The First-Year Teacher’s Guide to Preparing for the School Year

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So, you submitted your teacher resume, received an offer, and your first day on the job is only months away. Congratulations! These summer months are perfect for finding ways to address common challenges teachers face during their first year.

Many young teachers move into their first classroom and feel unequipped to handle all the unexpected challenges, they may even feel as confused and out of their depth as a new student.[10] But thankfully, every first-year teacher has the power to make their first year great. With a little summer preparation and guidance from more experienced teachers, even the most anxious first-time teachers can feel confident on their first day of school and throughout the year.

Read on to discover ways you can successfully make the leap from student to teacher and how veteran teachers can help you every step of the way.

Back to School Can Be Daunting for a First-Year Teacher

While they’re still in college, student teachers often hold an unrealistic optimism about how their first year will go, which can make any setbacks seem especially discouraging.[19] First-year teacher struggles can range from wondering how to make a lesson plan to dealing with classroom behavior issues or providing resources for at-risk students. Even the most thorough college education programs can’t prepare teachers for everything they’ll face during their first year.

Overall, the eight most common issues that first-year teachers face, as reported by the American Educational Research Association, are: [13]

  • Classroom discipline
  • Motivating students
  • Dealing with individual student misbehavior
  • Assessing students’ work
  • Maintaining parent-teacher relationships
  • Organizing classwork
  • Working with insufficient resources
  • Supporting students with personal issues

Schools don’t always provide a voice for a new teacher’s hopes or concerns, which can make them feel incompetent and alone when things don’t go as planned.[18] But these first weeks of school are critical for a first-year teacher’s self-esteem and well-being for the rest of the year.[3]

Young teachers are more than capable of starting off on the right foot if they prepare over the summer. But even that can be daunting. Because very few educators have access to specialized teacher preparation programs, getting ready for school over summer break often falls on a first-year teacher’s shoulders alone.

However, if they know where to look for it, help for teachers is always available. Use the following strategies and tips for new teachers to prepare yourself for a fulfilling and successful first day of school.

How to Transition from Student Teacher to First-Year Educator

As you prepare for the upcoming school year this summer, try these first-year teacher tips and techniques to make your first weeks of school as stress-free as possible. Organization can go a long way in helping you feel ready for a successful year. Begin decorating your classroom, preparing syllabi, and creating lesson plans or topic outlines as soon as you can.[2]

The earlier that you have the essentials ready, the less pressure you’ll feel as the first day of school draws near. And as unexpected setbacks arise, don’t let feelings of incompetence or expectations that you already have to be an expert get to you.[10] Every teacher makes mistakes during their first year, and they can be an excellent opportunity to learn and mature.

Although you may not officially meet your fellow teachers until a few days or weeks before school, try to connect with them as early as you can. Inclusion and acceptance from colleagues and supervisors are some of the strongest factors that predict how a new teacher will do during their first year.[16] Ask your supervisors if they hold any faculty events over the summer or if you can have your colleagues’ contact information to start getting to know them.

If you need help—either during the summer or the first few weeks of school—you can always talk to your teaching peers or colleagues.[3] Other educators often have advice for new teachers and can suggest issues that you might not have considered preparing for. Continue seeking advice and support as you enter the school year. If a student in your class has a learning disability that you’re not experienced with, for example, you could talk to administration or veteran teachers for advice.[15]

Finally, make time for self-care both over the summer and throughout your first year of school.[14] Young teachers are particularly vulnerable to stress and burnout since they are facing so many challenges for the first time.[14] If you can learn how to take care of your well-being over the summer and find out which stress management strategies work for you, you can keep them in mind during overwhelming moments as a teacher.

Why a Mentor Teacher Can Make a Difference to Younger Colleagues

The most common challenge first-year teachers experience is a lack of support.[5] For this reason, mentorships with veteran educators can help ease the transition to full-time teaching and keep young teachers from feeling overwhelmed.[8] Experienced teachers can help new teachers cope with challenges they may not have anticipated while planning for their first year. Plus, mentorships can shape a new teacher’s mindset and help them put everything they learned in college to practical use.[6]

Teacher turnover, often due to high rates of burnout, is one of the most pressing challenges facing the educational field. But mentoring programs can act as a buffer against burnout and improve teacher retention. In one study, 96% of teachers who had mentors stayed at their job and cited the emotional support their mentors provided as particularly helpful.[12]

To maximize these benefits, principals could create teacher mentorship programs in their schools.[7] They could also include specific programs designed to teach important skills to first-year teachers.[3] Access to advice for teachers and by teachers can help young educators overcome any nervousness they feel about approaching their colleagues. But even if no such programs are available for a first-time teacher, many veteran teachers are happy to help their new colleagues learn the ropes.

