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Advice for First-Year Teachers From the 'Sophomores' Who Survived Last Year


Education World asked the "sophomores" who faced -- and survived -- that dreaded first year to reflect on their successes and failures. First-year teachers, here is their best advice for getting through it.

There's no doubt about it. Beginning the school year in a strange environment filled with new faces, unfamiliar procedures, and unknown pitfalls can be a scary prospect. You're the teacher, however, and you can "never let 'em see you sweat."

To help you stay cool and dry in the coming year, Education World asked the "sophomores" who faced -- and survived -- that dreaded first year last year to reflect on their successes and failures. They offered their best advice for getting through it.

What advice did those teachers offer? From North Carolina to Arizona, from Mississippi to Wisconsin, the "grizzled veterans" agreed on several essential points:

  • Take charge. Wisconsin teacher Dawn Schurman recommended "having a clear discipline plan set up, with both rewards and consequences. Explain it to the kids on day 1 and review throughout the first week. In addition, I'm very glad that I sent home a copy of the discipline plan. I asked parents to read it with their child and for parents and children to sign and return a contract stating that they agreed to the rules. This has come in handy a few times."
  • Keep students busy and engaged. First-year teacher Jean Federico said "I have one big piece of advice for first-year teachers: Before the first day of school, have plenty of activities prepared for emergency use. I learned the hard way that kids will misbehave if they have nothing to do. A class full of bored kids won't all sit quietly for ten minutes waiting for you to figure out what is next."
  • Get peer support. Retta Threet, a teacher in Sumter, South Carolina, admitted "My biggest mistake was not insisting on a mentor, or at least a peer teacher. If I had it to do again, I would make a good friend whom I could go to for advice."
  • Get parental support. North Carolina teacher Jana Lippe suggested "Use your parents as much as you can. Every time I needed supplies for a celebration, I just sent a note home asking for donations. Every time, the parents came through."
  • Organize yourself. Arizona English teacher Alana Morales advised "Find an organization system that you can live and work with and stick with it. With 120-plus students, it's crucial that you stay organized!"
  • Organize your students. Said Mississippi teacher Lisa Packard "Don't assume they know how to organize themselves, because they don't. Show them how to organize their notebooks and folders. Show them exactly what you want on their papers and homework."
  • Write and reflect. Teacher Mike Powell advised "Start keeping a professional journal. After the course of the year, this journal will allow you to reflect on your professional practices and to witness what is probably going to be enormous personal growth."
  • Have fun. "Do your best and have fun doing it. Once I finally relaxed, I had a great time," said teacher Tracy Keirns.

So, with thanks to Dawn, Jean, Retta, Jana, Alana, Lisa, Tracy, Lew, Mike, and all the other teachers who responded to our request, Education World compiled a list of the 26 top tips for surviving the first year. We call them



  • Admit your mistakes -- and learn from them.
  • Be firm but flexible.
  • Communicate with parents.
  • Develop a homework policy -- and stick to it.
  • Empower your students; don't just lecture to them.
  • Find time to attend after-school events.
  • Get to know all the teachers in your school and make friends with the cooks, custodians, aides, and secretaries.
  • Have the courage to try something else if what you're doing isn't working.
  • Institute a clear discipline policy -- and enforce it consistently.
  • Just listen -- both to what the kids are saying and to what they're not saying.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Learn your school's policies and procedures.
  • Model desired attitudes and behavior.
  • Non carborundum ignorami. (Don't let the imbeciles wear you down.)
  • Overplan.
  • Prepare interesting lessons.
  • Quit worrying and just do your best.
  • Remember that you teach students first, then you teach whatever academic discipline you learned.
  • Stay alert.
  • Take pictures.
  • Understand that the learning process involves everyone -- teachers, students, colleagues, and parents -- and get everyone involved.
  • Volunteer to share projects and ideas, and don't be afraid to ask others to share their ideas with you.
  • Work within your limits.
  • Xpect the unexpected -- and plan for it!
  • Yell if you need support.
  • Zero in on your strengths, not your weaknesses. (Remember -- nobody's perfect!)

Finally, keep in mind the words of Philadelphia teacher Lew Clark: "Have a blast! You are about to begin a remarkable adventure."



Check out some of the sites below for more advice and activities for beginning teachers.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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