Congratulations! You're a first-year teacher, but you need to know how to prepare to make the most of your initial school year. Teaching is one of the hardest, most rewarding jobs you can have. You will influence the lives of your students for years. Here are some great ways to help you survive your first year in teaching.
The Importance of Being Prepared
You will never have your first day of school as a first-year teacher again. This uniqueness of the day is both good and bad. On the positive side, if you make a mistake, you can start the following day fresh. But you will need to ensure you prepare yourself and your classroom well enough to avoid errors and forgetting important elements.
Preparation starts as soon as you find out your first-year assignment. Take the time until you go to the school for teacher preparation to go back over what you learned during your student teaching and development courses. Here are some reasons why being prepared is important.
1. Prevent Student Boredom
In a classroom, bored students will find ways to amuse themselves — and often not in a good way. Sometimes, students will use quiet ways to occupy their minds, such as coloring or reading. In most cases, however, bored students will talk to each other or otherwise disrupt the class. If you have a full day planned and extra materials in case your students finish early, you can avoid student boredom.
2. Earn the Respect of Your Colleagues and Administrators
If you have everything prepared, your colleagues may turn to you for inspiration and lessons. They will know where to go when they need help with their preparation because they have seen how well you get your lessons ready. Making a good impression on your fellow teachers can also help you earn the respect of the school's administrators.
3. Improve Your Teaching
When you are prepared, you know what you need to teach and how to teach it. You'll be able to better explain the materials to your students so they can understand it. You'll also likely be able to answer questions and adjust your explanations if students are having a hard time grasping the topic.
Reading over teaching tips and guides ahead of time can also give you ideas to improve your teaching. You will learn more about what to expect, especially if you read about the experiences of teachers for your grade level and class. Don't forget to talk to your fellow teachers to get their impressions and tips. By building your knowledge base, you may also reduce your first-day fears.
4. Ease Your Mind
Readying yourself for your students won't get rid of first-day jitters, but it will give you the confidence to push through those concerns to do your best on your first day.
Teacher To-Do List Before School Starts
Before school even begins, you will need a to-do list to make sure you have done everything you need to get yourself and your classroom ready for students. Following a checklist also makes it less likely you will forget something critical. Here are some things to include.
1. Meet Your Fellow Teachers
You will need a team to support you throughout the school year. By befriending your fellow teachers, you can talk about classroom concerns only other instructors would understand. Try to find other first-year teachers at your school to relate your shared experiences with.
2. Find a Mentor
When you student taught, you had a head teacher you could ask questions of. Now you have your own classroom, and you may feel like you no longer have support. Find a mentor among the veteran teachers at your school. Ideally, try to find another teacher who also has classes in your subject or grade level.
Try to set it up so you can visit your mentor's classroom for a few minutes during your planning period. By observing how a more senior teacher handles lessons and classroom management, you can get ideas to apply to your classroom.
Every class has different concerns, too, and you may have issues during your first year that you never read about in your research. Getting advice from a mentor can help. By having a more experienced teacher to guide you through times your student teaching didn't prepare you for, you'll better survive your first year in the classroom.
3. Create a Vision Plan
Decide what you want to accomplish as a teacher. Do you want students with high test scores, improved academic skills or better discipline? Write down your plan in a journal or make a vision board. The latter is a pictorial representation of what you hope to accomplish. You may even want to have your plan near your desk to remind yourself of why you want to teach.
4. Plan Your Classroom
How will you decorate your classroom? What will you put on bulletin boards? The answers to questions like these will make it easier to find posters and other decorating supplies before you report to your classroom for the pre-school year teacher workdays.
If you need inspiration, look at what other teachers have in their rooms. Again, having camaraderie with your fellow educators will make it less awkward when you want to visit their classrooms for decorating tips.
When planning your class layout, you will also need to determine how to arrange the room. Do you need groups or desks or individual seating in rows? Your topic and teaching method will also help you decide how to arrange the desks and chairs in your classroom. Other teachers can help if you need ideas or fellow furniture movers — just don't forget to return the favor to them.
5. Create Your Classroom Rules
Every teacher will have a separate set of rules for their classroom. Decide what behaviors are most important to create an environment you feel most comfortable teaching in, and the students will learn best in. You can again collaborate with your new teacher friends about the most effective rules for your room.
In addition to setting out rules, decide before school starts what enforcement will look like. Will you give students a warning before delivering a punishment? Will you reward good behavior in the classroom? What do rewards and punishments look like? Your school may specify guidelines for how teachers should maintain order in their classrooms. If you aren't sure whether a specific discipline or reward for your class is acceptable, ask an administrator or your department head.
6. Choose First-Day Activities
On the first day of school, you will likely have plenty of work for your students involving the operations of your classroom and the school. Of course, you will want to go over your class rules and expectations. If you have upper-level classes, you may want to pass out the syllabus for the course. However, these items won't take the entire day. You need to have activities to do to help you learn about the students and to release the tension of the first day.
