April 17, 2011

12 Tips for Surviving Your First Year Teaching

If you're a newer visitor to my blog, you should know that my first year teaching (last year) was no picnic.  Let's just say that there were A LOT of tears and a lot of times I considered quitting.  Luckily, I had a lot of wonderful people around me to help me through the year, and I came back this year for Round 2 renewed, refreshed, and with a new perspective.  I've given the First Year a lot of thought, and I've decided that these are the 12 most important things that helped me make it through, or that would have made things easier.  The truth is that so many teachers quit in the first few years, and that doesn't have to be the case.  Teaching is hard, but if you are one of those people with the passion for teaching in your heart, then it is SO worth it. 

*If you like this list, please share it with the young teachers in your life!* 

1. Build a support system for yourself both in and out of school
This was so important for me last year, and continues to be important for me this year.  If you are as fortunate as I was in my first year, you will have a great mentor assigned to you and a couple of really awesome, supportive teammates who make it their business to get you through your year.  I'm not kidding, one morning when I was in tears over how many management issues I was having in my classroom, my teammates came in and helped me rearrange the desks, then covered my class for the first 15 minutes of the day while I collected myself.  It's important also to have other teachers to talk to who KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH!  For me, this was another first year teacher in my building and a friend from college who was also starting out her career.  Our other friends didn't understand why we were so stressed out, and it was therapeutic to be able to talk about what I was going through with someone who was going through the same thing. 

2. Have an outlet to relieve stress that is completely unrelated to teaching
This is something I really wish I had done a better job at last year.  It is easy to become consumed by the job, especially the first year, and I'm sorry to say that I definitely let myself become far too consumed last year.  Make time to work out, play a sport, read, etc. as often as possible.  Burn out is real, and a balance of work and fun is so important.  I am still working on this one.  :)

3. Set a cut-off time for yourself to leave school each night, and STICK TO IT
This is another one that I wish I had done a better job at last year!  While there is so much work to be done as a teacher in general, it is extra overwhelming as a first year teacher.  It's really easy to get caught up and suddenly be the last one in the building...Last year, I stayed at school until 7 or 8 on a nightly basis.  One particularly rotten night, I was at school until 10pm.  I vowed that that would never happen again.  I still have lots to do this year, but now I set a cut-off time for myself.  Pick 1 or 2 days when you're going to stay at school late to copy things or do whatever you need to do, and on the other days, do everything possible to get yourself out of the buildng early.  Trust me when I say that it's good for the soul.

4. Make peace early on with the fact that you will not be able to "do it all" the first year
Oh gosh, this was a tough one for me to learn.  When I realized all of the challenges in my classroom last year, I was overwhelmed.  I had no idea how to help 5th graders who could barely read, unmedicated and out of control ADHD kids, kids with terrible home lives and emotional problems, and kids with no respect for adults.  A life long perfectionist, of course I thought I needed to fix everything and everyone right away.  I also thought I needed to be awesome at teaching every subject right away.  Realistic expectations, right?  Guess how I felt when it turned out I wasn't an immediate rockstar?  Let's just say there were a lot of tears...About two months into the school year, I started adjusting my expectations.  I focused on growing stronger in one area at a time.  First it was management.  Then reading.  Then math.  Then writing...you get the idea.  Am I an expert now?  Nope.  Not even close.  But once I realized that I wasn't going to be amazing at everything right away and started setting smaller goals, it was a lot easier to feel like I was growing and see that we were making progress.

5. Ask for help
And ask again, and again, and again.  The truth is, you're gonna need a lot of it (if your first year is anything like mine, that is)!!  There are resources in your school to help you with difficult children and difficult curriculum--USE THEM!  No one wants to seem like an incompetent idiot their first year, but don't be afraid to ask for help from your principal, social worker, psychologist, reading specialists, special services teachers, teammates, etc.  I would never have made it through last year without the support I received from so many wonderful people!

6. Know your limits
...and respect them.  Maybe don't volunteer to coach a sport or start a club your first year.  Maybe don't sign up for committees.  Rethink the second job.  Remember, it's okay to say no to some things.  It will pay off in terms of  keeping your sanity in tact!!!

7. Celebrate small achievements
This goes both for you and for the kids.  It took me awhile to put things into perspective with my kids.  I had student taught in a fairly affluent elementary school, and starting my job in a low-income school was a reality-check.  When I saw just how academically needy most of my students were, I panicked.  Eventually, though, I realized that while I may not be able to get every kid up to grade level, it is worth celebrating every small step.  It's also worth celebrating YOUR growth as a teacher.  Take a moment to celebrate that you finally have trained your kids to line up appropriately or walk down the hall without talking.  Celebrate that you got through a math lesson without losing your patience (still working on this one... :-/).  Celebrate that you made it through a week without staying past 6.  As new teachers, it's easy to get caught up on the things we still need to improve at.  Take time to appreciate how far you've come.

