Are you a brand new English teacher beginning your career? Congratulations! That first year is filled with so much excitement, but you’re also probably feeling some trepidation.
Will my students like me? How do I make friends on staff? Will I do a good job?
In this post, I’m offering survival tips for any new English teacher.
New English Teacher Survival Tip #1: You’re Going to Need Help
There’s simply no way around it: you can’t do this alone.
During your first year of teaching, not only are you learning how to teach on your own, but you’ll have to learn about your school and your students.
Each school has its own culture, procedures, and expectations–learning them can take a few years! And getting to know the student population that you serve can take even longer.
So look for help anywhere you can find it.
What If I Don’t Have a Mentor Teacher?
Hopefully, you’ve been assigned a mentor teacher who can show you the ropes. But often, mentor teachers aren’t available or they themselves are too busy or burnt out to help much.
Try to connect with other new teachers and build a support network for each other. Ask veteran teachers in your building the important questions. For example, how do they manage to keep their students on task? Which water fountain actually has cold water?
And if you can’t find in-person help, find other resources. You can join teaching Facebook groups or listen to educator podcasts for ideas. Following other teachers on the ‘gram and expanding your network can help build a support network.
When I started teaching, I was basically on my own. There wasn’t really a mentor-teacher program in place. Our admin was terrible. We were given no curriculum. And most of the staff was brand new, so there weren’t many veteran teachers to turn to.
It took me years to figure out my systems, the intricacies of submitting field trip forms, and everything else teachers need to know.
So I created the Lit Teacher Series–7 days of advice for new English teachers to help them get started. When you sign up for the series, you’ll receive an email each day. Each email focuses on a different topic, like classroom management or lesson planning. They all include tips, advice, and free resources!
For example, in the first email, you’ll get a list of questions to ask your principal, mentor teacher, or whoever is in charge of orienting new teachers–questions I didn’t even know I needed to ask during my first year.
New English Teacher Tip #2: Office Politics Still Exist in Teaching
This is another lesson I had to learn the hard way during my first year. Even in teaching, office politics can have a big impact.
So be very careful what you say, and to whom you say it.
Now, I don’t mean you should avoid chatting with your co-workers! Quite the opposite–your fellow teachers can be the difference between a job that’s just ok and one you love.
But never say anything negative about a co-worker–not even to your work BFF. Don’t gossip or participate in the rumor mill. If you can’t think of anything nice to say about a colleague, say that their approach is different than yours.
You never know how what you might say in passing can make its way through the grapevine. So don’t comment on others or their classroom. The exception to this, of course, is if you feel students are being put in danger.
New English Teacher Tip #3: Nail Down Your Systems ASAP
When I was preparing for my first year of teaching, I spent way too much time stressing about my curriculum. Instead, I should have been thinking about my systems.
I didn’t realize I would have to teach my students exactly how to enter a classroom. Or how to turn in their assignments. I didn’t think I’d have to show high school students how to keep their papers organized.
And as a result, I spent more time my first year managing behaviors, tracking down lost assignments, and changing tactics than actually teaching.
Not sure where to start?
In my Lit Teacher Series, I send out a list of procedures to think about before starting your first class. I wish I had had that list before I started teaching! You can sign up for the free first-year teaching resources here.
New English Teacher Tip #4: Create Frameworks for Everything
Just like systems, I completely took frameworks for granted my first year. Honestly, I just assumed my high school students would already know a lot that they didn’t know.
But my assumptions were wrong, and my students had no idea what I expected from their work. This left us all frustrated. Things improved radically when I started implementing frameworks for our major activities.
For example, my students really struggled with writing even just a paragraph. A five-paragraph essay then was torturous. When I implemented a claim, evidence, reasoning framework, however, things became a little easier.
Having that framework allowed me to break down big writing tasks into smaller chunks. It also allowed me to introduce domain-specific vocabulary like “claim” that I could then use again and again with students throughout the semester.
Another example might be a framework for analyzing poetry. If students know the steps you want them to follow every time they attempt to analyze a poem, they’ll become much more confident doing so.
Think about the tasks you’ll be asking students to repeat throughout your class. Try to find systems or frameworks you can use to streamline these activities.
New English Teacher Tip #5: Set Boundaries and Take Care of Yourself
This is the most important tip for any new English teacher because it’s the one that’s going to save your entire career: set boundaries.
Too many new teachers jump into the career in a blaze of excitement and passion, only to quickly burn out. If you want your career to span years or even decades, you need to anticipate the overwork and overwhelm, and make a plan to avoid both.
Protect Your Time
For example, especially in your first few years, try not to take on extra tasks. (And if these extra tasks are unpaid, then definitely avoid them!)
Even though you love volleyball, your first year of teaching is probably not the time to become the volleyball coach. After all, you’ll be learning how to do your job, prepping lessons for the first time, and struggling to find a routine that works for you. There’s no need to add the stress of coaching on top.
Once you have some routines in place, a stockpile of lessons you can reuse, and you know you can handle more, then definitely volunteer for those extra positions. But don’t jump the gun.
Need more examples? Check out this blog post on setting up boundaries around your time.
Protect Your Energy
Another trap I’ve seen new teachers fall into is letting students get too close. You want to maintain professional, respectful relationships with your students–and no more.
It’s great if a student feels comfortable confiding in you about a bully, but you really don’t want them coming to you to gossip about their sex life. Don’t let students hang out in your room during lunches. Never let yourself be alone with a student in your room with the door closed.
Set boundaries with your students and stay firm. An example might be something like “I don’t add students on social media.” Another great one is “I don’t drive students home.”
As soon as you do one thing, students will expect it. It’s much easier if you set your boundaries from the beginning and maintain them. After all, this not only helps protect you but often your students.
Protect Your Money
I know it’s tempting to try and become the “favorite” teacher by buying snacks or covering lost lunch money, but it only leaves you broke and students dependent on your help. Instead, learn how you can help them without overextending yourself.
Maybe the guidance office has a stash of emergency snacks for hungry students. Or maybe there is a small budget somewhere for pizza parties after standardized testing. Ask around and find out how you can help students without pulling out your own wallet.
Also, don’t feel like you need to compete with the teachers around you. Ms. Zimmerman might have a beautifully decorated classroom, but it took her years to slowly build up her decor. You don’t have to create a Pinterest-worthy classroom in one year–or ever.
Protect your time, your energy, and your own finances–even if it means feeling like the bad guy occasionally. If you’re burnt out, exhausted, and broke, you can’t possibly be the teacher your students need, so take care of yourself first.
Your first year of teaching is going to be amazing, but that won’t mean there won’t be a few tough times ahead. In fact, I talk about how teaching gets better after the first year here.
Don’t waste your time focusing on things like having the prettiest classroom or making every single lesson into a fun activity. Instead, focus on the basics like getting your classroom systems in place and understanding your school’s and district’s protocols.
If you need some help preparing for your first year, sign up for my Lit Teacher Series. In seven days, I share everything I wish I had known before my first year. I also include some great freebies, too!