First Year Teachers: Survival Tips

Nothing prepares for you for the first day of school. Everything you think you learned seems to be gone, sucked into a wild vortex of anxiety, energy and idealism. 

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When the ball drops signaling a fresh school year, a newly minted class of novice teachers will be behind the desk and whether spent with wide-eyed kindergartners or seniors chaffing to meet the “real world,” the first months of teaching can be like the mood swings of middle school. One day, you’re riding that perfect wave of elation, high on authentic discovery that took on a life of its own. The next day, you forgot to take attendance, tripped over the trash can and left your lunch on the kitchen counter.

A little advice…please?


1. Find a mentor.

This might be the single most important tip for first year teachers. Nobody flies solo during the first year. You need a go-to person who is willing to hold your hand, applaud your successes and have a supply of tissues available. A  good mentor can be your cultural GPS, routing you around predictable pitfalls and obstacles, leading you through meetings and paperwork.  You lower the likelihood you will drop out of the profession if you have a trusted mentor.  And if you are really lucky–as I was– you might even make a friend for life.

2. Pace yourself: put management first.

You have great ideas for sight words or the Age of Exploration, but you aren’t going to do it all on Day 1 or in the first month or even during your first year.  It is estimated that it requires five full years of experience before teachers get into the instructional zone. Most veterans agree: Open with management. Establishing predictable routines and explicitly modeling behavioral expectations will be worth the time invested. Creating a few, carefully thought-out ground rules early on means you will be more able to tackle fractions or the nervous system or The Crucible later.

3. Do not grandstand.

When asked about what not to do, experienced teachers warn against trying too hard to grab the spotlight. There is a fine line between showcasing your achievements–you want to be asked back so you can be a second year teacher–and showing off.  A certain amount of self-promotion is necessary for self-preservation. It is when first-year teachers forget they are members of a team of instructional professionals that they can wander into a danger zone.  Support is reciprocal; respect is mutual.  Self-aggrandizement gets ugly quickly, especially if it comes at someone else’s expense.

4. Communicate.

You expect to communicate with your students. You must also expect to communicate with their families. Keeping parents tactfully informed of their children’s progress in your class is a significant factor in first year teacher success. If parents feel comfortable with you, they are less likely to go over your head to your department chairman or building administrators.  You must also communicate with colleagues. Even though we are stars of our own daily classroom productions, schools function best when all involved share ideas and concerns.


5. Find ways to leave your classroom behind.

Finally–and for the idealistic newbie, this will be tough–you have to carve out non-teaching time in your life.  Outside interests, your family, your friends all play a vital role in your overall health. Teaching can be consuming and you need other activities to maintain a balance. For first year teachers, this is challenging as you try to juggle the seemingly endless demands of planning, collaborating, grading, committees, meetings. Having something specific scheduled for your weekend forces you to put down the red pen and close the plan book. It also helps you with perspective.


The first day. It is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.  With a little help from your friends, you can live to teach another day.  Image result for teacher images











Five Values That Distinguish Great Schools

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Make no mistake: money can buy the things that contribute to student achievement. It may be called the root of all evil, but schools need cold, hard cash. Funding teacher salaries, technology and facilities are  absolute necessities when creating a good school.

But what truly sets the great schools apart are the  human values that define them. 

1. Integrity.

Any organization functions best when all participants are held to high standards of personal honesty.  In great schools, integrity is woven into the fabric of every day interactions from the top down.  Reliable administrative transparency creates a climate for staff and students to do the right thing even when the right thing might be hard to do. Teachers model integrity with one another and with their classes.  Growing integrity–an abstract and often elusive value– is a respected process in every great school.

2. Safety

Physical safety is a given in all schools. Parents trust schools to care for their children and there can be no negotiating that responsibility. But great schools are places where students and staff feel safe to stretch their intellectual muscles, where all feel secure enough to take on challenges without a guarantee of success. Great schools daily demonstrate that success is defined by what is learned not by numerical assessment, and provide all participants with the requisite safety to take intellectual and instructional risks.

3. Personal Accountability

Reasonable school rules are necessary for both safety and for effective instruction.  Great schools create communities where individuals understand their roles as members of the whole and see beyond a list of “what not to do.” Great schools guide staff, families and students to be accountable to one another and to value behavioral expectations as part of that shared responsibility.  Students learn that to err is human, but they must accept responsibility when missteps inevitably happen. Content area aside, this might be the most practical lesson students learn in great schools.

4. Respect

Many of these values overlap and respect walks alongside integrity, safety and personal accountability. However, respect is a value earned and nurtured among the participants in great schools. Respect boils down to mutual admiration. In great schools, success is shared. There is no need for self-promotion because students, staff and families have pride in their collective accomplishments and in one another’s contributions to the whole. The idealism of the novice and the experience of the veteran aren’t competing for attention but rather equally lauded for the parts each will play in the effective, efficient outcome.

5. Compassion and Empathy

Finally, even with all of the above values in place, a school cannot be great without compassion and empathy. In every school, there are sad kids, hungry kids, sick kids, kids who, for whatever reason. exist on the periphery of the social constructs. Great school build cultures that support every member of the learning community.  Great schools inspire students to care about people, to walk in someone else’s shoes for a time, to use their talents and skills and interests in ways that will benefit the world at large.


Good schools can get kids to produce strong test scores and good schools can prepare students to apply to respected colleges and universities. Building a great school isn’t easy and the work never ends.  Great schools, however, make kids into life long learners who care about the people and the world around them.