5 Things I Wish I Knew as a First Year Teacher

With everything being turned upside down during the 2020 school year, there has been a lot of time to reflect on where the field of education is at and where it can go. As I approach a decade of teaching, I find myself reflecting on my journey and I can take my instructional practice. I think back to the beginning of my teaching career and wonder if there are things I would share with my younger self. That is the spirit of this post. I’ve compiled some easy to implement tips for first year teachers that I hope you’re able to implement to make sure that your first year of teaching is not your last! 

1. Create a routine

This does not mean that your life will be robotic. I, myself, am not that type of person. I love being spontaneous and being a teacher does not change that. My first year as a teacher, I really planned loosely. I knew what I wanted to teach but details weren’t kept together. What happened was that I  would have gaps in time when I wanted to switch something up.  However, I have learned that having a routine allows you to better identify where the opportunities for change lie. Having that routine also allows students to know what part of the class you are currently in. Having a routine provides students a stability that allows them to focus on the learning we want them to have. ASSISTments helps me here because now all my students know that at the end of the lesson, there will be an Exit Ticket from ASSISTments. Whether I slow the lesson down or deviate from my plan, ASSISTments is there to be a flexible yet integral part of my routine. 

2. Keep it simple

As a first year teacher you come in with a lot of ideas about the impact you’ll make on your students. I know I did. I wanted to grow students in math while also raising their world awareness. I still want to do that but I had to realize  that having those ideas isn’t a bad thing but as a first year teacher you will be absorbing so much information for your daily  job that it will become tough to work on the idealistic thoughts you have before your first day of school. This isn't to dissuade you from having those thoughts. Those thoughts are needed to keep education progressing. Those thoughts are needed to ensure that students are getting the best education possible. However, keeping it simple can free up the time so that you can have and work on those ideas that you bring with you as a first year teacher.  This is where ASSISTments really can help a first year teacher. The user interface is really simple once you are trained on it. It is simple for the students to use, and receive feedback and soon, ASSISTments will have more improvements to help you keep things simple! 

3. Find someone/a group to keep you grounded

As a first year teacher, it is easy to feel like you’re drowning and overwhelmed. Once the year begins, teachers get laser focused on their own classrooms and a first year teacher can feel like they are alone in an ocean. I definitely benefited from being a part of a group of first year teachers. There were times where I thought I was doing the worst job ever and I would go to a meeting and hear very similar things happening in other classrooms.  It was very uplifting to be able to have a dialogue with other people who are dealing with things the same as you. It was even more uplifting to me when I was able to share things that I did and it would be successful for others. I would suggest that if your school or district does not have that, you find a person that you trust that can help keep your head above water.  Now being a part of some ASSISTments PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) this is one thing that I wish was around when I started. These communities are essential to keeping you grounded, making you feel like you are not alone when teaching math. You can share tips, get lesson ideas, and even remix materials others have used. Having been a part of ASSISTments PLCs for almost 2 years I really recommend this for first year teachers. 

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel

As idealistic as you can be as a first year teacher, please remember that education has been around since almost the beginning of time. This means that, chances are that an activity you want to do, the framework is already out there. I remember my first year and I wanted to do an activity where students learned about having a bank account and the effects of debits and credits on the bank account. I was creating spreadsheets with examples of bank accounts, which was extremely time-consuming. Finally, I just did a search on bank account lessons, and suddenly there were plenty of examples with the framework already there for me. This allowed me to just remix the lesson to fit my current group of students. Finding that framework instead of creating it allows you to start from a further point and see any previous results. Then you can use your new, fresh thoughts and advance the activity with your own experiences. ASSISTments can be a useful program to use, because they have access to several curriculums to give you a framework to start your lesson from. 

5. Make your classroom have a culture of learning

I know the temptation of a first year teacher is to come in and let everyone (Students, parents, administrators, and even other teachers in your school) know how much you know, but if you give your classroom a culture of learning you will find that mistakes you make will be easier on you. A classroom that has a culture of learning understands that mistakes will happen. It is not bad to make mistakes, but what you learn from the mistakes is what progresses learning.  ASSISTments is a help because you do get multiple chances to get a problem correct. Three chances to be exact. There is also a hint button in case students just cannot figure out the answer to that problem. Creating this culture also allows students to feel comfortable with teaching you things and learning from their peers. You will give students the opportunity to show the knowledge they have, which may not always be traditional knowledge. This will help students develop their growth mindset and the idea of lifelong learning. Lastly, it will allow students to get comfortable with sharing their thoughts even when they are in the early stages of learning a new concept. 

So what do you think? Do you have any tips to add for a first year teacher? Are you a first year teacher who found these tips helpful? Continue the conversation with the author on Twitter @APrince15.

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