Starting out as a first year teacher can feel a little scary and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Below I share some of my wisdom by outlining 15 mistakes to avoid as a first-year teacher. (Personal mistakes i’ve made throughout my years of teaching!) These tips are things that every first-year teacher should know and are sure to help you have a successful first year of teaching!
15 Mistakes to Avoid as a First Year Teacher
1. Use Your Planning Time Wisely
No one wants to stay at work late, but sometimes your workload can feel never-ending, especially as a first year teacher! Make it a priority to leave school on time each day. If you use your planning time at school wisely, you can cut down on the amount of work that you need to complete after school. Instead of chatting with friends while your students are at specials, dedicate that time to getting all of the important things done! It’s all about time management.
2. You Don’t have to Grade Everything
This may shock you, but every piece of work doesn’t need a grade. Take homework for example. Homework is simply extra practice. It doesn’t need to be graded for mastery. If you choose to assign homework, you can hold students accountable for completing it in different ways. Reviewing homework in class can be a great way for students to ask questions about any issues they had while working on it the night before. With that being said, save your sanity and time. Don’t stay after school grading homework packets. (That their parents most likely helped them with!)
3. Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions!
Sometimes as a new teacher it can feel like you have too many questions or that some of them are too dumb to ask. Trust me, they aren’t! Every first-year teacher has been in your shoes! If you have questions, ask them! I guarantee that you have coworkers who would love to answer them. You may even make some teacher friends in the process. Find a teacher that you can always go to and can serve as a mentor. It’s nice to have guidance and help when needed.
4. Waiting to Implement a Number System
I love number systems. They make things flow so much smoother in the classroom. Whether it’s collecting papers, grading, inputting grades, or filing papers, number systems help you run through your roster in order while saving you time. Print out a roster on the first day of school and assign a number to each student based on alphabetical order.
5. Buying a Full Classroom Library Your First Year
When you start teaching it’s easy to panic and think that you have to own a million books to build your classroom library. Throughout the years, you will grow your library collection. You can still create a welcoming space and cozy library nook with a few books.
How to Get Affordable Books for Your Classroom Library:
One great way to grow your library (for free) is through Scholastic points. Each time your students place Scholastic orders, you earn points to use towards free books for your classroom. I highly recommend signing up for Scholastic monthly catalogs to encourage your students to place book orders. Another great way to get books for your classroom library at an affordable price is visiting garage sales, thrift stores, and checking out Facebook Marketplace.
6. Following Your Lesson Plan to a T
Lesson plans are important. They help hold us accountable and keep our lessons on track. Even though they’re important, that doesn’t mean we can’t deviate from the lesson plan with good reason. Don’t forget to fit in those teachable moments by being flexible, meeting students where they are, building on learning opportunities, and asking questions. It’s okay to stray from the plan to extend student learning, and you should!
7. Teaching Directly from the Curriculum
You will probably be using your school or district’s curriculum as your guide for lesson planning. However, you can enhance the curriculum by incorporating fun activities within your instruction. Task cards and movement activities are great ways to make the curriculum more engaging for your students. They also mix up your instruction which can help fidgety learners stay on task.
Looking for other ways to keep your learners on task? Check out 10 Engaging Strategies for Fidgety Learners here.
8. Spending a Ton of Money on School Supplies
It’s back to school time and school supplies are everywhere. If you’re anything like me, you probably get excited about that Target school supply aisle and want to buy all the pencils and crayons. But wait a minute! I know it’s hard, but don’t spend a ton of money on classroom supplies. Many of your students will bring their own, parents will donate supplies, and your school may even provide some for you! I highly recommend waiting to see what you receive before buying up those school supplies.
Check out the Classroom Essentials First Year Teachers Need ! These are teacher supplies that will help you create engaging and meaningful lessons for your students.
9. Hanging Anchor Charts Ahead of Time
You’ve just finished making beautiful content-themed anchor charts to hang up in your classroom. Yay for being prepared! But it’s possible to get too far ahead of yourself. Having too many anchor charts on your walls can overwhelm students with content they are not familiar with yet. They are also more meaningful if you create them with your students. Check out this post on Classroom Decor Ideas & Themes to learn more tips about getting your classroom student ready.
10. Waiting to Build a Classroom Community
You can start building community and forming relationships with students on day one. By doing community-building activities with your class, you teach them that they are a family. Families support each other, build each other up, and help each other out. We want our students to know that our classroom is a safe space where they can take risks, make mistakes, and still be accepted. Check out these ideas for building classroom community.
11. Giving Out Personal Information
My first year of teaching I gave out my personal phone number to parents. It was a HUGE mistake. I had a parent call me every single night to ask me about homework, to try to have personal conversations, and would just text me at all hours without a care in the world. Learn from my mistake and don’t mix your personal life with work life. Parent communication should be happening during school hours. Need to speak to a parent? Call them during your break time or make a quick after school call using your school line. If parents need to communicate with you, they can send you an email or call the school. The last thing you need is a parent calling you on the weekend while you’re sipping your margaritas poolside.
12. Connecting with Students on Social Media
In this day and age, most of our students have social media and to them, there’s nothing more exciting than following you on there. However, it’s important to keep your social media platforms private. We love our students but always want to keep that divide between our personal lives and work lives!
13. Getting Sucked Into Teacher’s Lounge Gossip
Don’t let yourself get sucked into gossip. Whether it’s about your fellow coworkers or your new students, wait and formulate your own opinion. Try to see the best in the teachers and kiddos in your building. In lieu of that, don’t ask other teachers for opinions on your new students. We want to give every student a fair chance and the opportunity to start fresh each school year. If you walk into the teacher’s lounge and immediately hear gossip about your colleagues, do yourself a favor– turn around and walk right back out. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your day.
14. Trying to Do Everything at Once
As teachers, we sometimes feel like we have to accomplish our mile-long to-do list all at once. It’s hard not to, but please remember that you don’t have to do it all to be an amazing teacher. You will always have a to-do list with tasks to accomplish. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I recommend prioritizing what’s important for student learning by creating a top 3 priority list each day. If something didn’t make the list, it can wait until tomorrow! This is also a great way to prevent yourself from staying late, as mentioned above!
15. Expecting Every Lesson to be Perfect
My lessons still aren’t perfect, and here’s a little secret, no one’s lessons are! We all show up and give our best every day. Some lessons we knock out of the park and others need a little tweaking so that we can reteach them and make a bigger impact. That’s just the nature of teaching. So as a first year teacher, give yourself some grace, show up and try your best, and know that’s enough!
I hope this post was helpful! These are all things I wish I knew as a first-year teacher and would have loved some guidance on.If you’re a veteran teacher, comment below with your best piece of advice for new teachers!