If you’re a new teacher searching for tips on preparing for your first year of teaching, we want to say congratulations! Both on the new job and because you’re in the right place.
You’re probably somewhere between ecstatic (because you just landed your dream job—go, you!) and anxious (because teaching is one of the most important jobs there is!). One advantage you have over other jobs is the academic calendar and the cyclical nature of teaching, meaning you have the whole summer to prepare yourself (and your classroom!) for a productive year!
Build Your Teaching Network
The most helpful resource you’ll have access to as a first-year teacher is other teachers, particularly veteran teachers. Many schools assign new teachers a mentor, putting you in contact with someone who is knowledgeable and wants to help you succeed.
If you weren’t formally assigned a mentor, you can always reach out to someone in your district! Your school district likely has a Facebook group, online discussion forum or at least a school directory that will allow you to message other teachers with any questions you have or to seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Find out if there are any pre-school-year meetups you can go to or plan one yourself. Something casual, like meeting for coffee with a few other teachers, is an excellent way to put yourself out there and get to know the other staff.
When you’re chatting, make sure to ask the questions you most want answered. “What’s something you wish you’d known when you started teaching?” usually leads to some really productive and helpful tips. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Learn to Manage Your Emails
As a first-year teacher, you need to prepare yourself for an onslaught of emails. You’ll receive emails from parents, students and your principal and colleagues: dozens and dozens of emails each and every day. The best way to manage a large number of emails is by checking in at least a few times per day and responding to them as you’re able.
At the same time, try not to get too overwhelmed by forcing yourself to respond to everything immediately. If you need to double-check information you don’t have access to at the moment, you can flag the email to respond to later once you have the necessary information. We also recommend scheduling some designated time each day for responding to emails.
Emails can quickly overwhelm you if you let them, so set a cut-off point (i.e. at 5:30 PM, you will no longer check your email inbox). Don’t forget that you can also silence your phone notifications if you need to. You can also keep your work email address synced to your work computer, while your personal email address remains on your phone.
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Reach Out to Parents
Parents are understandably interested in the person their children will be spending most of their days with. Find a way to communicate with parents—via email, a newsletter or password-protected blog posts—and update them as much as you can (once a week is a good general rule).
Parents appreciate knowing what their kids are doing all year, and it can be as simple as taking twenty minutes at the end of the week to write up a summary of the topics you’ve been covering in class.
Also, decide how and at what times you can communicate with parents outside of regularly scheduled meetings. Even if you’re only available for phone calls by appointment on set days, letting parents know exactly how best to get in touch goes a long way towards building a collaborative relationship that will help your students do their best.
Familiarize Yourself with the Curriculum and Standards
When you pick up the keys to your classroom, make sure you also pick up your teacher manuals, teachers’ edition (or student version) textbooks and any other information available to you from your school district.
Familiarize yourself with the curriculum and standards as early as possible to better understand what’s expected of you as the teacher and what’s expected of your students. This can be helpful in mapping out the progression and pace of the school year. It can also be useful when you start putting together your lesson plans to make sure your planning is on pace to get students where they need to be by the end of the school year.
Fill Out Your Calendars
That’s right. We said “calendars,” plural. It’s worth having multiple calendars when you’re teaching. Start with your own master calendar, broken out into a classroom calendar, daily schedule and personal calendar.
The classroom calendar should include all your district and school events, including vacation days, parent-teacher meetings and any classroom-specific events, tests and birthdays. This should be a large calendar that’s displayed where everyone in the classroom can see it.
The daily schedule should include all daily lesson blocks and activities. Update it weekly so you can adjust it accordingly in response to your classroom’s strengths and areas of opportunity. This should also be on display somewhere in the classroom where it’s easy to see.
Your personal calendar is your calendar. Analog or digital, whatever works best for you! Having a personal calendar will remind you to take care of important personal responsibilities, like appointments and tasks. Even though you might be tempted to put all of your time and effort into teaching your first year, remember to take some time for yourself to do non-teaching things you enjoy. This calendar will help with that!
The master calendar is one calendar that combines all of your calendars together so that it’s easy to see whether you have a personal or work appointment on any given day. You can also see how the different calendars line up with each other. It’s generally easiest to make a master calendar using something like Google Calendar or any other app that lets you put multiple calendars of events onto each calendar month.
