10 Trusted Tips for New Teachers

The first day of school can be overwhelming—not just for students, but also for first-time teachers. In fact, the first day of school is the most important day of the entire year.

We asked experienced teachers what they wish they’d known on their first day. Here’s what they had to say:

Tip #1: Start strict.

Rather than starting the first class by talking about the content you’ll cover, begin by going through all the rules and expectations and by defining your goals for student learning. This sets the foundation for what is normal and acceptable, from in-class behavior to schoolwork deadlines. Announce yourself as the authority figure on the first day, and review the discipline plan throughout the first week. As you and your students gain each others’ trust throughout the school year, you can ease off the authoritarian approach.

Tip #2: Be consistent.

Once the classroom rules are set, make them unbendable. Always follow through on the articulated rewards for achievement and consequences for misbehavior. If you allow a student to get away with something even once, you’ve opened the door to negotiation of the rules. Kids can handle a strict teacher, but they despise an unfair one.

Tip #3: Be organized.

Preparation is the best way to overcome nervousness and uncertainty. In fact, be over-prepared. Start planning your course and assignments months in advance. Hand out a syllabus on the first day of class and stick to it. Write the day’s activities on the board before class—each period should have a beginning, middle, and end—and be ready for each activity. You will gain your students’ respect if you are well organized.

Tip #4: Be yourself.

We tell students this all the time, but it’s true for teachers too: Just be yourself. Despite the adage that “New teachers shouldn’t smile until a month into school,” if you’re smiley, then go ahead and smile. Your students can see through a fake personality as easily as an adult can. And you can smile all you want as you send students to the principal’s office if they get out of line.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

Always tell the truth. If a student asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell them you don’t know and that you will find out. And get back to them. In fact, present the answer to the entire class during the next period. The quickest way to lose your credibility is to bluff your way through an answer, but your enthusiasm to seek out answers will inspire your students by modeling intellectual curiosity and honesty.

Tip #6: Observe other teachers and allow them to observe you.

The best way to get a sense of a school’s culture is to observe other teachers in their natural habitat, i.e., in a classroom in front of their students. You can also ask fellow teachers to sit in on your class and provide you with feedback. If possible, request a mentor or a peer teacher, or identify a fellow teacher in your department who you can go to for advice.

Tip #7: Don’t worry alone.

If you are facing challenges with your students, talk to someone in administration. Your success is as much the administrators’ responsibility as your own. And often, a student’s academic performance is affected by non-academic issues, such as personal problems, that require the involvement of an advisor our counselor.

Tip #8: Make a personal connection with your students.

Unfortunately, there are a number of teachers who don’t like to spend time with students. They are the least effective educators. Instead of eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge, try eating lunch with your students. If you teach younger kids, go out at recess and play with them every once in awhile. The more time you spend with them, the more you will connect with them. There may be a student who has classroom behavior issues but who loves jazz music. If you love jazz music, use that similarity to start a conversation.

Tip #9: Appreciate small victories.

As one teacher put it, “Being a teacher isn’t like the movies, where it’s incredibly hard but there’s a big triumphant breakthrough.” In reality, teaching is incredibly hard and there’s not always a big, dramatic-music-inducing breakthrough. Set high goals, but appreciate the small victories that indicate progress in any form.

Tip #10: Learn from your mistakes.

Your first day might suck. In fact, the first year of teaching is notoriously strenuous. That’s because teaching is a difficult profession. It is emotionally and physically taxing. Even if you’re doing everything right, you’re going to have bad days. Even if you establish a clear plan, not all the kids or even their parents are going to accept it. What makes a good teacher is an attitude of overcoming a discouraging day by going back the next day and trying to do better. Learn from your mistakes, because everyone makes them, and remember why you wanted to be a teacher in the first place.

(BONUS) Tip #11: Make friends with the head secretary and the head maintenance man.

Trust us, this will make your life much, much easier.

Good luck!

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