. Plan WAY too much content.
OVER. PLAN. Just play WAY too much content for what you’ll possibly be able to get through. Especially at the beginning of the year, when you’re first getting to know your students and where they are with their academic and social skills, it’s really important to plan a LOT more activities than you’ll actually be able to accomplish in a given time period. How many activities you should plan for each hour of the day for the first two weeks or so will greatly depend on what grade level you’re teaching. If you’re teaching kindergarten, you’ll probably need to plan 3-4 super short activities ready for each hour of your days. If you’re teaching third or fourth grade, you’ll probably only need 2-3 super engaging activities, but you know yourself and your kids best, so go with what works best for you.
I would recommend planning activities in an “up, then down” kind of pattern. This means I’ve found it works well to plan a really fun “up” activity that is exciting, active, and will get your kids super engaged. Then, bring them back down a bit with a more calm, academic activity afterward. This kind of pattern gives students a bit of something fun to look forward to at different times throughout the day, but doesn’t overwhelm everyone with constant fun, active, hyper activities.
After the first few weeks, when you start to know your students better and what they need to stay engaged and learning, you can ease up on the amount of activities you’re planning and start planning just one lesson that will be accomplished in the time you have to spend on that subject or topic. However, it’s smart to have a few backup activities in your back pocket just in case any of your kiddos finish assignments before you planned for them. HERE are a some ideas you to check out to have on hand for early finishers!
17. Buy yourself a a really big to-go coffee mug.
Like, a BIG one. You’re going to need a steady caffeine intake, so just make sure you have a travel mug or cup big enough to hold a LOT of your favorite caffeinated beverage.
18. Invest in a good “teacher toolbox” supply organizer.
I fought this idea for a long time. Too expensive, everyone has one, I don’t really need it…but when I finally caved, I never went back. I don’t know how I ever lived without it. I use a toolbox similar to this one and absolutely LOVE it! There are a bunch of cute ways to decorate your toolbox too! You can spray paint it any color you want and either make or purchase labels for all the little drawers in your organizer. These bright labels are some of my favorites. And here’s a free version you can try first!
19. Go with the flow.
Prepare yourself to be flexible as the days march on. We spend so much time planning every minute of our school day, but really, very few things go as planned in a day of teaching. Even FEWER things go as planned in your first YEAR of teaching. You are still learning so much on your own and with our students, so just keep that in mind as you go through the days. Some days, you’ll accomplish all the things and your day will go just as planned. And other days, literally NOTHING will go like you expected. Fire drills, bathroom accidents, broken technology, behavior challenges, surprise administration walk-throughs (*insert YIKES face here*), messes, assemblies, and just the normal, every day up’s and down’s are bound to throw your plans off a lot of the time. And guess what? IT’S OKAY. Just go with the flow and bump that activity to tomorrow.
BREATHE, dear friend! YOU ARE AMAZING. This year is going to be so many things…fun, challenging, crazy, sweet, tiring, rewarding, joyful…SO. MANY. THINGS. So, just remember to breathe and not take the tiny trips and stumbles TOO hard. Give yourself grace…you are learning right alongside your students. Be gentle, be graceful, be forgiving. Treat yourself the way you treat your learners, with patience, encouragement, and a “I can do hard things!” mindset. You’re going to make mistakes and do things wrong and feel super silly about it…but just breathe. :) Everyone makes mistakes…just learn from it and try to mess it up less next time. It’s SO all good!
Okay, dear friend. That’s it! I’m sending you ALL the love and encouragement and belief that you can absolutely do great things all year long. You are completely irreplaceable. No one can teach those kids the way you can. Go be wonderful you and let those kids know how capable and smart and loved they are.
Cheering you on!