Organize and Decorate Your Classroom
Once you have the go-ahead to start preparing your classroom, block out some time over the summer to get things ready.
First, you’ll want to label everything. Get name cards to go on each desk; put all the birthdays on the classroom calendar; print out a student roster; make labels for cubbies, shelves, textbooks and assignment notebooks. Does this sound excessive? Maybe to non-teachers, but teachers understand the wisdom of having everything labeled.
This is also when you’ll want to decorate your classroom. Hang up your class expectations, grading policy, your information (name, room number, email and phone number) and the emergency evacuation plan. Also, decorate your bulletin board and bring in any outside furniture to make a reading corner, quiet area or any other dedicated space within your classroom.
Whatever your budget looks like, don’t get overly invested in aesthetics. It can be easy to get caught up in wanting to make your classroom Pinterest-perfect, but most of those classrooms were either decorated by teachers who’ve had decades to develop their space or decorated by professional stylists for editorial photoshoots.
Start with the basics. Invest in pieces that will last for years and prioritize whatever fits both your needs and budget. Try thrift stores for classroom furniture and keep an eye out for surprisingly good quality bookshelves that might just need a coat of paint to become exactly what you’re looking for!
The Drawer of Holding
If there’s one constant in teaching, it’s that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Part of that is having a desk drawer (one of the big ones) dedicated to all the little things you might—and probably will—need to make your day go a bit easier than it otherwise might have.
As you progress through your first year of teaching, keep track of anything you wish you had to make your day more comfortable, write it down and add it to the drawer. Here are a few common ones to get you started.
- A few bottles of water. Sometimes, you forget your reusable bottle, and you’ll want to stay hydrated because you’re going to be talking a lot.
- Lip balm or chapstick. Same idea as the water bottles. If you’ve never had a job where you had to talk all day, you might be surprised at how much it dries out your lips.
- Snacks. There are going to be days where you work through your lunch. If you didn’t bring a lunch that’s handheld, portable and easy to eat while you’re focusing on something else on one of those days, you’ll be positively elated to have a desk drawer containing protein bars, dried fruit and nuts, trail mix and other healthy snacks to keep you going.
- Cash. The importance of having some money to hit up the vending machine in the teacher’s lounge when you’re really craving some caffeine or chocolate cannot be overstated.
- Bandages. Pick up a variety box of bandages or two (or ten) for your classroom. Your students can get them from the nurse, but it’s always handy to have a backup box just in case.
- OTC painkillers. Working while you’re hurting is no fun for anyone. Have a solution on hand before there’s a problem. Those overhead lights can cause eyestrain and result in headaches; standing and interacting with younger kids all day can put strain on muscles you didn’t even know were there!
- A light jacket. Sometimes, classrooms can get a little chilly, and you’ll be thankful you have a back-up plan in place.
Make Time for Yourself
The first year at your dream job is going to be full of new experiences, challenges, successes and excitement. However, if you’re pouring all of your energy into trying to have the best year ever, you’re going to end up tired and stressed out.
In the middle of everything else that’s going on, remember to make time to sleep, feed yourself well and engage in stress-relieving activities regularly. Spending quality time with your family (or quality time with yourself and a novel) can make the difference between ending the year as an emotive, engaged teacher or a burnt-out one.
Just because you’re a teacher, that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to learn. Teaching is a skilled, professional job that’s constantly evolving as we discover new and better methods to prepare young learners to do their best in the classroom and in their everyday lives.
From newsletters and Twitter chats to Facebook groups, education blogs and discussion forums, there’s so much to learn and only so many hours in the day! Choosing a few specific education topics you’d like to specialize in and focus on is a great strategy to keep from becoming overwhelmed by everything that’s out there.
Check out our Studentreasures blog and Teachers Lounge, both of which provide helpful resources for teachers—everything from worksheets and lesson plans to classroom activities, writing prompts and more.
We also offer FREE classbook publishing kits so that your classroom can collaborate on a book together based on the coursework your students are already doing. Teachers receive a free printed copy of the classbook for their classroom, and parents have the option to order copies as a memento of their child’s year.
Congratulations again on your new career in teaching! We hope your first year sets the tone for many more rewarding years to come!