You’ve made it halfway through your first year of teaching during what is arguably one of the most challenging years ever. First of all, congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back. Being a novice teacher can be tough - especially when the school year includes all of the unpredictable (and sometimes scary) circumstances that 2020 has brought us.
As you head into the 2nd half of the year, it’s likely you’ve already faced several new teacher challenges, along with the obstacles of teaching both online and in person. Here are some areas of common challenges teachers face, as well as some ideas on how to make things a bit easier on yourself and your students.
The Personal and the Professional
Personally, new teachers go through a lot when starting a new job at a new school. This can include finding secure housing, establishing personal relationships and discovering where you can go to blow off some steam—whether that’s out in nature, at a yoga class or on a patio at your favorite restaurant. Taking care of ourselves has taken on even more significance over the last year.
A solid self-care routine is crucial in managing stress. Find ways to comfort, soothe and support yourself. Developing healthy practices—such as deep breathing, meditation and stretching—can go a long way in helping you maintain your physical and mental health. These practices can even be used in your classroom to help you and your students maintain a level head in the midst of the chaos of ever-changing policies and requirements. When in doubt, stop and breathe deeply.
You also want to make sure your personal and professional life is in order, so that these details don’t distract you as you’re working hard to be the best teacher you can be. Develop an organizational system for yourself to keep track of important information that might be new to you: read and file away documentation on any new medical benefits and investment programs, along with letters, contracts, transcripts, certifications and professional requirements and expectations.
Finding a mentor or developing relationships with veteran teachers can also be extremely valuable as you navigate your new work environment.
Hopefully by now, you have figured out where you fit in in the social structure of your new educational community. If not, there’s nothing wrong with asking for some help! Make sure you understand the policies at your new school and district and don’t be afraid to ask for support with navigating that information.
Again, developing relationships with mentors in the school district, veteran teachers at your new school and support staff can serve you well as you move forward in your new profession: they can help you identify not just what you need to know, but who else you can turn to for help with specific issues.
Curriculum and Assessments
As a new teacher, you’ve received guidance on what you should be teaching to your students and how to pace your instruction, methods of assessment and rubrics for testing. This can all be a bit overwhelming, so, again, don’t be shy about asking for help or support. You want to understand what is expected of you, so that you can better help your students and set clear expectations for them.
Knowing the principles of assessment, including terminology, methodologies and techniques, is assessment literacy. As an assessment-literate teacher, you should understand the how and why of different assessments and be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
You’ll also be able to create a balanced classroom assessment system—including methods of data collection for grades and growth indicators. It is also important to engage your students and get their feedback on your assessment process.
You can seek out professional development activities, such as workshops on classroom assessment. All of this will enhance your instructional performance, making it possible for you to implement an instruction and assessment program that both addresses the curriculum and promotes student learning.
Organization and Lesson Planning
Once you’ve got a handle on what you’ll be teaching and how to assess your students, it’s time to get organized and plan. If you were a student teacher, it’s possible that you learned some tricks on how to keep classrooms running smoothly but you may not have seen exactly how much work your supervising teachers put into that. Now that you’ve been teaching your own class for the first part of the year, you’ve likely gained a better understanding of how much effort it really takes.
Assessing Your Classroom Organization Strategy
Teachers are responsible for organizing the space, materials and time for all of the students in their classroom. You’ve probably got an idea about what works—and what doesn’t. This is a good thing! You want to be able to identify the processes that are necessary and effective for your class. And when you discover a process is not effective, you want to get to the bottom of why it’s not working, so you can develop an alternative system.
This midpoint in your first year of teaching is a great time to evaluate your organizational systems and make adjustments. If you feel stuck, check in with a mentor or a more experienced teacher. You have more perspective now than you did when you first started so you can better explain where issues may lie. There is also a benefit to visiting other classrooms and seeing other teaching methods. By doing this, you’ll be better able to see what works for those educators, ask questions from experience and consider how you might be able to implement more effective procedures in your own classroom.
You want to be organized, but you also need to be flexible and open to making improvements. Don’t stick with an ineffective organizational system just because it’s what’s familiar, or because it worked for your supervising teachers during your certification process.
Every class is different, and making adjustments to improve classroom operations is something you should embrace as a new teacher, rather than shy away from. Evaluate and reevaluate as the school year progresses. Especially as class environments change—for example, from online to in-person to a hybrid model—you’ll want to reassess your systems and tweak them as necessary.