8. Think of something you loved about the day before leaving school, no matter how small it is
This is one little thing that makes a BIG difference.  It's easy to get caught up in and dwell on the negative things, and there were many days I'd drive home in tears thinking about the challenging students or what had gone wrong in my lessons.  One of my coworkers told me very simply that I need to think about the wonderful students at night, NOT the ones that were draining my life.  While there are good days and bad days, I found it easier to classify good and bad in terms of moments.  There weren't many days that were 100% good, but when I looked for happy moments, it was easier to find them.  Sometimes they were just reading aloud to the class, or how, when my water bottle spilled, one student jumped up, grabbed paper towels, and cleaned it up for me.  Look for a happy moment that reminds you why you're here, and can get you back into school tomorrow.

9. Find something to love about every single kid, no matter how tough that may be
This one pretty much speaks for itself, but I am a firm believer that teaching is an act of love.  We need to love our students, and we need to get them to fall in love with us.  The former makes the latter possible.  

10.  VENT.  But also understand and respect the line between venting and complaining
Venting is important, if only because it preserves your sanity!!  

11. Approach every day as a fresh start, both for yourself and your kids
Lost your patience with a kid yesterday?  Lesson flopped?  Couldn't control your class?  Lucky for you, every day really is a fresh start with teaching.  If you realize one day that your behavior plan isn't working, the next day go in and change it.  If your seating arrangement isn't working, change it.  If your lesson flopped, teach it differently tomorrow.  If you lost it with a kid, go in tomorrow and apologize straight off.  I guarantee they will forget about it in a day (the younger ones will at least, and the older ones will let you earn them back).  The really great thing about kids is that they adapt.  It gives you a change to learn and grow and adapt too.  

12. Remind yourself every day that it only gets better from here :)
It does.  I promise. :)

More Teaching Advice Posts:


  1. This is awesome!! Very excellent advice! I will have to pass this on to some of my co-workers because it's all true!

  2. I agree...although I would change the title to "Surviving Teaching"! This is my 5th year and sometimes I still struggle with some of that stuff. Just when you think you have one thing figured out, something comes along to pull the proverbial rug out from under you and you realize you don't know as much as you thought you did :)

  3. LOVE this! I've also found {through blogging!} that finding something you love to do that contributes to your teaching makes your love teaching even more! Like when I see a cute activity that I want to do with my class, I can't wait til Monday! When does that ever happen!??!


  4. I am so appreciative of good teachers and encourage them to heed these tips so they can stay happy and stick around :)

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm 27 school days from finishing my first year of teaching and as a (former) over-achiever it's been difficult adjusting to not being great at everything all the time. But I'm finally learning to take it one day and a time. And that my desk is just going to have to stay messy - as long as I can find what I need I can survive until I can clean it all off this summer!!

  6. Thank you for this post! I'm currently student teaching in a first grade classroom and thinking about the future interviewing/ hopefully getting hired process. This was such great advice to read...I'll definitely be saving it, to read again when I start. Actually, it'll probably be printed out and pinned to a wall by my desk :)

  7. Thanks for sharing! I'm a first year teacher and I can definitely relate to some of these :)

  8. I love this. Especially having an outlet outside of teaching and sticking to a certain time to leave. Though the situation at my school was extreme, if I had made it a point to follow those two guidelines, I might still be a teacher!

  9. As a first year teacher, I totally agree. Im about 33 days away from the end of the school year and Im finally starting to realize this.

    I started the year and it was just ridiculous! Tears, wanting to quit the whole nine yards!!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. I was out on maternity leave the first 3 months of my first year teaching! Talk about horrible! A new job + bedrest + C-section + a newborn = disaster. I cried ALL THE TIME. But it DOES get better. I am in my fourth year now and I LOVE it! That first year is a distant memory and I can't imagine doing anything else!

  11. I wish someone would have shared these things with me after (or even before) my first year of teaching. This coming year will be my 7th year, and I do agree, it gets better every year. There's always room to grow and things change a lot from year to year, so really, this list is good to look at every year as a reminder!

  12. Great advice. I'm about to begin my 3rd year teaching and I can totally relate to everything mentioned.

  13. Thanks so Much. Last week was my first week as a first year teacher. I have been anxious, crying, contemplating my career choice. Your post let me see everyone goes through this and it should get better.

  14. When I remember my first year of teaching I already feel happy that it's over and I survived it!
    I can tell you more,my second year of teaching was almost the same talking into consideration
    1.I was pregnant
    2. I changed the school
    3.I taught different levels
    Only last year(my third year) I could sometimes afford going out or doing something else that preparing,correcting and reading...
    The coming year is also going to be difficult,I pray to God that I'll pass it with dignity and less stress,I will again have a new grade level,I don't like changes but life sends them on my way constantly!

    Love your blog,I'm gonna follow you!


    Enjoy Teaching English

  15. As a first year teacher myself... I found this very helpful and relieving! Thanks so much. I definitely needed this today! :)

  16. Thank you for this. I will be starting my first year of teaching this fall and am starting to really prepare and plan for the year. I am extremely excited but also extremely nervous. I am bookmarking this post because I know I am going to need it in a few months from now :-) Thank you. New follower here.


  17. Thank you so much for sharing. I don't feel alone


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