What I Learned My First Year of Teaching

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Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

My first year of teaching has come and gone in a flash. I honestly can’t believe it is over already. Even though I was the teacher, I felt like my students taught me just as much as I taught them throughout the year. I was willing to grow and looked for areas that I could become a better teacher. I was always searching for ways that I could improve my methods or make a note of how I could teach a unit differently for the next year. If I noticed that something wasn’t working for me, I would change it whether in the middle of the year or not. I would explain to the students why I had to change this and that, and they were all understanding about changing up the procedure or routine. I would even ask my students how they noticed other teachers completing a procedure in their classroom.

The first year for any teacher isn’t easy. In my case, it was very difficult especially at the beginning of the year. I had to learn how to manage an FFA chapter plus a Jr. Beta Club all while making most of my materials from scratch for the three subjects I taught each day. My planning hour was packed full of a to-do list which spilled over into after-school hours. I spent hours and hours after school making materials and grading papers in the beginning of the year. When I wasn’t after school doing things for school, I was staying after school for FFA practices. Every teacher has their own unique experiences during their first year, and all of those experiences allowed them to grow and flourish for their future teaching years. The first part of the year I was stressed, constantly felt behind in paperwork, and wondered if this was as good as it was going to get. This just so happened to be one of those unique experiences to push me to grow not only as a teacher but as a person.

I realized that I was focusing too much on the problems I was experiencing than solving the problems. My major problem was overwhelming myself with excessive paperwork and not having the time to grade it all. I realized very quickly that taking home papers to grade was not okay. Thankfully, a scantron machine made its appearance in my life, and it has saved me so much time. I started to grade assignments as students worked on them to make grading easier on myself, and I could also penalize them when the hour passed and they didn’t even start on their independent assignment.

Now, that it is nearing the end of my first year, I can say that it improved dramatically because of what I previously mentioned and more. I began to figure out paperwork organization, researched for more pre-made materials by using Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest, and created a nice daily routine for myself.

I am more prepared for next year. I will have my materials ready as both hardcopies and electronic copies, I will know the procedures to take for filling out fundraiser forms and coordinating field trips, I will know the prime times to schedule computer labs, and I will have my grading system down pat!

So, now onto why you are here: the list of what I’ve learned in my first year of teaching and my advice to a future new teacher! Like I said before, the first year for every teacher is different. For some it is more challenging than others. Each teacher also has to play with various strategies and methods that work for them and their students as well. This is a mini-challenge in itself. I hope that this list encourages you and helps you for your first year, second year, and every other year ahead. 😊

