If you’re a budding new teacher, you’re about to embark on a journey of self-discovery and fulfilling life-shaping. You will no doubt have a profound impact on people’s lives, and they in turn will affect you in ways you cannot predict. This happens throughout our lives, but as a teacher your influence is magnified many times over.
So let’s pretend we’re your virtual mentor, taking you aside for a pep talk the day before you head into the fray. We’re reflecting back on our own first days of teaching, and remembering what we would have done differently.
I know that the best new teacher tips I can give come from experience. So that’s the perspective that I will take in this post.
I spent 10 years as a band director in a middle school. During that time I was asked to also teach high school orchestra across the street and middle school touch-typing. I said yes, hoping that it would score me some brownie points with the school system. I also had an outside gig as a conductor for a community youth band, and played my instrument in a volunteer but highly-skilled wind band.
If I were a teacher again, I would do some things differently.
While I’ve heard from other teachers, “You’re lucky, you get to teach what you love to do,” the following tips could certainly be applied to any subject if you think about it.
I’m sure if you’re a veteran teacher, you might disagree or have something to add. Feel free to share your insights in the comments, as they would be very welcome in our online community.
At any rate, I hope these heartfelt new teacher tips for new teachers help in some way.
15 New Teacher Tips for Your Journey
1. Don’t overwork yourself outside of school hours
Only have one outside gig at a time. Overworking myself made me lose focus on becoming a great teacher. I do believe in staying active in playing music outside of school. Also, that gig outside of school should have helped me network and stay in contact with many great musicians and teachers. Only problem was I was so tired that I would go home after the gig with no more energy to network.
If I were to do it again, I would make sure that the gig would afford me opportunities to improve my craft, like college credit towards certification renewal or application toward a national certification.
2. Say “No”
I can’t count the number of times that I felt obligated to answer ‘yes’ when asked to do some things when I knew my energy would not last. I wish I had known which things to say ‘yes’ to that would enhance, rather than drain, the job that I was doing.
As a newlywed with a growing family this became more critical—the importance of keeping energy levels high to respond to my responsibilities. In the examples above, I should have not been afraid to make the hard decision to let some things go. Neither should you.
3. Ask for help
I remember there were a couple of ‘big boy’ band directors who would come away with amazing performance scores at district festivals and competitions (band’s equivalent of standardized testing, performance style). I think I should have spent the better part of my formative teaching years asking them for help, rather than being envious of them and trying to do everything myself.
You see, I wanted full credit. Unfortunately I neither got the scores I wanted nor was quite remembered (or so I thought) when I left.
Ditch the elitist attitude and be a speaker for your students, not yourself. On the administrative side, band parents are more than willing to help. They can be your friends, not your enemies. Other potential helpers for me were my wife, a colleague/friend in the same school, and a music teacher in the same district. Teaching is a team effort, and more and more teachers are collaborating.
4. Steal ideas
I should have observed those band directors whom I admired and talked to them and befriended them. I should have realized that they didn’t have their noses so high in the clouds that they wouldn’t give me pointers. I spent too much time in front of the computer trying to create my own curriculum, quizzes, and worksheets. I also was a perfectionist, so that what I did create for my class didn’t get implemented when I wanted. The key here is to steal the best ideas from the best.
Communicate with your family that you need time outside of work to plan. Ask them to help you. I could have involved my wife in my endeavors. I would also use a project planner like GDCF’s Solution Fluency Activity Planner to iron out details.
6. Be proactive when it comes to student problems
I spent too much time putting out fires than preventing them. By this I mean that I knew the problem kids in my class, but instead of being proactive with them I just dreaded the moment they stepped in my class, and I always expected the worst.
I should have included these kids in my planning to work outside the class to get on their side. I’ve only come to this conclusion now that I have kids of my own in school.
7. Get a hold of paperwork
Document everything. If you can, get all paperwork online so you can save valuable office space. Time should be allotted everyday to blogging. One should be public, and another a private journal.
8. Communicate better
Again, this could be in the form of blogging. The school system I was in wanted me to record a message on the parent hotline all the time, but this wasn’t something I was totally embracing because I was making it up as I went along.
Very few teachers can improvise, but it’s not fair to the kids in your care who can’t and who need a lot of heads-up before an assignment is due.
9. Manage time better
Things exist now like Asana to help me keep my tasks in order as well as assemble a team to create great things. Get ideas out and ask for help in implementing them.
10. Pay attention to detail
I would have worked more on setting up my physical learning environment, decorations, help posters, etc. There are many things that could be posted as reminders so I didn’t have to rehash the same material over and over. I should have found a print shop that would print large posters (as band rooms are usually large). In today’s world, I would probably take advantage of flipped lessons to help kids practice at home when I couldn’t be with them.
11. Respect parents more
I think as time went on, and I felt I wasn’t getting things done, I was acutely aware of parental eyes on the mediocre (as I perceived it) job that I was doing, even though this was probably an illogical conclusion. I sought more to tell them good things about their child, even if that child might have needed extra help, in order to make them believe my job was being done.
As a parent, now I know how important education is for my own children. I would expect more from a teacher failing me at the end of the year without adequate help to course-correct before the end. Formative assessment would have been my tool of choice.
My problem was that I was keeping so many ideas in my head without writing them down. So I spent countless hours up at night trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Problem was, I would wake up forgetting everything and nothing would get done.
Getting proper rest is a right, not a privilege. Make it a priority, because you deserve it.
13. Talk to you principal/admin more
My principal was a good man. Though I could say that I had a hard time going to him, because of cultural differences. I felt like an outsider. I always felt guilty sending him problem students. I felt as though he looked down on me for my lack of ability to control certain kids. I’m sure that if I talked to my principal when there wasn’t a problem going on, things might have been better and a healthy relationship with him might have given me energy to avoid burn out.
14. Do something during the summer to improve your craft
Avoid PD opportunities that don’t relate to your field. In fact, especially in the arts, there were opportunities like music educators’ conferences and district band meetings that I could have used as networking opportunities and idea generating, and most importantly, as support systems. I think at the time I looked at them as competition, and let my own ego be my downfall.
When I wasn’t getting the scores I wanted in festivals and competitions, I became bitter and hope diminished in my becoming a great teacher, remembered for the inspiration that he gave his kids.
You don’t have to make that mistake. Always be working on yourself, no matter what that may mean in the moment.
15. Keep up with your recertification requirements
No one else will do it for you. Keep it in your radar, and plan for it when doing your long-term planning.
I think the gist of this article is probably this: own mistakes and learn from them. But you’ve got to recognize when you need course correction, then go about solving the problem with help from others.
I know that I will never know how many students of mine were affected positively by my time as teacher. It’s sure nice to think about, though—it’s something teachers don’t ponder often enough, I believe.
What I hope to accomplish in sharing all this with you is a catharsis of all my regrets, as well as the opportunity to help new teachers in whatever field they work in, to make their formative teaching years some of the best years of their life. I’d like to do whatever I can to ensure you enjoy a long and fruitful career in the teaching field.