10 Things I Wish I Knew as a First Year Teacher

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It’s official! Student teaching is behind you, summer is over, your classroom is all set up, and you are about to embark on a wild ride known as your first full year of teaching. It is going to be overwhelming at times, but so rewarding, and so, so worth it!

Take it from someone who has been in your shoes before, these are 10 things you should know as a first year teacher.

What to Expect as a First Year Teacher

Be Realistic

You are going to want to do it all, but the reality is you only have so much time in a day. You don’t have to grade a week’s worth of assignments in one night.

You don’t have to attend every event outside of work that you are invited to. You aren’t going to reach every single student you teach. Be gentle on yourself, and just do the best you can.

It is Okay to Ask for and Accept Help

As a first year (or 2nd year or 10th year!) teacher you aren’t going to have it all figured out. Nobody is going to doubt your abilities as a teacher if you ask for help. In your school you are going to have teachers from all walks of life, and it is likely you will learn something valuable from each and every one of them.

Not Everything Has to be “Pinterest Worthy”

Anyone who has ever met me is completely side-eyeing this right now, because even now, wayyyyy beyond my first year teaching, I still am guilty of this. The picture above is of part of my classroom my first year teaching. I definitely spent way too much time putting it all together (and paid for it by starting the year off already exhausted.)

Looks can also be deceiving–the caterpillar lanterns were actually from a teacher down the hall that was throwing them out. Being a first year teacher and starting with nothing, I eagerly accepted her offer for me to take them. Everything else I was able to find at the Dollar Tree, Ikea, or Goodwill.

There is absolutely no shame in wanting to have an adorable classroom, the cutest name tags, or the best bulletin board in the school. But you don’t have to overexert yourself or spend a ton of money in order to create an inviting and functional learning environment.

Over the years, you will acquire a lot of stuff for your classroom so don’t panic if you don’t have all the decor, books, or tools you want just yet. And trust me, if you ever have to move classrooms, moving all of that stuff out and either storing it in your garage or paying for a storage unit is the WORST.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell first year teacher Erin to definitely pare down on what I thought I needed for my classroom.

Trial and Error

Lessons aren’t always going to go as planned. Your filing cabinet might not make any sense once the school year gets underway. Your students might need more of this, or less of that.

Your first year teaching is going to be a lot of trial and error as you establish who you are as a teacher, and that is completely normal! You don’t have to have it all figured out right away.

Set Boundaries

From day one, you are going to want to set boundaries not only for yourself, but for others to follow as well.

This can look like- taking weekends completely off, not doing extra work during your lunch break, or setting specific “office hours” where parents can reach you and/or you can reply to emails.

If you don’t set these boundaries right away, it might be hard to implement them later on in the school year.

Venture Out of Your Classroom

When your kids are out of your classroom at PE, art, or the like, take this as an opportunity to go talk with a co-worker you never see during the day, check in on the front office staff, or take a quick walk around the building.

It is easy to become a hermit, so make it a priority to go somewhere else in the building at least once a day.

I have met some of my best friends while working with them, and I’m so glad I took a little time to branch out a little bit.

Organization

Organization and having a system within your classroom is going to save your sanity!

From preparing lesson plans, to labeling bins and cubbies, to creating a system for no-name papers, take home folders, students files, sub plans, etc.–you are going to want everything to have a purposeful place in your classroom. If not, things will pile up quickly and it will take you twice as long to sort through it when you eventually get brave enough to tackle it.

Classroom Management

Start the school year off right by implementing all the classroom management tips and tricks you’ve been taught, starting on the very first day. Establishing attention-getters, quiet signals, and general classroom rules with your students will not only help set them up for success, but it’ll save you your sanity (and your voice)!

Make a point to prioritize building relationships with your students first. Sure, you’re going to have students that have challenging behaviors at times. But, if you can build relationships with them at the get-go, it’s going to make for a much smoother year for everyone involved.

Take Care of Yourself

The first day of my first year teaching, I was already tired, trying to plan a wedding, moving into an apartment in a new city; not sleeping well; and not taking care of myself.

This eventually caught up to me several months into the school year, and I ended up the sickest I’ve probably ever been. Which, looking at the picture above of me on my first day as a teacher, you can tell I’m already worn out.

You cannot pour from an empty cup!  Okay, now repeat that to yourself again and again.

If you are feeling overworked and run down, you are not going to be able to be the best teacher you can be or give your students the attention they deserve. Take advantage of evenings and weekends away from your classroom and do something for yourself.

Remember Your Why

On the good days and the bad days, remind yourself why you got into this profession in the first place. It takes a special person to become a teacher, but things aren’t always going to go as planned, and hard days are inevitable.

Be proud of your capabilities and recognize the impact you have on your students day in and day out.

Final Thoughts

You are only going to be a first year teacher once. Remember to have fun, believe in yourself, believe in your students, and take things one day at a time. You can do this! And don’t forget, it gets better!

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