A Story of My First Year

Mrs. Moorman, education, math, reading, writing, ideas
I began my teaching career in 1998.  I was fresh out of college and ready to tackle the world.  I was hired in a year round school, which meant that I would have exactly one weekend to get my room together.  So I went in, got the bulletin boards up and beautiful looking (I still remember them...black paper with purple and white borders), made the nametags, had all of the lessons ready....I was SURE things would be perfect, and that I was a natural born teacher.


I was wrong.


The kids in my 4/5 split were just not listening to me!  I had these great lessons that they weren't hearing because they were so busy talking with each other.  The kids were a terror to me in the room and even worse out on the yard.  They got up whenever they wanted to, maybe did their homework, turned some stuff in.  I literally just didn't know what to do with them.  I was a mess....and I had HAD IT!

After 5 weeks of this TORTURE, I marched myself into the coordinators office, sat at her desk and said, "If this is teaching, I am done."  She smiled, looked at me and said, "I have been waiting for you to come in and ask for help."

You see, I was too proud, too confident of my own abilities, to ask anyone for help.  But when I finally did, it changed EVERYTHING.  My coordinator came into my room every day for the next week.  She stood up there, teaching my students, while I sat in the back and watched.  She made the students think that SHE was learning from ME and needed them to help her.  All the while, she was showing me the basics of classroom management that I was missing.  She showed me the tricks of the trade that I honestly didn't learn during student teaching.  She transformed my class, and me....and I am forever grateful for her help.  After that experience, things for me soared.  But without her help, I wouldn't be here typing to you today.

So, as the new year is about to begin, here is some advice that I, as the veteran teacher who used to think she knew it all, have for all of the new teachers ready to tackle their first class in the next few weeks.
teachinginroom6.blogspot.com, education, upper grade, 5th grade, 4th grade

1.  Ask for help.  You do not know it all....and that is OK!! Let those who have been around the block a few times impart their wisdom...and take it.

2.  Remember that teaching is hard.  No, it isn't rocket science, but it is stressful and emotional and time consuming.   You will be giving 100% of your attention to 100% of the people in your room 100% of the time.  It is something you just can't prepare for (though you do try your best!)

3.  Don't compare yourself to others.  Remember that the people who are helping you, the blogs you are reading, and the people you are getting lessons/advice from are all (for the most part) veteran teachers.   When they were starting out, they weren't the experts they seem to be now.  (as is evidenced by my story above)

4.  Don't beat yourself up if things don't go as planned.  Because they won't.

5.  Be flexible.  Your classroom is a living, breathing, ever-changing entity.  Have a plan, but go with the flow.  Don't set anything in stone because it will inevitably change (something ALWAYS comes up in the world of a teacher!)

Now, it is your turn.  What advice do you have for new teachers? 

39 comments

  1. Thank you for this :)

    I am about to be a first-year teacher. Not only that, I am moving to another state on the 8th.

    First-year teacher + whole new state = Challenge of a lifetime!

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  2. I am getting ready to start my third year of teaching and your advice is still so valuable! I have learned so much in the past two years, that I would never have been able to learn in college. I'm looking forward to teaching the same grade this year and learning even more!

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  3. Thank you so much for this post! As a newbie teacher I appreciate your words of advice and encouragement!

    Mrs. Crouse @ {6th} Grade All-Stars

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  4. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing your experiences :) I've posted some advice for new teachers over at my blog as well:

    The Real Teachr: Advice for New Teachers

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  5. This is such a meaningful and helpful post. It definitely made its impact on my and helped calm some of my many nerves about being a first year teacher this year.

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  6. Great advice above! I'm not sure that new teachers realize that even experienced teachers discuss curriculum with their team. Often at lunch someone will say "I'm about to start ______, does anyone have any good activities/resources/etc? We share because it doesn't make any sense at all to 'reinvent the wheel'. We share resources because it saves time and money. Another bit of advice for new teachers- don't throw anything away in your new classroom. You have NO idea what you will use later on. Put things away in a closet/file cabinet for a year, then evaluate it again. Put it in a common area and let others have it. Whatever you do, don't throw it away. (This doubly applies to materials purchased by your district.) No doubt you want to purge materials and make the classroom your own, but by throwing things away, you are most likely going to regret it.

