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The ABCs for a New Teacher

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas

Nothing can truly prepare a new teacher for the first day in the classroom.

When I found out I was going to be a 5th grade teacher, I couldn’t have been more excited. I spend the entirety of my summer preparing for becoming a new teacher—learning the curriculum, preparing lessons, setting up my classroom, and imagining all the great adventures of my new career. I even dressed the part, investing in a cute, little golden apple collar pin and a handy teacher bag complete with stickers and red pens. I was ready, or so I thought.

Fast forward to 4 p.m. after my first day as a new teacher and boy, was I wrong. I undid my shiny, new pin, picked up my new bag and looked around my classroom breathing a deep sigh—I realized I had much more to learn. Sadly, I must say that my sentiments didn’t change much as the year progressed. While I collected many wonderful memories, there were also several moments of doubt, fear, and an overlying sense of being overwhelmed. I wish I had someone (or something) to help me wade through that first tumultuous year.    

I can feel all the new teachers getting a little nervous reading this. Rest assured, you newbies need not fear going through the same experience. For you (and perhaps those who might need a little reminding), a group of seasoned teachers and I have created the “ABC's of Teaching”—a list compiled of 26 tidbits that I hope will help you prepare for your journey into the unknown jungle we call education.

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  • Admit your mistakes. Don't be afraid to let your students know you have made a mistake—you’re human and it allows them to feel that it’s okay to make some of their own.
  • Believe in yourself and your students. It may take a few trial and error sessions to get things right, but you can do it! Stay positive.
  • Communication is key. Create a safe environment for your students (and parents) to talk to you whether via e-mail, letters, phone calls, etc. It’s important to them know you’re available.
  • Document everything. I know this sounds scary, but when there are disciplinary issues or parental concerns write them down. Keep a running diary of phone or in-person conversations, letters, etc. Print and file e-mails. This benefits everyone.
  • Expect the unexpected. Teaching is full of surprises—you never know what the day will bring.
  • Flexibility is key. Lessons do not always go as planned (even though you spent hours planning them)—fire drills always come at the wrong time, videos don't always play, copiers break down, and so many other things can knock your perfect day off track.
  • Get to know your students, build relationships with them.
  • Have fun and laugh. Learning doesn’t have to be boring.
  • Journal your first year. Some teachers do this for multiple years, some every year. Keep a journal or scrapbook of your experience. It’s wonderful to look back upon and see how much you (and your students) have grown.
  • Keep away from the gossip and drama that often occurs in teacher's lounge or hall. Your school becomes your second home and your co-workers may even become lifelong friends (just be sure to maintain your professionalism when on the clock).
  • Learning never stops just because you are in the front of the room. Start building your personal library with teaching resources and professional development books. Never stop learning new things.
  • Make an effort to know the members of your team beyond the teachers and administration. The school secretary and maintenance crew are your best friends. Treat them well.
  • Never do school work on Sundays. Honestly, I haven't mastered this yet but it is absolutely great advice. Give yourself at least one day off per week.
  • Organization is paramount. From the beginning, set up an organizational system that works for you (i.e. file folders, notebooks, binders, etc.).
  • Plan ahead and plan extra. It is always a good idea to have a plan B, C or D.
  • Quit thinking you have to do it all and you have to do it now. As one teacher once said to me, “Teaching is a big elephant, it's OK to not eat it all in one bite!”
  • Relax, breathe, and enjoy your profession.
  • Stick to your word. Consistency is key when working with children of any age. Students need boundaries and need to know you mean what you say
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel something isn’t quite right with a student or situation, talk to your principal, a fellow teacher or a school counselor. Nine times out of 10, you will be right!
  • Understand teaching has yet to be perfected. I have met many great and wonderful teachers, but not perfect. Everyone experiences ups and downs daily; it is par for the course.
  • Vacations are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family. Focus on these relationships and of course take time for yourself. Believe me, you will miss it when you don't have the time.
  • Welcome each student, parent and faculty member with a smile. I know this can be quite a challenge, especially if you fussed with kids in the car on way to work, but try not to let that affect you once you arrive onto school grounds. Don’t forget to be kind, to smile, to encourage and support your fellow teachers. It makes such a difference.
  • EXercise your right to say no. You do not have to take on anything and everything. It is OK to say no to an extra project or task if you don't have the time or you’re unable to give it your best.
  • You are human. No one is perfect. It is OK to ask for help.
  • Zap any negative thoughts or fears you may have. You CAN do this!

Teaching is a daunting task, but the rewards of knowing you have made a difference in a child's life are so worth the effort. Whether this is your first or 15th year, I hope that these 26 tips can help you treasure every moment more and realize the amazing things you do.