Lesson planning is another arena in which you likely have had quite a bit of guidance as a student teacher, but what you learned may be difficult to actually execute—especially this year, when nearly everything about education has changed. You may have come into this year of teaching with all kinds of ideas and visions about how detailed your planning would be, only to be met with the reality of how quickly you’ve had to change or adjust those plans.
Because the work of a teacher is never done, it’s important to prioritize and focus on specific goals.
One thing you can do is pick a specific area to concentrate on for the majority of the rest of the year. You can work to make lesson plans detailed for your class, while leaning heavily on the curriculum guidance provided by your school for other subjects, like math. You can also collaborate with teachers who have chosen a different concentration and share lesson plans.
Of course, if you’re doing most of your teaching remotely now, you’ll need to adjust your lesson plans for distance learning. This may include shifting your focus to more community-based and project-based learning, creating activities and lessons that connect learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Look for simple projects that students can do at home which tie into the curriculum for your class.
As a teacher, you already know that good classroom management is the key to keeping everything operating smoothly. This includes overseeing student learning, social interactions and behaviors, and working to create and maintain an environment that students excel in. You’ll want to examine your own beliefs, strengths and weaknesses when it comes to classroom management, and determine how you want to deal with discipline.
In order to effectively manage your classroom, it’s important that you are confident in your ability to set goals and clear expectations, model positive behaviors and to enforce class rules as necessary. You want to do your best to create a respectful learning environment in which your students feel safe to learn, explore and ask questions, as well as share and express their own views and feelings in a positive, constructive way.
Classroom management and instruction are inevitably linked. If you struggle with managing your students’ behaviors and interactions, the more likely it is that they will have trouble focusing on learning. Along that same line, teachers who are able to keep their students on task with learning activities of the appropriate level, pace and content will be less likely to deal with behavioral issues.
Keeping organized and prepared will do wonders for improving class management. Daily schedules and the systematic handling of materials will help keep your classroom in order. Developing solid strategies for behavior management—including setting expectations and boundaries, redirecting and having individual conversations as needed—will help you to focus on teaching rather than disciplining.
Again, don’t be ashamed to seek support from a mentor, veteran teacher or behavioral specialist if you have persistent problems with student behavior.
Managing a classroom takes practice, and all of us may need to modify our management styles to fit our changing learning environments. Be open to learning new ideas, applying different strategies, and making changes throughout the year to improve class management. Do your best to be firm yet flexible, especially as this year challenges us to keep students engaged. Take a look at our classroom management guide for facilitating positive behavior.
As a teacher working during these uncertain times, you know that student engagement has been particularly challenging this year. Teaching online or under a hybrid model that combines distance learning with in-person education has thrown our educational systems for a loop. But as always, helping students to feel safe and stay involved in school remains of utmost importance.
Do your best to create a sense of belonging in your classroom, whether it’s virtual or in person. Activities that allow you and your students to get to know each other better and have some fun will be of great help with keeping your students engaged.
These can include projects that provide opportunities for each student to share about themselves, such as selecting a star of the week, going on virtual field trips to locations your students are interested in or have personal connections to and doing show-and-tell activities that help students engage with their immediate environments during distance learning.
Creating a classbook is another fun and creative way to keep your students engaged. Select a topic for your classbook (click here for some book topic inspiration) and have students brainstorm ideas for their classbook pages in smaller groups. Once each student has determined what they will contribute for your classbook, they can work individually on their own pages. When their pages are complete, you can have each student share what they’ve created. Finally, once you’ve gathered all of the pages together for your classbook, you can have that published to create a finished project your whole class can be proud of.
Establishing regular check-ins with your students and their parents will also help you to keep your students engaged. You can use chat platforms, email, phone calls, conference video call-ins and text messages to keep lines of communication open. And, as much as is possible, you’ll want to provide emotional and social support services for your class.
Utilize all of the resources available to you, such as counselors and specialists at your school or in your district to help your students and their families stay engaged during these challenging times.
We know the first year of teaching can be overwhelming, what with all the different roles you have to play and all that is expected of you as an educator - especially this year! You’ve made it this far, and you will make it through. Seek personal and professional support, stay as organized as you can, prepare as much as possible and do your best to stay flexible as you reevaluate your systems and as your teaching environment changes. You’ve got this.
Studentreasures provides FREE Classbook Publishing Kits. Creating a classbook is not only a fun activity that teaches students about the writing process, it can also help build their confidence as young writers.
For fun writing activities and project ideas, be sure to take a peek at our online Teacher’s Lounge.