Every time a new school year rolls around, I’m always *so* jealous of new teachers stepping into their first classroom. The opportunities! The energy levels! The lack of kids at home! (I’m joking on that last one… mostly).
But then I remember the long hours, the learning curves, the trying and the failing on a daily basis and I *wish* I could go back to impart my current wisdom on past Chantelle!
While I definitely learned some things the hard way in my time, I wanted to pen this blog post for any of you just starting out on your teaching journey. I want to help you avoid making some of the mistakes I made as a graduate teacher.
I have picked up so many first year teacher ideas that would’ve come in handy way back when, so the next best thing is surely sharing them with you!
Here are my top graduate teacher tips I wish I’d known earlier.
Always happy to share the things I’ve learned the hard way if it makes your learning a little easier!
Focus on Building Relationships with your Students
The teachers with the biggest to-do lists are almost always graduates! While the job definitely asks a lot of you, internalised pressure definitely hits the hardest in those first years of your teaching career.
While it’s easy to get caught up in all the ‘shoulds’ of teaching - ‘I should be planning my lessons further in advance,’ ‘I should be preparing my students for national testing,’ ‘I should be achieving these learning goals today,’ - it’s a heck of a lot more rewarding when you focus on playing an active part in your students’ learning journeys.
Is there anything more important —and more fun— than getting to know your little learners?
Take the time to understand your little learners as people - what do they love to do more than anything in the world? Who is their best friend? How high can they jump off the swing? What activities at school give them a funny feeling in their tummy?
Getting to know your students —and crucially, getting them to trust you— will make a world of difference to how your days together play out. And who wouldn’t want to go into work every day with a bunch of adorable kids who love and trust you?!
One of my favourite (albeit cheeky) sayings right now? Don’t should on yourself!
… And Their Parents
Building positive relationships with parents is one of the most commonly suggested first-year tips from experienced teachers in my Facebook community.
Especially if you’re new to the teaching game, you can feel like you have more in common with students than with their parents. But your students’ carers, adults, parents and/or guardians are nothing to be afraid of! With a plan in place and a little charm, you can turn parents into your biggest cheerleaders.
Here’s a great suggestion from Rose:
Who doesn’t love to hear positive feedback?
Adding to the graduate teacher tips is another BFF of mine, Kelly. She suggested making the effort to commit parents’ names to memory - bonus points for siblings in the family. “Such a small thing can make a world of difference.”
Coming straight from university into your first classroom, you’ve just spent at least four years (and probably a solid 13 years before that) in a super structured learning environment.
Just like how you wonder how your parents always came up with a different ideas for dinner every night when you were a kid (seriously, it’s a miracle my kids don’t have spaghetti three times a week) it can be overwhelming to take over that teacher role and feel responsible for what your class will be doing every minute of every hour.
Is planning important? Absolutely. Is it everything? Absolutely not!
Third on my list of graduate teacher tips for you, BFF?
As a teacher, flexibility is your best friend (after me, of course). It’s actually better for both you and your little learners that you leave buffer time and gaps throughout each day.
Show me a day in the classroom that goes to plan, and I’ll show you an arts and crafts session where the glitter stays inside the designated work area - these things just don’t happen!
Leave some room for spontaneity, for running overtime, for kids who need that extra bit of help, and or for lessons to go down a garden path.
Making time —and space— for unexpected (but inevitable) hiccups can make all the difference. Stunning Calm Corner via @teachingwithmissburford
Cater for Different Ability Levels
Okay, so this might sound like a direct contradiction of my advice to avoid overplanning - but hear me out!
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to education. While you’ll be working towards the same overarching curriculum for all your students, they’ll all get to those learning goals at their own pace.
Nothing switches a student off quite like being understimulated, or on the other end of the spectrum, being unrealistically challenged on the regular.
Make sure you have some extension activities up your sleeve for students who finish up early, and be prepared to make modifications for the kids who need extra support.
