Advice For New Teachers

A few tips for new teachers on how to handle some of the biggest obstacles and encouragement for those beginning a career in education.

Welcome to the wonderful world of education! You have chosen one of the most important, most rewarding careers available, and the influence you will have on your students will impact their lives not only within the walls of your classroom, but also in the "real" world for years to come. Take this responsibility seriously as you carefully mold their futures, and enjoy every minute of it. Teaching is an adventure, and will touch your heart in a way no other career ever could.

As you begin this new part of your life, you are probably filled with excitement and enthusiasm, and are probably just plain overwhelmed. Don't worry. It comes with the territory. And, if you ask around, experienced teachers are likely to tell you that the first year is the hardest. It does get better and easier each year. You will learn to think on your feet, become more organized, and have a system in place for just about every situation in no time. You will go from not knowing how you could possibly keep these students engaged for an entire day, to not being sure how you will ever find time to fit everything in. If you stare blankly at your students on the first day of school, unsure of how to keep them occupied, you are not alone. If you take them to recess four times, just to fill the long hours, you are not alone. And, if you go home in tears a few times, you are not alone. We've all been there. Remember that your students will love you, no matter how overwhelmed you feel. Remember that in many cases you spend more waking hours with your students than their own parents, and you will become a special part of each other's lives. And, remember that June is always just around the corner.

One of the biggest problems new teachers face is often discipline. This is probably not a big surprise, since this is also one of the biggest fears new teachers have as they begin their teaching career. Decide ahead of time what your discipline plan will be. Do not wait for a problem to arise on the first day of school to figure out how you will handle your students. Think about what strategies and behavior plans you have seen in other classrooms. Consider what has worked and what hasn't. And, decide what you are most comfortable with. Elaborate plans can quickly become hard to manage, hard to keep up with, and hard to explain to students. Huge rewards can quickly become very expensive. Find a simple plan that you can easily explain to your students, and that you can follow with consistency. Positive reinforcement is much more effective than having to continuously remind students what they have done wrong. Praise students for good behavior. Explain the rules, or set classroom rules together, immediately. State the rules in a simple, positive way that lets the students know exactly what you expect. And, have no more than five rules. If you choose to have the students set rules together, remember that you are the teacher. You are in charge. Guide the rules to be ones that you know will be effective.

No matter what type of discipline plan you choose, students will break the rules, and there will need to be consequences. Know ahead of time what these will be, and inform the students ahead of time as well. They need to know what choices they are making by breaking the rules. Be sure that the consequences are consistent, appropriate, and immediate. Do not tell the students that they will be sent to the office, have detention, or miss recess unless you are able to follow through. Your students must know that whatever you tell them is true, and that when you say something, it will happen. So, have consequences that can be applied quickly and easily. And, the first day is the time to start. It may feel "mean," but there's a good chance that somebody is going to test the waters on that very first day, and you will need to establish the pattern for the rest of the year. A few minutes of time out on the first day of school never hurt anyone. Start with your discipline plan immediately. If you find that it is too strict, you can always relax it a little bit later. It is easier for a teacher to maintain control of a class than it is to try to regain control after it has been lost.

Besides discipline, paperwork is often the biggest obstacle new teachers face. Between homework, classwork, assessments, forms from the office, notes from home, and handouts from meetings, it seems as if more trees are killed to produce the mound of paperwork on your desk than were required to construct the entire building. This much paperwork can quickly get out of hand. Keep a box of file folders handy, and force yourself to become organized. Begin a file for each subject you teach, and put the original copies of worksheets in them right away. Also file handouts from curriculum meetings in the appropriate subject file as well. Begin a file for each student, and keep notes from parents, work samples, tardy slips, doctor's notes, student information, and a phone log in each. Develop a system that will allow you to touch each piece of paper only once, as opposed to moving it back and forth between "to do" stacks.

Have students turn papers in to folders labeled by subject. For example, math worksheets are placed in a folder labeled "Math." If students are too young to read, color code the folders. This will save you from having to sort through a basket of work when it is time to grade papers. Once papers are graded, record the grades right away, and either hand the papers back or save them for the end of the week and hand everything back to the students at once.

Begin a professional file for yourself. Keep notes from administrators, new hire paperwork, notes from trainings, and continuing education paperwork in one place. And, begin a personal file for yourself as well. When parents compliment you, write it down and file it for yourself. When they send thoughtful notes, keep them. And when a student draws a picture of the two of you within a big heart, and tells you that you are the best teacher in the whole world, keep it. And, on the days when you are overwhelmed and ready to cry, pull out your folder and remember why you are here in the first place.

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