A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching, September 1998

Image of apple Tips and Strategies from First-Year Teachers Image of apple


First-year teachers had a lot of it to offer to new teachers who follow them. Their tips ran the gamut—from memorizing students' names right away to making peace with the realization that some children cannot be reached. Teachers also offered practical advice on classroom management, working with parents, and more.

Broader themes were the need for clear, high expectations for students' academic performance and behavior. Overall, teachers recommended an approach that is nurturing but firm. And, they advised, prepare for classes and then prepare some more.

"Before you begin on the first day, be as prepared as you possibly can. Set up your room. Look around. Is there anything anywhere that would distract you if you were a student? Move around the room and ask the same question from a number of different spots, e.g., spots from which students should be working and observing. Always put your plans on the board—before class begins. Everyone here would be lying if they didn't admit that they were nervous on the first day!"—Thomas Muller, 9th-12th grades, Oregon

"Think about every stupid question that could be asked as a result of your lesson plan. Do they contain any words that could set students off? I didn't realize how silly kids can be. Something as simple as a squeaky chair will set them off. You need to develop a range of appropriate responses and be able to deliver them with a straight face. Sometimes it is important to let them be kids and be silly when they want to, but you should choose those times."—Catherine McTamaney, 9th-12th grades, Tennessee

"Over plan! Prepare two hours for every hour of actual teaching. The day will go faster than you expect. You need to avoid the dreaded 15 minutes at the end when you will be asking yourself, `What do I do now?'—Catherine McTamaney, 9th-12th grades, Tennessee

"You have to be very organized. Five minutes of unorganized time can lead to chaos."—Phu N. Ly, 2nd grade (inclusive), Massachusetts

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Prepare, but then again . . . be prepared to wing it if that's what it takes.

"I had to turn in my entire week's lesson plans on Monday to the principal. I learned not to stick with the lesson plans. The teachable moments go further. Too much structure can make you too stressed out to be creative."—Kerry Kapper, 5th grade (inclusive), Vermont

"Often I just ripped up my lesson plans. Teach the kids, don't teach the lesson plans." —Thomas R. Leinheiser, 3rd grade, Alabama

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Set clear, reasonable expectations that communicate consistency and high standards.

"Set expectations and standards in clear language. Establish a vision and stick to it. Even in little things like the right heading at the top of the paper. Expect the best of all your students."—Lisa M. Shipley, 7th and 8th grades, Missouri

"Set high expectations for the students from the first day. Even if it means taking extra time for some students, high expectations—high results." —Jeffrey Breedlove, 10th-12th grades, Kansas

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Many teachers summarized their classroom management strategies in a single word—respect.

"Keep it simple. . . . You don't have to spell out everything. Respect. . . ." Conni Neugebauer, kindergarten-4th grade, South Dakota

"Always live up to the same rules you set up for them. Keep them simple and justifiable. `Respect' is the only rule I have on my classroom wall." —Catherine McTamaney, 9th-12th grades, Tennessee

"I don't like to have too many rules or kids will forget them. My students help set up the rules, which makes them more respectful of them."—Mark White, 5th grade, Nebraska

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Stay cool under fire. Criticism can be turned to an advantage.

"Sometimes it is so easy to want to defend yourself with the principal or parents. I learned how to listen, to try to understand where they're coming from. Parents' concerns are very real."—Phu N. Ly, 2nd grade (inclusive), Massachusetts

"You can feel like you are being critiqued. Instead of being defensive, you can say, `Hey, that's right'."—Scott D. Niemann, 3rd and 4th grades, Alaska

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Use innovations in teaching, technology, and rewards.

