Classroom Management

9 Things I Learned as a First Year Teacher

I have a special place in my heart for first year teachers.

I had absolutely zero idea how hard my first year of teaching was going to be. I knew it was going to be hard, but it was so much harder than I imagined.

I don’t want to scare anyone! Admittedly, I was way underprepared and had a lot of things working against me. I’ll save that story for another day, though, because right now I want to focus more on the things I learned as a first year teacher and turn that into advice and encouragement for anyone going into their first year teaching.

So, if you’re a first year teacher (or a teacher returning after time away!), I hope you will find this post helpful as you prepare for your new students in your very own classroom.

My First Year Teacher Advice

First year teacher
This picture was taken right after I got the call that I was going to be a teacher!

1. Be ready to learn.

This seems super obvious, but I think sometimes as teachers we forget that we are not ONLY there to teach. We expect to learn a few things as we would with anything brand new, but I did not realize that the first year really is about 20% teaching, 80% learning. You will (and should) learn more than your students!

My best and number one first year teacher tip is to be humble. Accept that you will make mistakes and promise yourself you will learn from them. Remember, every teacher has been there! We all had a first year. Most people will be understanding and helpful, so don’t be ashamed or embarrassed when you come across those first year teacher struggles. It’s normal. Learn, learn, learn, and then learn some more.

2. Get a good support system.

First year teacher support group
My first ever teaching team!

Hopefully, this is your grade level team and your administration. Having supportive coworkers and admin is everything! Unfortunately, we don’t always get so lucky, but having a good support system is still crucial.

So, whoever that is – your family, friends, strangers on Instagram (you can always message me!), have people you can go to when you are struggling. Have people you can vent to. Have people who can give you advice. Who won’t judge you when you cry. It’s great if at least one of those people is a teacher, so you have someone who really truly gets it and can give you practical advice. This is so important.

3. You’re not going to be the best teacher.

Hate to break it to you, but you probably aren’t winning Teacher of the Year your first year. (I mean, you might! And that’s awesome. But don’t plan on it. Don’t even make that your goal. More than likely you’ll just end up being disappointed.)

That’s not to say you’re going to be a terrible teacher. But, like I said in tip #1, you have a lot to learn! There’s always room for improvement. Don’t be afraid to take chances and do something extraordinary, but know that not everyday will be like that, and sometimes you will fail. And that’s okay.

4. Don’t let teaching consume your life.

First year teacher projects
These solar systems turned out super cute. But I spent hours cutting them out, gluing them to cardstock, laminating, and assembling.

I feel like this is the #1 mistake that new teachers make. Teaching is way more time consuming than you would ever imagine! Especially the first year when they like to throw a lot of extra PDs and trainings and things at you. Do not let teaching take over your life!

Sometimes it’s unavoidable and grades are due and you have to stay late or take something home. But as best as you can, use your planning time to do all that work. Come in 30 minutes early and stay 30 minutes late and use that extra hour to get done as much as you can. Set those boundaries for yourself or you will burn out.

5. Not everyday is Pinterest-worthy.

First year teacher activities
Probably the most creative thing I did with my students my first year.

It’s so fun to look at Pinterest and see pretty classrooms and engaging ideas, happy students engaged in fun activities and learning. But, while those moments DO happen sometimes…it is not going to be like that everyday. Just set that expectation now.

First of all, it isn’t realistic to try to plan a fun activity like that everyday. I highly encourage you to plan them sometimes and to make learning fun, but it can be a lot of work! Also, even when you find the time to do them, they sometimes don’t quite go as planned. Just be flexible and be prepared to change your plans, and know that there are days where you throw out the lesson plans completely and wing it.

6. Put relationships first.

Building relationships as a first year teacher
She didn’t learn how to spell…but she thought that I was pretty, smart, happy, and super nice. I honestly care more about the fact that she enjoyed being in my class (or at least, it sounds like she did!).

If your students learn nothing else that first year with you, make sure they at least know you love them. Any teacher will tell you that this is hands-down the most important thing you can do – build relationships with your students. They are more willing to learn from you if they know you care! And that will make your year go so much more smoothly.

7. Don’t spend all your money.

It can be so easy to get caught up in buying all. the. things. for your new classroom! And that’s a really fun part of teaching. But most of the classrooms you see on Pinterest were not created by first year teachers, but rather teachers who have been doing this for years. It takes time to build up a collection of resources, materials, and classroom decor! Don’t try to get everything at once.

That’s not to say you can’t have nice things as a first year teacher. Reach out to friends and family for donations. Thrift stores, Facebook marketplace, dollar stores, etc. can also be great resources for getting classroom items for cheap. And of course, don’t forget to check out the Target Dollar Spot! They typically put their back to school stuff out around July 4th!

My first classroom
My first classroom. Nothing glamorous, and honestly, not really my style. But I got hired a week before school started, had nothing of my own, and most of this was given to me for free. And you know what? It worked just fine!

8. Use your personal days.

This is a little less serious, but for real, use them. If you’re sick, use them. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, use them. Don’t be afraid – they give you those days for a reason! If you’re nervous about sub plans, talk to a more experienced teacher about how to write them. You may also want to take time to put together a sub binder and some emergency sub plans so that you are ready to go if you need to be out last minute. I have a substitute binder in my TpT store that covers all the details subs would need to know!

9. It’s okay to cry.

Not to end on a super depressing note, but I feel like someone needs to say it. It’s okay to cry! It’s okay to feel like a failure! It’s okay to have a bad day! It happens to us all. Hopefully it won’t happen everyday, but one bad day (or two, or even ten…) does not mean you are in the wrong profession. Don’t get discouraged – teaching is HARD! Just remember, the first year is the hardest and it does get better. I have a theory that if you can make it through your first year teaching, you can make it through anything. It is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and it’s okay to struggle through it!! But, hopefully you will struggle a little bit less with the rest of these tips.

First year teachers, what are you most looking forward to this year? Veteran teachers, what is your best piece of advice for first years? Comment below!

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