How to Survive Your First Year as a New Teacher: 10 Helpful Tips

What to Expect as a New Teacher

While it's been years since I was a new teacher, I remember the feeling like it was yesterday: panic, followed by exhaustion, followed by more panic. As if student teaching weren't hard enough, the first year for a teacher is a trial by fire. A beginning teacher learns everything the hard way, from dealing with a range of student and peer personalities, to knowing content and staying ahead of the students on curriculum. The act of thinking on one's feet takes on a new importance; a new teacher must anticipate a thousand questions and problems at once. Emerging from the confines of a college classroom, a rookie teacher must suddenly adopt the role of psychologist, advisor, advocate, disciplinarian, negotiator, and educator.

Aside from these issues, a first year teacher may have to figure out how to live on a salary that doesn't compensate for the level of constant turmoil. Particularly considering the required years of education as a prerequisite for the job, money might feel like an afterthought to a beginner. Frustration can easily overtake a new teacher, if proper steps aren't taken to minimize the overwhelming impact of the first year.

1. Prepare Over the Summer. While you might feel like this summer is your last summer before you have "to be a grown up" or before you're stuck in a regular job cycle (yes, I know most teachers in the States have subsequent summers off), you can't afford to be lazy through those long, hot days. Sure, you can go to the beach everyday and lounge around, savoring your liberty, but you're going to pay for it. Trust me, you're going to pay for it. While I have seen new teachers overdo this, assuming you have enough notice, you do need to prepare for autumn. Review/memorize book lists, sequence of instruction, important school information; construct drafts of your behavior chart, unit plans, mission statement. Do whatever you can to make those months ahead less of a constant struggle to catch up. Your February-self will love your July-self for the effort.

2. Now Forget Almost All of Your Preparation. While preparation over the summer is important, the next step is to acknowledge and accept that most of it will not be practically applied. Most of what you did over the summer was rehearsal for a play that hadn't been written. That's both the beauty and terror of teaching: you are going to be the unwitting star in a production of Before I Got Here, I Thought I Knew What I Was Doing . Your college classes will have little bearing on your first couple years of teaching; your portfolio is meaningless to a crowded room full of restless adolescents. The new teachers who feel they have it all together are regarded suspiciously by veteran educators, because the older teachers know better; the older teachers know that a cocky first year teacher is in for an unfortunate fall. Lock earlier preparation in a mental back room for safe keeping, with the understanding that most of it was as useful as putting on a raincoat in the face of a category 5 hurricane.  It was all a good idea that won't save you from getting drenched.

3. Listen to Those Around You. Perhaps it's the very first week of school, and your nerves are getting the better of you. You find yourself talking too much, both to students and to peers: your lessons involve long-winded explanations of how you came up with your ideas and why the students are bound to enjoy them. You can't seem to stop. You drone endlessly in the faculty room about the creative ideas you're planning on incorporating into your lessons to anyone who will listen, and your banter only serves to make you more anxious. It's normal to be a jittery at the start of a new year, but, well, stop talking. Listen to those around you. I can't tell you many new teachers talk too much, both in and out of the classroom. It's hard to do at first, but remember, teaching is about learning. You can't learn from others if you won't listen. Your students will gladly tell you what they need; your colleagues have a wealth of hands-on experience to share. Just get yourself to a quieter place. You'll be far better off for it.

4. Visit the Staff Room Only Sporadically. While you need the advice and counsel of veteran teachers (you do...don't think you don't), the faculty room can be the wrong place to receive it. Keep your eye out for the experienced teachers who pop into your room to ask how it's going; these are the professionals who truly care about your progress, and are potentially capable of aiding your first-year journey. You may have been assigned a mentor teacher, but either way, be wary of advice you get in the staff room. Like any place of employment, different teachers handle the stresses of the job differently, and some teachers who frequent the faculty room are walking complaints. They see the job as a great burden, rather than as a great opportunity, and you don't need that stress your first year. Or your second year. You don't ever need that stress, but later on, you'll have the fortitude to resist it. I've personally saved a handful of new teachers from the vice-like grip of what I'd call Personus Ragamusses, or those-individuals-who-rag-all-day.