Here are a few examples of questions you could ask a mentor teacher:

  • What do you wish you knew during your first year of teaching?
  • How can I be a better mentor for my students?
  • I’m struggling with a specific challenge in my class. Could you give me some advice on how you would handle it? [20]
  • What do you see as my strengths and weaknesses? How could I improve?
  • How can I avoid getting burned out and balance school and home life? [21]

It’s crucial, however, to choose a mentor that you mesh with, as poor mentors can actually contribute to early burnout and a higher turnover rate among young teachers.[9] If you’ve found a mentor but have a hard time clicking with them, try asking advice from other colleagues in your school until you find a mentor who better understands you.

Back to School Tips for First-Time Teachers

Back to school preparation is a challenge for all educators, but first-year teachers in particular sometimes don’t know where to begin. Luckily, by working on the essentials over the summer, first-year teachers can ready themselves for a successful school year.

Use these five back to school hacks to make the most of your first year of teaching:

  • As you and your colleagues get your classrooms ready for school, take pictures of anything you see in a veteran teacher’s room that you like. The more photo references you have for your own classroom, the more ideas you’ll be able to incorporate.[1]
  • It’s common for first-year teachers to use rewards or punishments as motivation for their students. Instead, try emphasizing relevance or intrinsic rewards like learning or excitement, as both are proven more effective.[11]
  • Getting to know your colleagues can be scary when you’re starting at a new school. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and ask for help.[17]
  • Your first year will, in many ways, be a year of experimentation. Try a variety of teaching techniques with your students to see what does and doesn’t work for you.[4]
  • Take time for reflection every day through journaling or mindful meditation. Not only is this an excellent self-care strategy, but reflecting can help you learn from your teaching experiences and plan for upcoming events.[17]

Source:

1. Connell, G. Our 30 Best Tips for Student Teachers. Retrieved from scholastic.com: “https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/student_teacher_tips.pdf.

2. Freehold Regional High School District. First-Year Teacher Checklist & Reminders. Retrieved from frhsd.com: https://www.frhsd.com/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=796&dataid=1032&FileName=First-Year%20Teacher%20Checklist.pdf.

3. Michigan State University. Why You Need to Succeed on the First Days of School. Retrieved from msu.edu: https://msu.edu/~parker13/science08/TE802/802files/Wong&Wong-1.pdf.

4. Cheney, C.O., Krajewski, J., and Combs, M. Understanding the First Year Teacher: Implications for Induction Programs. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, January 1992, 15(1).

5. Ye, W., Song, X., and Li, F. Feedback from first-year teachers: rethinking the transfer problem in China. Teachers and Teaching, March 2018, 24(5), pp. 500-519.

6. Carver, C.L., and Katz, D.S. Teaching at the Boundary of Acceptable Practice: What is a New Teacher Mentor to Do? Journal of Teacher Education, November 2004, 55(5), pp. 449-462.

7. Ganser, T. The Principal as New Teacher Mentor. Journal of Staff Development, 2001, 22(1), pp. 39-41.

8. Gratch, A. Beginning Teacher and Mentor Relationships. Journal of Teacher Education, May 1998, 49(3), pp. 220-227.

9. Sudzina, M., Giebelhaus, C., and Coolican, M. Mentor or Tormentor: The Role of the Cooperating Teacher in Student Teacher Success or Failure. Action in Teacher Education, 1997, 18(4), pp. 23-35.

10. Volkmann, M.J., and Anderson, M.A. Creating professional identity: Dilemmas and metaphors of a first‐year chemistry teacher. Science Education, June 1998, 82(3), pp. 293-310.

11. Newby, T.J. Classroom motivation: Strategies of first-year teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1991, 83(2), pp. 195-200.

12. Odell, S.J., and Ferraro, D.P. Teacher Mentoring and Teacher Retention. Journal of Teacher Education, May 1992, 43(3), pp. 200-204.

13. Veenman, S. Perceived Problems of Beginning Teachers. Review of Educational Research, June 1984, 54(2), pp. 143-178.

14. Fimian, M.J., and Blanton, L.P. Stress, burnout, and role problems among teacher trainees and first-year teachers. Journal of Occupational Behavior, April 1987, 8(2), pp. 157-165.

15. Busch, T.W., Pederson, K., and Espin, C.A. Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities: Perceptions of a First-Year Teacher. The Journal of Special Education, July 2001, 35(2), pp.92-99.

16. Rust, F.O. The first year of teaching: It’s not what they expected. Teaching and Teacher Education, March 1994, 10(2), pp. 205-217.

17. Thompson, L. 5 Tips For First-Year Teachers. Retrieved from neatoday.org: http://neatoday.org/new-educators/5-tips-for-first-year-teachers/.

18. Concordia University. Examining transition from student to teacher. Retrieved from sciencedaily.com: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121108181725.htm.

19. Weinstein, C.S. Preservice teachers’ expectations about the first year of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 1988, 4(1), pp. 31-40.

20. Long, C. Make the Most of Your Mentor. Retrieved from nea.org: http://www.nea.org/home/38344.htm.

21. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Questions to Ask a Mentor and Tips for a Successful Mentoring Session. Retrieved from uschamberfoundation.org: https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/questions-ask-mentor-and-tips-successful-mentoring-session.

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