Your First Year of Teaching
What I Didn’t Learn in College…and Wish I Had!
By Kristen Loschert
Let’s face it, we all have those moments in life when we lament, “If someone had only told me!” But for a beginning teacher, knowing what to expect can make or break that first day in the classroom. Tomorrow’s Teachers asked veteran NEA members what they wish someone had told them before they started teaching. We collected their advice on everything from classroom management to communicating with parents to keeping your sanity after a long day. You may not have their years of experience just yet, but you can have their tips and tricks to start your career on the right track. (We won’t tell your students you’re a newbie!)
What do you wish you had known when you first started teaching?
“No matter how careful you are, there is always room to be even more careful. Keeping the paper trail is probably the best way I know of to C-Y-A.” Dan Bernard, (pictured) substitute teacher, New York
“How to care about my students without letting their home and family problems tear me up inside.” Christine Bernard, special education teacher, New York
“I wish I had known how much of my own money I would spend to teach my class. I probably spend between $500 and $600 a year on things from learning games to cookies.” Caryl Crowell, kindergarten teacher, California
What is your best classroom management strategy?
“Keep them busy. Don’t give them too much down time... . You need to let them know who is the boss from the beginning and that’s hard when you are 22 and they are 18. But if you start out as the buddy it won’t work.” Rita Wells, orchestra teacher, Montana
“Consistency, consistency, consistency. Make yourself so consistent that your students can predict with 100 percent certainty how you will react to any situation.” Christine Bernard, special education teacher, New York
“I build teams and I make them work together to get rewards as a team. I have marble jars and they collect marbles for positive behavior. The team with the most marbles at the end of the week gets to go to my treasure box.” Caryl Crowell, (pictured) kindergarten teacher, California
How do you connect with parents?
“I send home a weekly newsletter and when I need to get something out quickly I use e-mail.” Caryl Crowell, kindergarten teacher, California
“I send daily [student] schedule sheets home for parents to sign each night. [The sheet] has space where I can write a short note and space for parents to write notes back to me.” Christine Bernard, (pictured) special education teacher, New York
What keeps you energized?
“Doing something you are passionate about that is outside of work. It’s therapeutic.” Dan Bernard, substitute teacher, New York
“I like it when I see the kids getting it. I love inventing ways of giving the same information differently.” Natashia Ogunyemi, fourth-grade teacher, Louisiana
“I hold on to memories of students who’ve made surprising gains during the time they spent in my classroom.” Christine Bernard, special education teacher, New York
“Knowing I’m doing my job to the best of my ability and seeing the progress the kids are making is enough to keep me going.” Caryl Crowell, kindergarten teacher, California
What is the best advice you ever received from a fellow teacher?
“Tomorrow is always another day. If something doesn’t go your way just get up and keep going the next day.” Rita Wells, (pictured) orchestra teacher, Montana
“Trust yourself.” Dan Bernard, substitute teacher, New York
“Don’t spend a lot of time and money making fancy bulletin boards. Use your students’ work to decorate your room. Better yet, put the students in charge of creating the bulletin boards. Taking ownership of something can give them a great sense of accomplishment and pride.” Christine Bernard, special education teacher, New York
“Be meticulous about maintaining student development notes.” Natashia Ogunyemi, fourth-grade teacher, Louisiana
“When you are putting yourself out there and always want to do more, it’s good to remember that you only can do so much.” Caryl Crowell, kindergarten teacher, California
What do you want future teachers to know?
“Establish a friendship with at least one or two colleagues. That relationship will help you maintain your sanity.” Natashia Ogunyemi, (pictured) fourth-grade teacher, Louisiana
“Think about what they post on Facebook or other social networks. Pictures and negative comments about parents, kids, and administration could come back to haunt you.” Nancy Malsom, middle school inclusion teacher, Iowa
“Make friends with your school’s secretary, the custodian, and the lunch ladies. These support staff are extremely important in how the school runs. They hold a deep reserve of information and are a great help, especially to new teachers.” Christine Bernard, special education teacher, New York