Advice for First Year Teachers
by Seth Sosebee
Once you've earned your degree, served as a student teacher, polished your application materials, and been hired at a school, it's finally time to take on your first full-time teaching role. First-year teacher struggles are universal, no matter the grade or subject you teach. No amount of validation from friends, family and colleagues will change how challenging your initial year in the classroom can be. But with the right attitude, the first-year teaching experience will make you a stronger teacher, and it can even inform your cover letter and build a stronger resume for future jobs.
Let's look at some of the challenges of the first-time teaching experience and share strategies from experienced teachers for surviving the first year.
Challenges for the first-year educator
Most future educators are aware of the high rates of attrition for teachers in the first few years of their career. (The National Education Association estimates 20 percent leave the profession during the first three years of teaching). Long hours and the stress of keeping up with all the work can cause issues for first-year teachers.
Here are a few other common problems new teachers face:
- Falling behind in lesson planning
Lesson planning often piles up on first-year teachers. It's common for new educators to start the semester two weeks ahead of where the curriculum dictates they should be. But by the time midterms arrive, they're often pulling together lesson plans hours or even minutes before their classes start. Grading, emails and meetings have an annoying habit of creeping into planning time.
- Classroom management
In a room of 30 students, it only takes three or four kids to derail even the most well-prepared lesson. Many new teachers enter the classroom and struggle with behavior issues from students.
A 2019 study on teacher burnout, which surveyed over 6,000 educators, found many teachers work more than 50 hours per week, sleep less than six hours per night and feel tired "all the time." In fact, 65 percent of these educators reported signs of burnout.
My experience in the classroom
After earning my BA from Elon University in 2008, I received my MAT from The Graduate College at The Citadel in 2013. I was hired at Holly Springs High School in North Carolina in 2013, where I have since taught a variety of social studies classes, including World History, American History and AP Human Geography.
Here's the good news: teaching gets easier as you gain experience. Why? The answers vary from teacher to teacher. Based on my personal experience, however, there are several reasons why being in the classroom went from nearly intolerable to enjoyable:
- I adjusted to my new environment
My body and mind adjusted to 50-hour work weeks. I stopped repeating mistakes and created systems that work for me. I became much more efficient at grading. Even my immune system has become less vulnerable to the illnesses that make their way through the student and faculty populations.
- I know when I can reuse my lesson plans
If you are assigned to teach the same class in multiple semesters, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I file away copies of each lesson plan for future use.
- I learned to make it fun
I make jokes. I stage fake pop quizzes and tests. On days when there's a chance for snow and time off, I'll look out the window and scream, "It's snowing!" when it's not snowing. I watch students' faces go from joy to confusion to disappointment to annoyance as they see me laughing.
- I established my teacher persona
Students know what to expect from me and what I expect from them. They understand that I demand the same respect that I give them. They also know that they can count on me to reward their hard work with breaks, funny YouTube videos and lots of jokes.
Advice for first-year teachers
I asked my colleagues to share some teaching strategies for new teachers. Here's what they had to say:
- Leave your job at work
Mack also advises new teachers against taking grading home with them: "While it seems appealing, it just leads to burnout, which isn't helpful to anyone in the long run."
- Be prepared
"… Always be two weeks ahead with lesson plans and copies so you don't get overwhelmed or have work build up to where you have to take work home," says April Mack, a high school social studies teacher. Amy Emard, one of Mack's colleagues, agrees. "Make sure you have plenty to teach and plenty for the students to learn each day," she says. "It's better to have too much than not enough."
Staying ahead of schedule with your lesson planning and discovering your own systems in the classroom are proven techniques for surviving the first-time teaching experience. Though it's daunting, most teachers agree that the first year of teaching flies by in a blur.
When you're applying for your first teaching job, our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Templates can help you create an application that stands out. Your professional resume will give you more choices when it comes to your first position in the classroom.