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    1. I'm a new teacher in Scotland starting in my new school soon. I was in my class for the first time yesterday and when I left I had black bin bags out ready for the stuff I don't think i'll need... Having read this I'm thinking I could find space in a cupboard for it... Just in case! Thanks!

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  7. Beautiful! It's refreshing to hear a seasoned teacher like you say that you didn't walk in Day 1 and have it all together. I'm sure new teachers will appreciate this great advice!

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  8. Thank You so much for the wonderful words! This will be my first year as well, and as much as I am excited to embrace the challenge I won't be too afraid to ask for help.

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  9. Thanks for your advice! I'm a first year teacher about to start a 4/5 split. Do you have any advice for teaching split classes? Also, what were some of the management tricks you felt helped the most?

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  10. This is just the advice I needed to hear! I will be starting off my first year of teaching this fall in Kindergarten. I am looking forward to following this linky party to read all the advice from veterans.

    Melissa
    Precious Kinder Moments

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    1. Seems like I have taught K for a gazillion years!!! Spend the first month and no less, on classroom routines and rules. I always started with rules the first week and consequences the next week. The first week, I would say, oops, that's not the rule...what is the rule? And if I had to I would repeat it and then say next week, you will find out what will happen when you break that rule. The following week I taught consequences and reviewed the rules. We practiced the consequences as a class. Then week 3 everything went into action. I was fairly strict and only a handful got the rewards, but as the weeks progressed, more and more got rewards. Key to any classroom management program is consistency. If you are not consistent, they will not listen! I was a loving (yes, I hugged my kids daily and told parents I hugged and if they felt uncomfortable with it, to let me know. No parent ever did)yet, strict teacher. I had high expectations and everyone of my students reached their personal best! We had fun and when I said it was time to get back to work, we went back to work, without any hassles. The kids still loved me and to this day, I am still in touch with past students who are now in the work force. Be consistent, expect everyone to follow the rules and do their personal best, and be loving and encouraging. Also take the time to teach those routines like how to go to the bathroom, how to flush the toilet, how to throw away the paper towels, how to line up, how to sit in group, how to listen, how to work in centers appropriately, etc. Remember this all takes a month!!!! Especially in kindergarten! My kids very rarely disturbed me when I had small group and they were in centers and everyone and I mean everyone, was doing what was expected at each center. Kinder is a fabulous grade to teach!!!!! Unless you have no control. Half of my teaching K years have been to students who were second language learners and they did much better with stable routines! It actually made them feel secure. They didn't always understood what I said, but they knew: we come in, we get our cubes, we sit down, I don't understand what the teacher is saying, but then we go to centers, then we sit down in group again, then lunch, etc... By Christmas, they are telling me what they got from Santa in English and by the end of the year they are reading and writing in English!!! And their parents are so proud!! Have a great year!

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  11. Don't forget, just because something worked this year does not mean it will work next year! Every class is different and has its own unique challenges to conquer. I've been doing this 30 years, and am as excited to go back in a few weeks as I was my first year. Every year has been a new and exciting experience, and am so glad I have the summers to re-energize!
    Thanks for your blog and the insight you give into your world!

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  12. As a veteran teacher, instructional coach and resource teacher for the past 29 years, I have seen a lot, good and not so good. My advice, ( besides drink water to keep your voice from wearing out, and remember to use the restroom when you have an opportunity ).. plan your day, and be ready to scrap the plan when it is not working...or when a great learning opportunity presents itself. Find someone to mentor you, and talk to people in your building. Attend professional development activities with an open mind and talk to the others when you are there. You never know what piece of advice might be just what you need. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

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  13. Great idea for a post! My advice is to SMILE! Remember that kids won't care what you know until they know that you care. While it's important to start off strong and consistent with classroom management techniques and practice routines until they're right, it's also important that kids get to know you while you're getting to know them. A big smile makes a big difference and will help you to keep looking for the positives, even when it feels like nothing is going right.

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  14. This is a great post for new teachers. I was new to Kindergarten last year but not to teaching. Although I had taught for several years there were still many things I had to learn about teaching Kindergarten. I asked the veteran teachers on my team alot of things that I didn't know and that helped me get through my first year in Kindergarten. A good resource for new teachers is The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong. Also have a sense of humor about some of the kids do and don't make an issue out of little things. Sometimes having a sense of humor can nip a discipline issue in the bud.

