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New Teacher Series Part 3: A "Lucky 13" List of Things to Remember

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Why did any of us decide to join the education profession? The bigger picture of that “why” guides our journey, but it is also important to remember some of the little details that help teachers to become and remain successful from day to day. This final installment of the “New Teacher” series (which also comes in handy regardless of how many years in education happen to be under anyone’s belt) delves into the nitty-gritty minutiae that we often forget about as the hectic pace of each school year gets underway. But don’t worry. The list below has everyone covered!

  1. Do dry runs with all the tech (especially new platforms or devices) in advance. As we know, internet connections fail us. Platforms go down. Apps crash. Smartboard screens fuzz out. And even without these frequent interruptions to well thought-out plans, our own human error can get in the way of success. To guard against last-minute surprises, test out technology before it’s needed and iron out any kinks. 

  2. Schedule “you” time at work and stick to it. No, this isn’t necessarily about personal time, though everyone needs some of that each day. This is about blocking out a portion of each day to get work done without interruption (no, that’s not a joke). For me, that is always early in the morning when people are usually not yet awake to interrupt, much less at work. Others prefer the quiet of a building after school. Either way, schedule the time and do not violate it for anything but the direst of situations. 

  3. Record all foreseeable disruptions to instruction on the calendar. Yes, instruction will be interrupted mercilessly and without warning, but there are also days and events that are shared well in advance that can be taken into consideration. Before the year gets rolling, put every scheduled interruption into a lesson planner or professional calendar to account for the lost instructional time. 

  4. Make teacher friends. It might be cliche, but you’ve gotta have friends. In teaching, working in isolation is simply bad practice. We also need to spend time problem-solving (and occasionally venting) with colleagues who have positive, solutions-oriented perspectives. Without that safe space to express ideas, teaching life gets lonely, and fast. 

  5. Keep a running list of questions (and answers). Especially early in our careers, or perhaps when transferring to a new school or district, we have so many questions. Keeping them in one place and recording the answers for later use (because yes, we do forget from year to year) is just a smart way to keep track of what we’re learning. Using an online document and bookmarking it for quick reference can be particularly helpful in this case.

  6. Check your main office mailbox now and then. The idea of “snail mail” is becoming increasingly irrelevant, but we still get important information in physical mailboxes once in a while. In particular, school administrators or other building leaders like to leave messages (and even better, treats or other goodies) in main office mailboxes, so give it a check at least once a week. 

  7. Respond to parents and students within 24-48 hours (ahem, sooner if possible). Nobody likes to be left hanging, and for teachers, we dislike the drama that sometimes comes from parent or student complaints. To stay on top of communications and send a genuine message of caring, respond to emails or calls promptly. Students deserve a lightning-quick response, and as partners in student advocacy, parents also warrant a high level of attention even when they are not expressing their needs as productively as they could.

  8. Do not use a personal number or email address to contact parents or students. There are plenty of ways to reach parents without divulging personal information, including a voice or text-type feature that accompanies many professional email accounts. Rule of thumb: keep any cell phone numbers private. We need that separation between work and home. 

  9. If possible, set up the classroom for the next day in advance. To avoid that frantic feeling that accompanies rushing into work in the morning amid traffic jams or other mishaps (spilled coffee, jammed copiers, you name it), set up the classroom the day before if such a thing is possible. If a space is shared, having materials at the ready on a moving cart is the next-best option to cutting down on morning chaos.

  10. Have a backup plan for when the WiFi crashes – and it will. Ideally, we can instruct a lesson in multiple modalities. If the internet crashes, having an old-school backup plan is always a good idea. Otherwise, the lesson could come to a crashing halt, and that is hardly a workable strategy. 

  11. Start a classroom library or resource corner. When students are finished with an activity, they often begin to distract others around them who need the time to work. Being proactive with some options to occupy them is a wise move. Establishing a small library with a selection of readings or activities in a corner of the room gives those who finish early a place to quietly engage with a choice of materials, and it also eases the urge to walk around and bother classmates.

  12. Be a lifeline… When and where you can be, support colleagues and students who are struggling. Everyone has hard days, and you will have your turn at needing someone’s help. 

  13. …but put on your own oxygen mask first. As much as we want to help others (after all, we’re educators), some days we need to attend to our own well-being first. That means not becoming mired in needless negativity, knowing when to step away from a situation that is toxic, and having the strength to advocate for what is needed. 

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Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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