Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tips for New Teachers #EdChat #BackToSchool

The start of the new school year is upon us and it has me thinking about the past 15 years of teaching. I was thinking about all of the things I need to get ready for at the start of school and then I started to think about how many of those have nothing to do with curriculum. These were things I learned from colleagues or on my own over the years. I thought I would share some of these nuggets of information with Internet in the hopes that it will make the start of the school year a bit easier.

These are not in any order of importance, just the order they came to my brain.

1. Get to know the support staff as soon as you can. The secretaries, custodial team, special education support staff, ESL support staff, the cafeteria team, and any others in the building working to support students outside of the traditional classroom environment. You will need to rely on these great people at different times during the year and it is so important to know them by name and have a strong working relationship with them.

2. Find out where the closest bathroom is for staff and students. This might seems a bit silly, but when you only have a very limited window to use the bathroom, you need to judge how much time it will take for you to get there and back before the next class starts. For students, this allows you to know about how long it will take for them to get to the bathroom and back in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes students will want to stretch their legs and take the long way around. If they do this often, have a private conversation about this and see if there are other issues going on there.

3. Never ever discipline a student in front of other students. This is hard because it requires checking emotions at times, but it is so important to make sure these exchanges are in private. I'm still guilty of this once in a while, but I have gotten better over the years. If you need to address an issue with a student, just calmly ask them to see you after class. This prevents a blow up and the student acting out to save face in front of peers.

4. Do not spend the first day of class going over all of the rules. Most of these rules are the same as every class, so they will already have a sense of how class is supposed to work. Instead, spend the first day getting to know your students and letting them get to know a little about you. Play some icebreaker games and just have a relaxed environment. Save the syllabus for day two.

5. Greet the students at the door. No matter what you have going on, get to the door and say hi to each student. This should happen almost every day, but there is always something that will get in the way. Greet them on the way in and try to be at the door when it is time to go. These little acts will go a long way with students, especially those that feel like they do not matter in school.

6. Make time for lunch with your staff. This is one of the biggest things I missed my first year. I felt like I had to work, work, work, to stay afloat my first year, I missed building relationships with my peers. Hanging around adults after teaching teens or children half the day is a great breath of fresh air. It is also a wonderful time to pick their brain and ask for any tips or tricks they might have. If you do not connect at lunch, you will find that there is little time do so the rest of the day.

7. Become best friends with your school librarian. They are one of the most important humans in the building. They are usually in charge of the computer labs, the Makerspace, and other odds and ends. They can help you set up assignments and provide support for projects. The librarian needs to be a person you can quickly email if you are in a research jam with your students. Bring them coffee, bagels, donuts, and the like to make sure they are always happy and ready to help.

8. Let the students choose their seats. This is one that will get some push back from people and I they have great points, but I love letting the kids sit where they want. The rule I have is that they choose first and, if needed, I will choose second. There will always be a couple of kids that need to be relocated after a few weeks, but the class is much nicer when they can sit by friends. It might be tough to get to know all of their names because they are not sitting by last name, but it is worth it in the long run.

9. It's ok to take your kids outside of the classroom. I was always so afraid to leave my room and go to the hallway or outside for a class period. Nobody every said I could not, but nobody ever said I could. Once I build up the confidence, I took my kids around the building to explore and see different things. Sometimes, I just wanted a change of scenery. Leave a note on the door and head out with the class. The students will love the change of pace.

10. Make sure you check all websites you want to use at school before using them with students. There is nothing worse than getting to school and finding out a website is blocked. Test them at school and find out the process to get something unblocked as soon as you can. Sometimes the block is an accident and other times it is because nobody has ever used that site and it is labeled something funny that gets it blocked. I've learned this the hard way, so please test at school.

11. Find out who the All-Star Sub is in the building. Every building or district has a few subs that everyone knows is the best. They can be trusted to do everything on your sub plans. Ask a few people and they will give you the name(s). Keep there info saved in your phone so you can reach out if you need a sub last minute or months in advance. Having a good sub can save you stress while you are out.

12. Find out where you get your supplies for the classroom. Supplies might be limited, but they are there. Sometimes we just buy what we see when we are out, but school has them in a closet somewhere. Also, save receipts for stuff that you buy because you might be able to get paid back!

13. Use your mentor. Most schools will assign a new teacher to a mentor and you need to go to them when you are stuck or have questions. Over the school year, you will find that you will gravitate to another teacher other than your mentor as you learn the personalities of the rest of the staff. This is ok and I think it is good to have a mentor outside of your department as well. They can give a different perspective on how things are in the school.

14. Learn to say no. You will be asked to chaperone every dance, attend every sporting event, be the advisor for many clubs, and you have to know when to say no. It is ok to do extra things and be part of the school. That is important and you should do them as long as it does not take away from needed rest and relaxation that allows you to focus on your craft. I coached and advised during my early years and it was a great way to connect to students outside of the classroom, but there has to be a limit. Saying no does not make you a bad teacher, it can make you a stronger one.

15. Lastly, embrace who you are an translate that into your classroom. Odds are, you were hired because of who you are and what you know. Students will care about who you are in the classroom and can spot a phony a mile away. Be genuine with your students and they will be genuine with you. It took me years to embrace my inner nerd. Once I did, my classes became even better.

These were a bunch of tips that may or may not apply to you. Feel free to share with friends or add any tips you might have in the comment section.

Have a great school year and reach out if you need anything!


  1. I don't teach anymore, and I taught elem school rather than high school (I'm assuming you teach high school), but I appreciate your thoughts. The hardest thing for me was learning the names of 50 little kids the first day!!

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