5. Be Proactive With Parents. Parents can be your greatest allies or your worst enemies, and rightly so. You have their prized possessions held captive in front of you every day. If parents sense that you devalue what they hold to be their greatest achievements, they'll turn on you. You don't need to agree with parents all the time, but as a first-year teacher, you're in no position to be contrary for the sake of being contrary. Do what's right and communicate through emotionally level, logical statements, but listen to and appreciate what your students' parents think, too. Later on, you can take vocal stands on the state of education in general; for now, let parents know of potential issues before they show up on their radar, and listen more than you speak. You have enough on your plate without adding needless friction with parents. Avoid language that can be misunderstood (especially through e-mail), and always invite parents to let you know if they have any questions.

6. Know the Benchmarks for Your Subject. Now that you have your feet wet that first month or so, revisit the standards that you must be meeting in your discipline or subject area (even if you set these up over the summer, you'll need to relearn them). You should always try to teach with a sense of outcome. What is it that your students should know or be able to do by the end of your lesson/unit? This may relate to standardized testing or your school's learning objectives. New teachers are sometimes better at this than older ones, actually, since there has been such a paradigm shift in education. You aren't going to be perfect in your quest for objective-based teaching, but any effort in that direction will go a long way towards satisfying the administrators in your building, so try. Really, that's all you can do is try. The added plus is that examining teaching based on its outcomes naturally leads to lesson plan ideas.

7.  Be Honest With Students.  I've watched many first year teachers navigate the difficult road towards choosing their in-class styles or personas, and the best, most productive approach I've seen is an honest one.  Don't lie.  Some new teachers make up answers to students' questions, in order to cover their own lack of knowledge; some offer meaningless suggestions, as a result of their own confusion.  This deception hurts students almost as much as it stymies your growth as an educator.  No one likes to come off as less than perfect, but kids, particularly adolescents, are great at seeing through nonsense.  You're not perfect.  No one is.  Admit that you're not sure about an answer, and you'll notice the world doesn't end and the kids like you more.  After many years of teaching a subject, these opportunities to model humility and integrity will diminish, so embrace them while you can. 

8. Don't Volunteer for Anything. Your new career has one of the highest burn-out rates of any profession. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost half of all teachers quit within the first five years. It may be that one of the conditions of your employment was that you'd coach the volleyball team, but hopefully not. Focus all of your energies on classroom management and understanding content and delivery of the curriculum. Don't volunteer for some committee; don't take on a union role. Invest yourself in what you've decided to do. Learn the necessary facts and figures, read the stories and essays, reflect on how you can make your students' experience in your classroom better. Save the extra stuff for later on, when you have your head on straight. You're likely to be approached repeatedly, given your novice status, so remember: the answer is always no.

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9. Never Leave School Without Being Set for the Next Day. I've seen veteran teachers who slip on this every now and then, but as a first-year teacher, you cannot afford this mistake. Never, ever leave the building without being entirely ready for the following school day. You're likely to feel unbelievably exhausted at times during your first year, and once you get home, there will be days when you can't raise the willpower to plan. Don't put yourself in this position. Make all your photocopies, write out your lesson plans and seating charts, create your answer keys--do all of this before you cross that parking lot. It may be that your school requires daily or weekly lesson plans in advance, but regardless, develop this habit early. You'll have a much easier initiation if you do.

10. Enjoy Yourself. Given the fact that your class is going to be far from perfect regardless of what you do, make sure to enjoy your first year as a teacher. It'll never happen again. Laugh with students on occasion, rather than reprimand them for off-task behavior. Lighten up when it comes to what you might have done as a child, too. Poke gentle fun (avoiding sarcasm at all costs) at yourself as well as your students, creating a warm, easy environment. Remember that discipline issues will likely only get worse if you're entirely humorless, but also don't put pressure on yourself. Don't feel like you have to be a stand-up comedian every day in order for your students to enjoy themselves. Part of enjoying your first year as a teacher involves a little going-with-the-flow, but another part involves your students knowing their boundaries. Just don't confuse control with attention; don't replace assertion with sheer dominance. If you can keep your perspective, and help your students to balance work and play, your first year as a new teacher is bound to be successful.

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23 comments

Middlespecialist profile image

Middlespecialist 5 years ago

This is such a good list..I think it is the best list of suggestions I have seen for a new teacher. Voted up and useful!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

What a compliment, Middlespecialist! Thanks so much. I tried! :)


DoItForHer 5 years ago

#5 is one I've seen completely disregarded. While my experience deals with the office and the principal, I had also asked her teacher to so the same thing, but she refused.