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  15. Awesome post! SO much info for a new teacher!!! (and veteran) Thanks for posting this!!!!

    Ann Marie Smith @ Innovative Connections

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  16. OH my! What a small world. My name is Stephanie and I teach in room 6 too!!! I teach first. Too funny!

    http://missredheadandfirstgraders.blogspot.com/

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  17. Thanks for sharing Stephanie! There's tons of great advice on this page!

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  18. Great story that I'm going to share with my own daughter as she embarks on this wonderful journey!

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  19. Thank you for this great post! As a student teacher, I think I am both excited and trepidatious. I will read, re-read, and read again your words of advice and encouragement this year (and hopefully next year too!).

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  20. It gets better!! My first year in a classroom was awful. It got better but the first few months were bad. I was in a kindergarten that was added last minute. Very few of my kiddos were screened so they were bringing so many things to the table. I was overwhelmed and literally crying every day. But it got better, they learned, I learned. I tried new things.. both on my own and from others. We got through it, those kids were NOT the same when they left my room that year..and I was not the same teacher either. The first year is always hard. But you learn from it and you discover new things that work and don't work and eventually it gets easier.

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  21. Great post! I'd link up but you said it all perfectly. Those are my top 5 pieces of advice for new/veteran teachers, too. What a fabulous coordinator you had. Those are the type of peers you want to surround yourself with and aspire to be. :D
    ❤Dragonflies in First ❤

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  22. Last year I was hired as a first-year teacher about a week before school started. I taught computer specials, so not only did I have the teaching to deal with, I had to figure out a computer system AND a way to manage the 600 (!!) kids I saw every week!

    My biggest tip: Take as much time as you need to set up rules and procedures. Taking the time now to save time later. It saves SO much time when your students know exactly how you expect them to do things (coming in, asking for help, turning in work, cleaning up, lining up, etc.). In my job, having specific procedure was a lifesaver!

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  23. I couldn't agree more, Kelly. Time spent on rules and procedures up front is time well spent. No one should base anything on their first year of teaching, just as they shouldn't base it on their student teaching. Neither year is a true picture of what teaching is really like. Student teaching was pretty awful for me. Nine years in, I was teaching 2nd grade and it was glorious! I've been in the library the last six years, but am returning to the classroom this year as a first grade teacher, so I'm going to feel like a newbie again.

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  24. Great advice!! Thanks for the post :) This will be my first year teaching and it's in kindergarten! Awesome information that I can definitely use for this first year.

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  25. GREAT POST!!! I agree with everything. First year of teaching is UNDOUBTEDLY the most difficult! (You will work the hardest you ever have/ever will!) Definitely ask questions, set routines, and stick with the expectations you set. ("no free time if your work isn't finished" means NO free time if your work isn't finished...!) Plan for more, expect to do less. Always better to have extra left for tomorrow, than have "dead time" on your hands today. And definitely SMILE!!! Don't let those kids know if they've gotten you frazzled! Keep smiling, and go on. They won't ever know!!! :)

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  26. These are great responses...even for those of us who have been teaching for a while. I am entering my sixth year of teaching this year...and in many ways it feels like the first all over again.

    The best advice that a principal gave me was to write a letter to yourself after the first day of school. Write down everything that happened and note your FEELINGS. How do you feel? Is it what you expected? Are you afraid? Are you still excited? Are you wishing you could go crawl into bed and never come out?

    Seal the envelope and give it to a friend or to your principal or mentor teacher...with instructions to give it to you at the end of the year. Read it then, and you will see how far you have come...

    My biggest pieces of advice are these:

    1. Teaching is learning. Teacher school does not teach you everything you need to know. It can't. Each year you get a whole new batch of kids who are totally new and different from the ones that preceded them. They have different needs, different goals, different skills. Embrace the differences and try not to compare them to what you've known before. They're not the same, and that is part of the beauty of teaching. You will learn something new EVERY day...sometimes every hour...sometimes more. EMBRACE it. This is not a job that you walk into knowing everything, and you have to be okay with that. It doesn't mean you know nothing--it just means that there is still a lot to learn.

