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Teaching and Preparing for Your First Classroom

Updated on September 21, 2012

HARRY WONG RESOURCES: Start the Year Right with Wong!

From Graduation to Teaching

Finishing an undergraduate degree in education can be a daunting task. You typically spend four years learning, or hoping to learn, what you’ll need to know about teaching. Then, you get your first job teaching, and you find that you really weren’t prepared at all. This article is intended to immerse you in the world of elementary education, realistically, factually, and without the impractical and philosophical rhetoric that can be the mainstay of so many colleges.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably received your first teaching position, or you’re new to the teaching profession. You may be asking yourself a lot of questions. The first day of school is so important, and you’ll need to spend time preparing for it. Unfortunately, many new elementary teachers tend to spend an inordinate amount of time, in the days before the first day of school, working on bulletin boards and other colorful displays. While image is important, this shouldn’t be your focus. Students do learn from bulletin boards and displays, but they tend to learn far more from a good lesson. Aesthetically pleasing bulletin boards and displays do not take the place of good teaching, and in fact, they often distract students from important tasks. Keep bulletin boards simple, sticking to two or three colors. Spend enough time to make sure that your classroom looks organized, uncluttered, and academic. Don’t overdo it! Most administrators, parents, and other teachers are looking for substance over appearance. Your primary focus should be on content, procedures, and rules.


Before the first day of school, you’ll need to determine your basic procedures. How will a student ask a question? Will they raise their hand or just come up to your desk? When a student needs to get a drink, will they just get out of their seat and do it, or will they have to attain permission first? Procedures ensure order. Order is necessary for good instruction. Consequently, you’ll need to make sure you have addressed the following procedures, and any other procedures unique to your classroom or school, before the first day of school:

  • getting the teacher’s attention
  • entering the classroom
  • lunch count
  • turning in assignments
  • restroom use
  • emergency drills
  • student dismissal
  • student headings on assignments
  • using the drinking fountain or water bottle
  • backpack procedures

Be consistent about these procedures, and make sure they are either posted in the class or that students have access to a list of all of your procedures. Going over the procedures once won’t be enough. Students will need to be consistently reminded, and that’s going to be one of your biggest tasks in the first few days of school. Remember that the ground work you do here will result in far fewer difficulties throughout the rest of the year. It’s always easier to back off after being too strict than it is to try to regain control after it’s lost.



Many new teachers feel that they can develop rules, procedures, and even consequences with their class. Does your school develop its school rules this way?  This educational philosophy sounds great on paper, and it may even be effective for some teachers. Unfortunately, most teachers try this only once, and these teachers are often viewed as being naïve or unprepared by other teachers and even administration. Instead, prepare rules and procedures in advance. Students respond well to authority. You are the leader. Act like one, and students will follow.

As with procedures, you’ll need to post, or make available, a brief list of rules that must be followed at all times. Typically, this list will contain about five rules. It may, however, have as many as you would like. One of my colleagues, a highly successful veteran, used to have only one rule posted in her class, “Be nice, and work.” This worked for her, but I wouldn’t recommend it for most new teachers. A typical list of rules might include:

  • Raise your hand before speaking.
  • Complete all work on time.
  • Always be respectful of others.
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  • Follow directions the first time they are given.

There are many different classroom management programs that can be used when students break the rules. Before buying into any of these programs, speak with your mentor teacher, administrator, or colleagues to determine what is deemed appropriate for your school. Discipline and what is considered appropriate varies dramatically from school to school. Ultimately, every effective classroom management system consists of rules, consequences/rewards, and consistentcy.


This is the biggest area where you can make your class successful. Engaged students are less disruptive and less apt to misbehave. Most new teachers fail to focus on instruction as a means to better classroom behavior. Spend your time here, before school starts, and you’ll be better off in the long run. Spend time reviewing the texts before school starts, and speak with colleagues about lessons and lesson plan formats. In college, students are taught to prepare lesson plans that are often several pages long. In the real world, you would never have time to do this for every lesson. Before spending a lot of time working on lesson plans, make sure you know what your principal is looking for. Do they want a specific format? How detailed should the plans be? These are questions you need to ask your mentor teacher or administrator. Regardless of the answer, remember that the best behaved classes tend to be the classes that are learning the most. These students have procedures, rules, and engaging instruction. I’m sure that you have heard somebody say, “The best offense is a good defense.” In education, the best lessons defend against misbehavior.

Good luck!



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