My daughter's school wouldn't give me the monthly calender showing when the field trips were, parent-teacher conventions, picture day, school plays, etc. Even when I gave them self-addressed, stamped envelopes, they still refused to give them to me despite having a court order stating that I had the privilege of having that information. Their reason? They couldn't afford to make one extra copy for me and couldn't afford to take the time to fold and insert it into one of my SASE's. Heck, the envelopes were even self-adhesive so it didn't have to be licked! The school said it was mom's responsibility to get that information to me.

You can guess how Mom handled that.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

DIFH, that's terrible. Really...just awful. Unfortunately, a lot of schools follow rules for the sake of following them, not because they're logical or beneficial to any actual human being. I do know of situations where multiple packets of information are handed out, so I don't know why your daughter's school felt so stuck on it. Did you have legal issues that might have influenced this decision?


Kaye McCulloch profile image

Kaye McCulloch 5 years ago from Australia

Sounds like good information. I'm going to send his to a friend who's nearly finished her teaching degree.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, Kaye. I hope it's helpful for your friend!


DoItForHer 5 years ago

Shogan, no other legal issues prevented me from having that information. The courts didn't consider me a threat in any way. No restrictions were placed on me by the court other than the standard two weeks visit during summer break, every other birthday, every other Christmas, etc. I was specifically granted legal access to all of the insurance, school, and personal information.

My ex definitely had a way of fanning the flames and she knew just when to beat that hornet's nest. Interestingly, I hope Ariel develops those skills, but uses them in a positive way. As bad as I make Mom out to be, there are things Ariel can learn from her that she would not be able to learn from me.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 5 years ago from Canada

This is such excellent advice! I especially agree with not volunteering for anything. I taught for six years full time, and eventually felt burnt out from all the volunteering added on! Teaching is enough in itself, especially the first year. I think this article could be very helpful someone first starting out!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

That's always the case, isn't it, DIFH? Children need multiple role models, ideally. Make sure that Ariel learns from your experience in relationships, too. This, of course, is tricky, given it's her mother, but you could spin it in such a way to make it valuable and positive.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thank you so much, prairieprincess. I'm a firm believer that no teacher should be volunteering or coaching for the first few years. Even after that, it can be problematic at times.

Did you quit teaching as a result of burn-out?


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 5 years ago from Canada

Shogan, I took a year off, but then ended up teaching part-time this year, after all. Yes, burnout and stress were two of the primary reasons that I wanted a year off. Not sure if I will continue next year or not. I do love teaching itself, but the lifestyle wears me down. Thanks again ... nice to see a fellow English teacher at HP!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

I agree...nice to see you, too! It's like spotting another elusive spotted Literosa (ok, I made up a lame animal). In any event, thanks for the feedback, and try to take each day in stride, prairieprincess.


arizonataylor profile image

arizonataylor 5 years ago from Arizona

Yep... You get it. I too have been teaching for a long time, but who can forget those first few days? It was exciting, scary, intimidating, and wonderful, all at the same time. Your advice is excellent. This is a great read. Thanks.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

arizonataylor, thanks so much. It's great to meet other teachers on HP, and I appreciate your kind words.

I do remember those tough early days, and I think we owe it to ourselves and new teachers not to forget them. There's a huge learning curve in education, and we should rely on each other more than we do.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

What an awesome list, Shogan. I voted it up and useful/awesome. I just finished a 'teachers appreciation' hub.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, Denise. I'll check out your article ASAP!


LeeGenchrist profile image

LeeGenchrist 5 years ago from Northeast

This is a great article. Many portions of this list, however, can be applied to teachers at any level of their career. Thanks for the well-written advice!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

You are absolutely right, LeeGenchrist. Welcome to HP!


KrystalD profile image

KrystalD 4 years ago from Los Angeles

I am not sure anything quite prepared but this really gives a good description of what the neewbies can expect!


shogan profile image

shogan 4 years ago from New England Author

No, there's no replacement for just doing. You're right about that, KrystalD.


Sophie's soap box profile image

Sophie's soap box 4 years ago from Australia

Thank you for this fantastic, useful hub. I've been teaching for three years and during my first few I would put in a 75 hour week. It's an incredibly rewarding job however one of the most daunting, challenging things anybody could do. I agree with your comment about just concentrating on the job at hand, rather than volunteering for lots of extra curricular activities and I also liked the advice about listening more. It's a great skill to have and encourages humility.


shogan profile image

shogan 4 years ago from New England Author

Thanks so much for your kind response, SSB. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub!


uneed2no profile image

uneed2no 4 years ago

Great tips!

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