    2. Set boundaries. This is still the thing I struggle with most. Set boundaries with your families, your students, your colleagues, your administration, and most of all yourself. Take time for you. They say when you are on a plane you have to put on your oxygen mask first, before you help anyone else with theirs. The same goes for teaching. HELP YOU FIRST. Do not sign up for every committee, every after school club, every training. Choose carefully so that you can use the passion you have for whatever it is to fuel your work. And TAKE TIME FOR YOU. Get a mani-pedi. Go have some wine. Take a day for you and watch Jersey Shore all day in your pajamas. DO NOT CHECK SCHOOL EMAIL ON WEEKENDS. (this is my biggest hurdle.) And remember that you cannot be everything to everyone, no matter how hard you try. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    3. Ask for help. It does not demonstrate weakness...rather it shows you are strong. You are strong enough to recognize that you need someone's expertise, talents, or sometimes just an ear to listen. It's ok to go to a colleague and cry after a horrible day when the kids were on the ceiling. Take a step back and reflect on it. Ask if anyone else had the same sort of day. More than likely, it was everyone to some degree. Teachers are natural collaborators. Bounce ideas off of one another and pool your resources to create fabulous lessons and fun activities. Remember that you are NEVER alone. (The internet is GREAT for this if you feel you can't go to teammates and colleagues in your building with problems. All of us out here in the interwebs are here to help you too!! I have gotten some of my BEST ideas from teachers I have never met!)

    You will have a great year. Reflect a little every day and begin with all the things that went well. Some days, it will only be that there was still hot coffee available when you got into the lounge or that no one was in the bathroom when your bladder was about to burst. THAT IS STILL A WIN! It counts. Take it! Teaching is learning...and we do more and more of it every year. The best teachers are those who are never finished learning. :)

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  27. To keep it short and simple...during my first year of teaching a veteran teacher told me (who is a dear friend of mine 3 yrs later)that on the first day your job is to make sure of 3 things.

    1. Everyone eats.
    2. No one gets hurt.
    3. Everyone makes it home.

    Those are the only things you need to make sure happen on day one and all the days to follow. The rest will fall into place in due time.

    Good luck to the new teachers!!! Your 1st year is something you will never forget!

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  28. This whole page was a great read :) I just found out 2 days ago that I'll be teaching 5th grade. It will be my first year and like the others, I'm feeling quite excited and overwhelmed. My mind jumps from one idea to the next! Good thing we have the internet and are able to share ideas like the ones above. Best of luck to all you teachers out there :)

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  29. This is my 27th year teaching. My coworkers and I in the same grade talk curriculum and classroom management all the time. We know from experience teaching is very difficult work and it's easy to become isolated if you let yourself. It's important to share, cry, and laugh with your coworkers on a regular basis.

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  30. You just made me smile. I am in college right now. I graduate next December - 2013. Looking forward to the classroom. Thank you for the inspiration! :0)

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  31. The best advice that I ever got was this:
    Don't engage in conversation about WHY they're doing something wrong -- that's what they want -- just tell them NO and move on.

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  34. This is such a great post. Three years ago I was a 4/5 grade combo teacher and I left because I had such a terrible year. Now, I am going back because I feel that I didn't give myself a chance and bottom line I miss it! This post makes me feel so much better because it describes everything I went through the first time around. I literallt cried everyday for months on end and will probably still cry this new school year, but now I know that's ok. One thing I always here is it's ok to be nervous and not know everything, just don't let the kids know yoh don't know.

    I would like to know what are some classroom management routines you use in your classroom? This is a great weakness of mine and any advise you can give on this topic would be great.

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  35. Hi Stephanie and followers, I will be starting out my first year teaching 6th grade. I really enjoy your BlogSpot and all your amazing ideas. I will be borrowing many of them. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. Right now I feel like I have no time to share since I just had three weeks notice that I will be teaching 6th grade, but as soon as I get up and running, I will set up a blog and share too. Thank you again, Stephanie! You are truly inspiring and uplifting and all your ideas are very good and make a lot of sense.

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  36. My first year in middle school (6 grade) was horrible and I left. I subbed and went back last year teaching 4 grade and had a fabulous staff and admin that made the year....it was hard, unbearable t times, I cried, I felt overwhelmed, but got through it. Going into next year im told were compartmentalized so it'll be new all over again. I know more of what I need now but still soooo much to learn!!

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