Trying to fit your ‘round peg’ students into square hole lessons doesn’t work out well for anyone. So, approaching your class with their spectrum of abilities in mind will avoid a lot of unnecessary headaches! And for the others, some painkillers in your desk should do the trick.
Have you factored in the fun/silly/hyper/tangent moments too? Tweet via IG @teachlikeyoumeanit.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Maybe it’s Teachergram, maybe it’s seeing your peers go viral on TikTok, I don’t know, but there’s something about teaching that really brings out the impostor syndrome and makes you believe that you have to go above and beyond to be a great teacher.
Well, BFF, that’s simply not true.
I know I’m just someone on the internet saying this to you, but I promise - your little learners will value a teacher who cares for them and helps them to learn, no matter how you go about it!
Never forget, Teachergram and TeacherTok are the highlight reels, not the full film! Image via IG @learningwithmisslee.
If spending lots of time creating unique ideas, learning areas, activities or classroom management strategies sets your soul on fire, then please, keep creating and don’t deprive any of us of your awesome brain!
But if just the sound of that extra work exhausts you? There’s NOTHING wrong with taking the road more travelled, and leveraging others’ first year teacher ideas to make life that little bit easier. That’s why MJLL exists in the first place!
Use premade resources and decor like the ones on my site to decorate your space and help to plan lessons. Get inspo from Pinterest, Instagram or TikTok if that takes your fancy, and implement the ideas you think would work well in your classroom. Ask other teachers at school for advice and ideas on curriculum you’re covering.
Resources are made to be used, to be shared and to lighten the load. Don’t feel you need to do it all alone!
It’s almost all been done before in teaching. But on the flipside? Your students will only be in second grade (or whatever grade you’re teaching) once. They don’t know whether you got your lesson idea from a teacher on Instagram living on the other side of the world. And as long as you’re not showing up on the internet passing it off as your own idea, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing ideas and graduate teacher tips from other teachers to help reduce your mental load!
Mental load = reduced.
Look After Yourself
“You cannot pour from an empty cup,” the saying goes (a saying I’m all too familiar with when it comes to my morning coffee).
The same goes when it comes to teachers. We spend all day giving ourselves to our students, and then come home to catch up on the work we didn’t get done that day, or to look up first year teacher ideas, or maintain a social life, or look after our families. Ahhhh, I’d like a refund on this cup please - it’s always empty!
Unfortunately, a teacher’s work is rarely done. There will ALWAYS be more you could do. You could always stay back to finish reviewing your students’ workbooks, or to prepare slides for that next lesson, or to clear your inbox to zero. And even if you did all those things - your to do list still wouldn’t be empty.
Inboxes: like a never ending pack of TimTams but infinitely less delicious.
So BFF, that’s where boundaries become crucial.
Invest in your self-care as a non-negotiable priority! Whether that looks like having a hard deadline on the time you leave school, committing to an activity one night a week that you never miss, or even just keeping up with the latest season of Married At First Sight (hey, no judgement here!).
While the perfect work-life balance might elude you for a few years, carving out regular time for yourself will help to keep your cup full and ensure you don’t burn out before the school year’s over. You have *so* much to give as a teacher, and it would be the biggest shame for your students to not get the best of you!
If you take just one thing away from these tips- make it be this! Be kind to yourself, BFF! Image via IG @rachelteaches.
Honestly BFF, I could chew your ear off with things I wish I’d known from the beginning of my teaching career, but these are the graduate teacher tips I feel will make the biggest difference to your few years in your own classroom.
At the end of the day though, you’re (hopefully) in for a long and rewarding career as a teacher. It will have MANY teaching moments (and I’m not talking about your lesson plans here). It’ll have tears (usually yours) and moments where you’ll question everything. But for every one of those? There are probably 20 triumphs, smiles, a-ha moments and memories that will put a smile on your face for years to come.
You really, really are. Image via @sped.with.meag on IG
Do you know a graduate teacher who could use these first year teacher ideas? Share this blog post with them and then come chat in my teacher community on Facebook to connect with other teachers from around the world!