  1. Stick to what you say. Threats do not work until action is taken.
  2. Treat students equally even if you spend more time with some students. You have to treat everyone the same which means when they break a rule, you must adhere to the consequences. It isn’t fair to other students if the students you have a more personal relationship with get off the hook.
  3. Seating arrangements can change everything. At the beginning of the year, it’s hard to tell who needs to sit where in the room. There will be students who will complain about not being able to see well or they will talk during instruction because they are by friends. Once you figure out the best places for everyone to sit, you’ll notice better grades. This may not work in some classes particularly ones where they are all friends in one class!
  4. Establish paperwork organization. You may think you have a good system at first until you become flooded with paperwork and end up behind in grading. Figure out a system that works for you in each of these areas:
    1. Where do students turn in work
    2. Work that needs grading
    3. Work that needs putting into computer
    4. Unfinished tests
    5. Covered units
    6. Units/paperwork that are currently being taught
    7. Absent work
    8. Travel
    9. Fundraisers
  5. Plan ahead. I planned out my first two months of teaching, and after that, it was a catch-up game. Planning far in advance can help you get into computer labs/science labs when needed. There were several times that I didn’t correctly judge the amount of time of some assignments/units, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Every class and grade moves at a different pace. It’s part of being a teacher which leads up to my next one on the list…
  6. You need to be flexible with the length of time on projects, assignments, and so on the first year of teaching because you’ll realize in the future how long all the assignments and projects actually take on average. However, you need to set deadlines because the students need a deadline to work towards. Think one unit ahead!
  7. Keep a hardcopy and a key of each assignment, quiz, and test. Place all of them in a folder by subject and unit. It will make your life way easier the next year, and there’s less stress in finding it all/if your computer crashes. Eeep.
  8. Make 5 emergency sub plans. You will never know when you’ll have to call in sick last minute or if there’s a family emergency.
  9. Keep word searches, crosswords, and brain teasers on-hand. These are great go-tos for after the kids are finished taking tests.
  10. Play review games. They all love review games especially if there are bonus points involved. My favorite review game is Connect Four. They also make everyone engaged, and it challenges them. As the teacher, you need to establish good rules that keeps them within their excitement boundaries like not repeating a question once it is asked. If they don’t hear it, it floats to the other team, and they get penalized!
  11. Students need to SEE and HEAR study guide answers. It’s very frustrating to keep repeating an answer for both the students and the teacher. Sometimes, the best way to give answers is just putting them on the board/typing up the answer to go on the board after calling on a student. You could also place students in groups and have them rotate. This establishes movement in the classroom and helps them get the right answers. It could also be an awesome way to see what they are struggling with and which questions they need the most help on. Using clock partners is another form of practicing sharing answers. Check study guides at the end of each day that they work on them to keep them motivated and use this to determine their final study guide grade. If they don’t have a certain amount completed, they can’t participate in the partner activity/group activity OR take of a hefty amount of points.
  12. Establish a routine for everything-when to get up, answer, and sharpen a pencil, how to enter and be dismissed from the room, and a procedure for hall passes. You need to establish bell-to-bell routines and procedures. They thrive on this.
  13. Give your students jobs to do. We have a ton on our plates. There are always students in every class that want to help you. Let them pass out papers, collect papers, change the date on the board, write homework on the board, or change the calendar. If they abuse the job, don’t call on them to help again. Your class will notice, and you will have another that volunteers.
  14. No free days. Ever. You can make an easier day for those who may have gone through state testing and are mentally drained but an easier day can still be a productive day.
  15. Make copies of your lesson plans and keep them from year to year as a reference. Also, make copies of your sub plans not only for future reference but in cases where the sub may not have done his/her job correctly.
  16. Make all of your bell work ahead of time. It’s wonderful to have the first 5-10 minutes of the year already planned out.
  17. Get to school 15 minutes early every day to sign in, check your mailbox, and get a bell ringer up on the board.
  18. Lay out what you are going to wear the next day the night before. It saves you time in the morning. Don’t forget to check the weather.
  19. Create mini-lessons for all your classes. They could be subject related or just simple life skills/leadership type lessons. These are amazing to use during those state testing weeks or the days when half of your class is present because everyone else is on a field trip.
  20. Print out personal progress reports for your class every two weeks. I’m going to start this next year. I noticed that when I handed out progress reports, the kids would either act better in class or work harder when they realized their grade was undesirable. It will also keep you sane with the, “What’s my grade in here?” question.
  21. Mark tardies and let them see that you marked them tardy. They’ll magically start appearing to your class on time.
  22. Hand back papers as soon as they are in the computer to clean out your desk/filing area. You could also do this once every 9 weeks. You must keep anything that is considered a test grade though.
  23. Check notes if you’re making them write notes. Do this daily by simply spot checking. I do this for bell ringers, but I am going to start checking notes next year!
