The first year of teaching is intense. From that day in the summer when you begin wondering if it’s OK to call your assistant principal and request to get into your classroom, to the exhausted finale when you tearfully say goodbye to your students, so much of YOU goes into your work.
While the ups and downs were of rollercoaster quality, I still think my first year of teaching was one of my best, and I bet yours will be too. You have so much to offer – not just a passion for the profession and all the strategies you have been studying for years, but also the ability to connect with students closely. After all, you were just a student, and you will recognize yourself in them more in your first years than later on.
Everything I talk about on this website and in this podcast can apply to your work in the classroom, my friend, no creative strategy is out of your reach. But in this podcast episode, I wanted to narrow specifically in on some of the small tweaks you can make in the first year that will make your overall experience as a teacher a little easier. I invited Kristy Avis to share her ideas with you because I like her proactive approach to the first year, and I think you will too.
Her advice to find a mentor, build clear routines into your classroom, avoid faculty drama, find time for exercise, give yourself easy classroom wins when you are overwhelmed, and never stop believing in your ideas and sharing them in team meetings, all resonate with me.
Whether you’re a new teacher or not, I think you will find some helpful ideas in making this year less stressful, more structured, and more positive in this interview. You can listen below, or on iTunes, Blubrry, or Stitcher. Or read on for the written highlights.
In case you’re not in the mood to listen, I’ve outlined Kristy’s main points below. Bottom line, this episode is about small things you can do to create a smoother and more positive year for yourself. Dive in below for more details.
One simple step to up your lesson planning game…
“New teachers need to take the stress off and realize they are going to be great.” -KA
Become very fluent in what your students really need to learn, based on the standards or main curriculum elements that have been given to you. You will feel confident in designing your lessons when you really know what students need to know when they leave your classroom, says Kristy.
Make your life easier with simple routines…
Explicitly teach the routines that matter to you in the first few weeks of school. It’s easy to think these things will just fall into place, but if classroom management is an issue at all in your school, it’s helpful to really lay out what you want students to do in different situations.
Examples of routines you might want students to know early on:
- Material Managers for passing out handouts, art supplies, tech, etc. (Kristy always uses these)
- What system you use for taking attendance and what students do while you are taking attendance
- How and where to turn in work
- What independent reading time will be like
- What to do when they first arrive in class (bellringers, journaling, picking up graded work, etc.)
- What to do when they miss a class (and it’s not come up to you in the first five minutes of class and ask what they missed!)
Eliminate students’ social anxiety with seating charts…
“Flexible seating is all the rage, and I definitely do some of that, and there definitely is time for that…” -KA
Seating charts can help with learning names early on. They can also help you make sure you give preferential seating as required for students with an IEP. It also, vitally, helps you and your students avoid the social angst that can come with the old “where to sit?” question. Using seating charts at least some of the time can give your classroom a little more structure and security for everyone.
“I think it’s really important that new teachers value themselves and value the ideas they bring to the table.” -KA
Be confident, new teachers! Bring your ideas to the table when you meet with your grade level or curriculum design team and don’t be afraid to share them. Veteran teachers want to hear what you have to say, and want to hear what you have been learning in school. Just share in a way that doesn’t discount what others have done for many years…
“I talked to teachers that were teaching different grade levels and they had been teaching for a very long time…. they had seen it all and they had done it all and they had great suggestions.” -KA
A mentorship program is ideal, but if you don’t have a strong link with the mentor assigned to you or your school doesn’t have one, look for someone in your building that you admire. Reach out to veterans and ask for help and advice. Or pop into a Facebook group or into the Instagram teacher community to find mentorship and support.
When you get sick, stay home…
“I promise you your class will still be there. The children are not going to go anywhere.” -KA
When you’re sick, stay home! Prepare some sub plans in a clearly labeled binder that you can keep in your room so that if you are unexpectedly sick you can just e-mail in for someone to pull one of those plans and teach it. If you come to work sick, you are likely to get sicker (and maybe give everyone in your class your illness).
Don’t let faculty drama poison your work…
“Excuse yourself from the negative conversation. You do not want to be associated with any sort of workplace gossip or negative talk. And it’s also really bad for your mental health.” -KA
Practice changing the subject when a conversation gets negative. Avoid the zones where negativity is breeding – certain times by the photocopier, certain lunch hangouts, etc. Just steer clear of the drama!
When you feel overwhelmed in class…
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I would make a list.” -KA
Write out all the things you feel you need to get to, then you can stop carrying it all in your head and worrying that you might forget something. Cross things off as you finish them.
Then choose an easy win for class, an engaging lesson that is low stress for you and highly interesting for the students. When you choose something that’s relaxing for you, you can have some calm time in class and don’t end up with a fresh bunch of grading.
When you feel overwhelmed even after work (which you will sometimes)…
“The teachers that take time out of their day, whether it’s to go to yoga or to do an online fitness class, they feel better.” -KA
Exercise! Find the time, because it makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter what you do, just carve out those few minutes a day or a week to focus on your own health and happiness.
Connect with Kristy Avis, of 2 Peas and a Dog
Kristy just finished her eleventh year teaching middle school ELA students in Canada. She co-hosts a popular Twitter chat and Facebook group called “2ndary ELA,” runs the blog “2 Peas and a Dog,” and of course, finds time to play with her three dogs.
Looking for a little boost when it comes to your planning this year? I made you something! Simplify the syllabus creation process with these fun editable syllabus templates. The categories and layout are all set, just adjust the type inside each box and add your own photo and you are good to go.