"Dividing topics into smaller, more manageable, and therefore, more achievable tasks has encouraged students to take it one step at a time. Presenting a variety of student-centered lessons that require active student participation has stimulated student interest. Relating information to students' lives and establishing a reason for learning has increased student participation. Second, I have established a very pro-active (some might call it aggressive) make-up policy. My No Zero Tolerance program uses computerized grade software to track students. Students receive a weekly status report that lists grades and highlights any zero."—Grace D. Clark, 9th-11th grades, Virginia

"I have `cool cash rewards' that can be redeemed in the `Shipley Store,' which has things that local businesses have donated. Rewards will take you further than punishments in the long run."—Lisa M. Shipley, 7th and 8th grades, Missouri

Other recommendations included:

"Reach out to the parents. Let them know from the start that you know they are very important to their child's education and that you want to work with them. That they are central to the process. That you are looking for their interest and concern. Formally or informally form some kind of parent-teacher contract. Make regular, positive calls home, not just negative or critical ones."—William C. Smith, 7th grade, New York

"I have two rules: get parents on your side, and allow yourself to make mistakes."—Phu N. Ly, 2nd grade (inclusive), Massachusetts

"I make a lot of home visits. This challenged me to love the kids more. The home visits were made both on school time and on my time. Every Wednesday I visited the homes of the kindergarten kids. This helped me relate to the kids a lot better."—Christopher W. Albrecht, kindergarten-7th grade, West Virginia

"Right before school started we set up a `sneak preview' of what those first days of school were going to be like. Before school officially started, we invited kids and parents to come by for an hour so we could talk and share."—Mark White, 5th grade, Nebraska

"Develop a really good relationship with the administration. You question, `Will they back me up?' Lots of time they are viewed as the enemy—teachers versus the administration. You need the administration and the office. Secretaries make or break you. Teaching is very political. Who you know and having access."—Jeffrey Breedlove, 10th-12th grades, Kansas

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Get to know another side of the kids.

"Extracurricular activities. I got to know the kids better and watched them mature and see the leadership side of their personalities. I have some of the same kids in class. The kids see me beyond the instructor role, see me as available for questions, and that builds the relationship."—Sebastian C. Shipp, 9th_12th grades, North Carolina "I recommend coaching to give you an edge. I coach volleyball. And teaching drama allows me to work with all students. You must have a high energy level and be willing to put in the extra time. They will appreciate it."—Stephanie D. Bell, 9th and 10th grades, South Carolina

"Being involved in drama production after school was one of the highlights. Like many teachers, during my regular schedule, I teach students at only one grade level, while in drama I worked with kids from all levels. They were very generous and I was able to develop a much broader range of relationships than in class."—Sara M. Hagarty, 10th grade, Delaware

Additional quick tips follow:

"Learn students' names correctly and quickly." —Delissa L. Mai, 9th grade, Wyoming

"Learn to laugh at yourself. A sense of humor is critical."—Katharine L. Hager, 7th grade, Hawaii

"My advice is to develop rapport with the kids, to adapt to hit it off with the kids—you need to click. Beyond the curriculum—you have to click." —Jeffrey Breedlove, 10th-12th grades, Kansas

"Expose yourself as being human and being real. Don't be afraid to get down and dirty, do what they're doing, work when they are working. Keep a written list of what needs to be changed for next year. Try things and if they don't work, write them down."—Jill P. Clark, 9th and 11th grades, Pennsylvania

"First year teachers have to remember that, `We can't save everyone' and not take it personally. I had one child who just dug in and did not want my help. I have to balance my guilt and how much I could really do to help."—Allison L. Baer, 4th-6th grades, Ohio

"Teachers can't forget about the importance of their own mental and physical health or they will fall apart. Find time to go out with your colleagues to talk about mutual ideas and problems—let off steam. There are tons of kids sneezing and coughing on you every day. You need to be healthy to be a good teacher. I jog in the morning like any good prizefighter."—Christopher D. Markofski, kindergarten, Washington

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Teaching is not a popularity contest, and students are not your best friends. Respect is more important than affection, teachers said.

"It is okay if kids don't like you. They need to respect you. A lot of teachers want to be buddies."—Katharine L. Hagar, 7th grade, Hawaii

"You are not friends. You have to distinguish." —Phu N. Ly, 2nd grade (inclusive), Massachusetts

"Don't hang out with high school kids—you establish friendly rapport, you don't want to be pals."—Jeffrey Breedlove, 10th-12th grades, Kansas

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