Welcome to the first in our series of blog posts to support beginning teachers. The following tips for beginning teachers have been sourced from teachers in New Zealand, Australia and around the world. I surveyed teachers and asked them a simple question: What do you wish you knew when you were starting teaching? They had a lot to share!
Setting Up Your First Class
Here are the crowd-sourced top ten tips for setting up your first class.
- Do some art on the first day/days to get kids work up on the walls as soon as possible. This will brighten up the walls and give students ownership of their classroom space.
- Start collecting storage containers now! You can find cheap storage containers from $2 shops, empty journal boxes from the resource room, and larger boxes from stores like K Mart and The Warehouse. Do not feel the pressure for every container to be the same colour to match a Pinterest-worthy colour scheme. If it can store something, grab it!
- Be flexible with your plan for the first week, and specifically the first day! What you think will take ten minutes could take much more, or much less. It is always good to have a backup activity ready to go. Our Creative Thinking Cards are great when you have a spare 5-10 minutes to use up.
- Spend the first few days discussing your classroom culture with your students. Focus on what students DO in your class and not what they DON’T do – this keeps the discussion positive and uplifting. For example, “In Room Three, we use our manners.” Build lots of kindness, gratitude and growth mindset into your class culture.
- Think of a way to display this classroom agreement e.g. a treaty that all students sign is a popular option. This way, you can refer back to the classroom culture throughout the year when needed. Write this in kids-speak so it is relevant and relatable.
- Spend time getting to know your students by taking part in team-building games and ice-breakers. This can be a great opportunity to see how students deal with winning and losing. You can find our Team Building Activities here.
- Have high expectations from day one. This goes for everything from how you expect them to set out their writing in their books to how you want them to line up and walk around the school.
- Start the year with a great read aloud. Reading to your students is an important part of your reading program, and it is important to show the value you place in it from day one. Show your personality by acting out different parts and using different voices. Yes, you may feel a little silly, but if the students seeing you feeling comfortable this will rub off on them.
- Get your students writing every day, even during the first week! See my blog post on daily writing to see how important this is, and how easy it can be.
- By all means, read up about your students using the information provided by previous teachers, but also give them a fresh start in your classroom. They deserve it.
As well as the ideas above, I found some great suggestions that fit into three broad themes: building relationships, asking for help and teacher self care. I’ve also added my thoughts and tips!
Building Relationships Is Key
Christy from Exceptional Thinkers: I wish I’d known to make friends with the school secretaries and custodians, they hold the real power in a school!
Melina from Galarious Goods: I wish I’d known more about collaborating and communicating with parents. We didn’t have the best communication tools available when I started, but it would have meant a lot to them to get little notes home or positive phone calls like a later principal had us making.
Maree from Aussie Waves: I wish I’d known that some kids resisted learning because of their nature, experiences, families etc. I went in fairly naive expecting them to be on already on board. I learned that I needed different approaches, topics, expectations. I needed to listen because they often told me what they needed, but I had to stop and hear.
My thoughts: Never underestimate the power of building relationships with your students. Also, relationships with colleagues, and relationship with parents/caregivers. They may not have had a positive experience at school, they may be used to only hearing negative things about their child. Watch their defences come down when you greet them with an encouraging, positive statement about their child.
My tip: Write a letter to your students introducing yourself and mail it to them before school begins – not a personal letter to each student, but one that works for all of them! Add a few humorous facts about yourself and some clues about what the first week will bring. This extra effort will speak volumes to parents and caregivers and help calm any holiday nerves that your students may have.
You’re Going To Need To Ask for Help, and That’s OK.
Impact Teachers explain: “One of the best things you can learn as a new teacher is to seek help from veteran teachers who have been in the profession for a number of years. Learning from experienced staff may give you a little more confidence than walking into a new environment without any help or guidance.”
Paula Ryan: It can be easy to assume that no one is there to help you, but we are all just trying to stop the juggling balls from spilling onto the ground. Be brave enough to ask for help. If others haven’t noticed you need it, it is probably because they are stressing out and need to ask for help, too!
Megan from Miss P’s Style: Ask. The worst they (parents, admin, secretaries, custodial staff, district) can say is no. But if you don’t ask, you will never know! One would be surprised at how many “yes” responses you can actually get! Just ask!
My thoughts: As I explained in my recent blog post, I struggled for a long time with feelings of inadequacy as a classroom teacher. I was worried that one day I would be found out as a fraud or a fake, and that stopped me from asking for help. I learned the long, slow way that asking for help is necessary. It really is a must. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher; it makes you a great teacher. All teachers should be asking questions, seeking clarification, and modelling life-long learning. Read more about my journey with imposter syndrome here.
My tip: Find your teacher BFF. We all need someone we can feel comfortable to debrief with. Don’t have one? Join my Facebook group that I’ve set up with my teacher-friend Melina. It is a safe space for teachers to celebrate their successes and ask for help.
Teacher Self Care is Not Optional
Ann Maxwell: I wish I’d known that there would always be something else to do in teaching. Sometimes good enough has to be good enough. Our own well being is important!
Megan from Miss P’s Style: I wish I’d known how to properly execute the much needed work-life balance. Even if you stay until 8pm, you still have a mega long to-do list so just leave at a reasonable time to prevent burnout- the list will be there the next day!
Maria Revell: I wish I’d known that I would have to become comfortable with the feeling of never getting it 100% right. There will always be something to do better. If I ever get to the point where I think I’ve got everything sorted, that is the day to get out of teaching because I would have stopped being reflective. It’s made me a lot less anxious and hopefully, that will help me make more objective decisions and less self-deprecating judgements.
My thoughts: Learn the power of No. Of course, you should be a team player, but you do not need to do everything. If your car is running on empty, it eventually stops. The same goes if you are running on empty – you are no good to anyone. I’ll add here that this is advice I need to take myself!
My tip: Schedule in your self-care. I got this tip from Kiah – The Kiwi Teacher. She recommends scheduling self-care appointments into your calendar. If you know you often feel drained at the end of the term, book in a massage for the last week of the term. The same goes for getting your nails done, a movie date or whatever else takes your fancy. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
I hope you find these tips useful. Share your own tips in the comments!
Some Useful Resources for the Start of the Year
Back to School Starter Kit
Our Back to School Starter Kit contains everything you need to get your classroom set up and ready for day one. This resource includes classroom decor and display materials, literacy and social studies activities, early finishers and team building activities, and more!
Print, photocopy and laminate these resources and then put your feet up knowing you are ready for day one! You’ll also save with our generous discount (25% off!). See more here.
Also in our Beginning Teacher blog series
Have you seen our Reading Membership?
Onwards and upwards,