  24. Invest in a clipboard and print out attendance. Place an X if they didn’t complete a bell ringer. Mark the days that you check bell ringers by circling them. Print out a separate attendance sheet for each class for notes, study guides, bell ringers, and/or homework. Color coding is a great way to keep track of what you check.
  25. Ask a lot of critical thinking questions and challenging discussion questions.
  26. Have students repeat directions to the class or what they just learned.
  27. Create a “go” word.
  28. Make groups ahead of time and write them down to help with management and learning levels.
  29. Use folders that students leave in your room every day if you teach middle school. They will keep everything in this folder.
  30. Create a pencil system.
  31. Show examples so the students understand what a good and bad example looks like. Otherwise, they won’t know your expectations for them. Rubrics are also important in this case.
  32. Invest in a mini-fridge. It’s great for leftovers and water.
  33. Designate a desk drawer/shelf/area for food. Include disposable cups, forks, spoons, and plates. Make sure to add canned foods that you can heat up for lunch and snacks as well as breakfast foods. You’ll never know the day you may run late and don’t have time for breakfast.
  34. Never let students behind your desk for any reason during school hours. Let this space be your private space and make sure students understand this boundary.
  35. If you know you will be gone and will have a sub, put away anything of value.
  36. Be kind and friendly to other teachers, faculty, and administration. Thank them for what they do every now and then.
  37. It’s better to hold your tongue than to become so angry at a student that you yell at them. The majority of students think it’s funny when a teacher lashes out and gets mad by yelling. Handle your anger differently through punish work like lines or copying a textbook. Write them up. Call home. You are in control of the situation and you control your reaction. Remember that FOREVER.
  38. Air freshener is a requirement in a classroom especially with boys who come straight from PE! Candles and plug-ins are a little more efficient as they last longer, but are more expensive to replace.
  39. Keep a small monthly and weekly planner where you can see it and write on it quickly. Emails will usually have dates that you must remember.
  40. Be on time to duty because you are legally responsible for students at that time.
  41. If you have too much on your brain to function, do a brain dump on paper. Write down all what needs to be done.
  42. Make memories with each class. Laugh with them when the moment is appropriate but don’t laugh AT them. Savor the funny moments and silly things the kids do.
  43. Let the students know you love them and care for them. Discipline can be used to express this as well, but have a conference with students who give you trouble. Sometimes, they’ll let you know if anything is going on personally.
  44. Strive for personal positive relationships. Look for ways to connect to students.
  45. Teach them responsibility by your own systems of making up missed work, pencils, not having other supplies, and forgetting assignments at home. They need to be aware that there will always be consequences when they don’t follow through on their end of the deal.
  46. If a student gets an answer wrong, be gentle about it. No one needs to feel like they could be embarrassed. This goes along with everyone being respectful and listening to their ideas.
  47. Music is a wonderful tool to use depending on the class. There are some classes that will focus better but others may tend to be noisier.
  48. Don’t bring papers home to grade unless you absolutely have to. Scantrons are amazing. If you don’t have a scantron machine, make three different keys and use them for all classes. Just switch them out, and they’ll never know!
  49. Designate a spot in your classroom for permission slips, fundraiser forms, and applications if you are in charge of any sports/clubs. This keeps you from being interrupted about these things-students will know where to get the info!
  50. Take time for yourself. You need pampering and a break sometimes. You can establish a pick-me-up time in your daily/weekly routine to give you a little break and something to look forward to. It could be something as simple as grabbing coffee every Monday morning during your planning hour.
  51. As students complete the work, walk around the room to monitor their progress. They may ask for your help and you can see who’s actually on-task. Make this part of your grading system.
  52. Videos and movies are only to be used for educational purposes and the students need to be working throughout the video/movie. Give them a movie and nothing to do except watch it, and before long, there will be chaos.
  53. Hands-on discussion type learning is proven to stay in a person’s memory for a longer amount of time!

I know that this blog post was VERY long (haha), but I wanted to share everything that I’ve learned throughout my first year of teaching and pass it along to y’all! Thanks for reading and please share with any new future teachers out there!



Author: countrymilefaith

Hey, y'all! I'm Emily, a simple country girl with a BIG love for the Lord, coffee, sunflowers, cooking, and gardening. I graduated from college one year ago in Secondary Agricultural Education, and I am now fulfilling my dream of teaching agriculture to high school and middle school students while also teaching science in the mix. I am happily married to my college sweetheart, Brad, who doubles as my ag teaching partner! We are newly weds, so we are just getting around to starting a farm. As we add animals to the Cooper Fam and complete projects, y'all will be the first ones to know. :) Tator is our sweet Goldendoodle puppy that we consider to be our first child, and he keeps us on our toes all the time. Between the demands of teaching and life, I enjoy writing and encouraging others in their walk with the Lord sticking tidbits of what I experience along this journey in my writing. I hope that you will follow along and that this blog will help your faith grow longer than a country mile!

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