I wasn’t hired for my first teaching job until September 21st. School had already been in session for more than a month and I went into a classroom full of students who had only known the weird place known as “limbo” for the last few weeks. It was chaos, to say the least.
No routines and procedures had been established. There was no real behavior plan in place. The teacher who was fulfilling the position up until that point was balancing between two jobs, so she her focus was on her new job as the instructional coach. The students knew there was a new teacher coming, but they didn’t know when and they had no idea what to expect.
Then there was me, fresh out of college, begging for any school that would take me. I had no real classroom experience outside of my college courses and student teaching. I had no experience in third grade. I didn’t know what to expect either.
Perhaps you, new teacher, are walking into a similar situation.
Let’s just say that my first year of teaching was a train wreck. I wish could personally go apologize to every student in my classroom, as well as all of their parents. Looking back now, seven years in, there are so many things I would do differently.
As desperate as you are to start your new teaching job — whether it’s a month after school starts, six months into the year, or 45 days before the last day of school — it’s important that you have a plan. The students that you are inheriting have likely been in a state of transition leading up to your new place as their teacher, so they are probably craving some routine and consistency. Your students NEED you, now more than ever, to be the guiding light for them.
Below, I’ve listed a few things I think will help you succeed in your new position:
1. Establish routines and procedures for how things are done. How will your students enter the classroom? Where will they put their book bags? How should they go about sharpening their pencils? How do they ask questions? (Yes, don’t assume they know to raise their hand… they don’t.) Don’t assume ANYTHING. Have a clear, explicit procedure laid out for every single part of your day. You don’t need to type it all out and give it to your students, but there should be a discussion about each of them. If a student doesn’t follow the procedure, explain it again and have them do it correctly. Hold them accountable. Remember, these students have likely had no one to consistently telling them how to do things. It is your job to tell them.
2. Have a very clear and concise behavior management plan. Have a set of classroom rules and follow them. Make sure you’re aware with any school wide rules and expectations there might be before your start so that you can hold students your students accountable for those as well. Talk with the principal about his or her expectations for handling behaviors in the classroom as opposed to sending them to the office. In addition to making a plan on consequences for negative behavior, make an even better plan for rewarding positive behavior. Your behavior management plan should focus on positive reinforcement, as well as teaching students how to replace inappropriate behaviors with the correct one. This is something that I tweaked over and over again my first year. Keep tweaking until you find something that works for you. However, be sure that you maintain consistency.
3. Find a mentor with whom you can be honest. Depending on how your state handles new teachers, you will probably be assigned a teacher mentor. Hopefully that person is caring, understanding, and able to guide you through your struggles and mishaps as a first year teaching. If they are someone you feel like you cannot talk to, seek out other teacher friends. Bottom line, you won’t get through this career without support! Reach out to others and find someone you can trust.
4. Be flexible. You will plan a lesson that is too short and you have to find something else to do for the next 20 minutes. You will have an awesome lesson that gets interrupted by an unexpected visitor. Someone will throw up when you’re least expecting it, probably all over your math manipulatives. Go with it. Fake it until you make it. Teaching is about people and people are unpredictable. Being flexible with your plans is key.
5. Forgive yourself. You are going to mess up. You are going to have bad days. You are going to make the wrong decision. Keep going. The kids will forget about whatever it was by tomorrow and they will love you anyway. Reflect on your mistakes and learn from them, but never dwell.
Truth is, your first year will probably be a train wreck anyway. But now that you know better, you can do better. Keep on keeping on, new teachers! And, as always, if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to hear from you!