7. Learn to Use Classroom Technology
Schools typically have a variety of technological devices for teachers and students. If your school has any equipment you've never used before, take the time before school starts to acquaint yourself with its operation. For example, if you have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, make sure you know how to connect it to your computer and operate it. If your students have school-administered tablets, be sure you can fix minor problems or answer questions about running programs before passing them out to your class.
8. Create Lesson Plans
Make out your lesson plans for at least the first week of classes. Often your student roster will change as new students enroll in the school and others leave to balance class numbers. Keep this in mind when planning work during the first few days. You don't want assignments that will require knowledge of the previous day's lesson to understand. Instead, use the first week to review what the students should have learned the last year. By the second week, you should be able to start teaching new material.
What to Do on the First Day of School
The first day of school arrives, and you've done everything possible to prepare ahead of time. Now, you need to put your plans for the first day into action and get your students ready for the new year.
On the first day, you will need to have a plan to keep from forgetting anything important. A checklist also makes it easier for you and your students to know what will happen that day, hopefully easing nervousness. Here are some things to be sure you include on your teacher checklist for the first day of school:
- Introductions: Introduce yourself to your students and have them announce their names, too.
- Discuss rules and expectations: From the start, give students your class rules and what you expect from them.
- Hand out necessary forms: Most school offices will have forms you need to pass out to your class — lunch enrollment, bus policies, emergency forms and others.
- Enjoy icebreaker activities: Have several icebreaker activities planned to get your students to learn about each other.
- Have a backup lesson: Depending on how much time you have with your students, you may have time at the end of the day to work on a lesson. You could have students discuss their summer vacations or write about them, for example.
First Day of School Activities
If you need some icebreaker ideas, check out these activities to make learning your students' names more fun.
1. Getting to Know You Bingo
Create bingo cards filled out with events your students may have done over the summer. Make each bingo card different. Examples of things to fill in on the cards include:
- Read a book
- Saw a popular movie
- Adopted a pet
- Ran a race
- Rode a bicycle
- Met a famous person
- Has a sibling
- Learned something new
- Visited a zoo
- Went swimming
- Went to a waterpark
- Visited a museum
Pass the bingo cards out to your students and have them fill out the cards by asking their classmates if they have done the activities on the card. A student who has done one of the activities can sign their name. The first student to get five signatures in a row, column or diagonal on the card earns a prize.
2. Index Card Questions
Have students write down questions for you on index cards. Draw cards from a pile and answer them. Because you will see the items before reading them to the students, you can censor any inappropriate or repeat questions. Giving your answers will provide you with the chance to let your class know more about you.
Place students in a circle in the room. Start the activity by naming your favorite book and reading a paragraph from a grade-appropriate book out loud to the class. Pass the book to the student on your right to repeat what you did. Continue passing the book around the room and having students read for an allotted time. The second time around, have students name their favorite fictional character and the third time around, a movie based on a book.
Additional First-Year Teaching Tips
Your first year of teaching will be challenging as you learn about your class, the school and education. Here are some additional ways to help you make the most of your first year.
1. Take Some Time for Yourself
Spend a few hours each week for yourself. Whether you engage in a hobby, go out with friends, read a book, take walks or relax in a bubble bath, you need to have time for self-care. When you take care of yourself and refresh your body and mind, you can be a better, more relaxed teacher.
2. Know Who to Get Help From
At some point during the school year, you will need help. Know who you can turn to for assistance. Ask for your school's specific discipline plan for whom to contact when you have problems with student behavior. Most schools have a method in place for issues that escalate beyond your ability to redirect a student's actions.
3. Learn Everything You Can
Take every chance you can get to continue learning more about technology, new lesson ideas and how to help your students. If possible, sign up for professional development classes in the district. Also, look for chances to take continuing education classes outside the district. Some universities and museums offer these classes for educators. You can also find some online.
Help Students Prepare on Their First Day
While these tips for a teacher's first day of school can help you to relax, you can do several things to ease your students into the new year as well. To encourage students to start the year off on the right foot, get planners for them. These homework trackers make it easier for your class members to keep up with their homework and other obligations.
Even young children in elementary school can get into the habit of writing down their assignments in a student planner. By learning to organize their time while still in elementary school, such students will have an advantage when they take more rigorous coursework in higher grades. We have specific planners for students in high school, middle school and elementary school that are tailored to their reading level and interests.
When you get your students colorful, durable and well-designed planners, you have a higher likelihood of seeing them use these calendars and a lower chance of them forgetting homework or projects. You can remind them to write their projects, tests or homework in their student planner, and you'll be helping to improve their chances of success — and yours — for the upcoming school year.