Simple Advice, Tips, & Strategies for New Teachers

A New Teacher’s First Few Weeks

Consider Mrs. Janison, a new teacher, as she nervously greets her first class of students for the day. She introduces a few of her classroom rules, like “be kind to each other” and “try your best,” and explains what they’ll be doing in the year as students review her syllabus. Because she didn’t provide assigned seating, she notes that many students have sat with their friends. As she lectures students and describes the syllabus in their hands, she notices many students have begun to daydream, a few chatter with their friends. For the most part, though, her classes throughout the day have been pretty uneventful and enjoyable without many issues.

Fast forward another week, and students are much more comfortable in their classroom environment. While Mrs. Janson is grateful her students are opening up more, she notices that the classes become more rowdy as her lessons go on, and she has a difficult time settling the students down. She is still learning what works and doesn’t work in her classroom as a new teacher, and has started changing up a few procedures in class, like how students record their homework or the ways students can request to use the restroom. She is spending a lot of time making lessons for her students but worries that when she goes to teach them in class, she isn’t connecting well with her students- and their grades show that.

Yet a few more weeks later, Mrs. Janson has designed what she believes is an amazing science lab! She’s excited for her students to collaborate together and analyze different sliced fruits as a lesson on classification. But, to her dismay, students aren’t very engaged: they keep asking, “What are we supposed to be doing?” as they chat amongst themselves and play with the fruit slices rather than utilizing them for the activity. What’s worse, after the activity, she realized the students still didn’t understand the principles of classification that she hoped to teach them through this activity! As she dismisses her class for the day, Mrs. Janson feels a sense of defeat and worries about how she’ll be able to teach her students all they need to know this school year in the current classroom environment.

As a first-year teacher, Mrs. Janson has realized she is finding it difficult to wear the many hats required of a teacher. She worries that her lessons are missing the mark, and instead of delighting in students engaging with each other about the class concepts, she worries that the majority of her lessons are focused on figuring out how to quiet down her students and get them to focus on the lessons and activities.

Nearly all new teachers will struggle in some way as they begin their teaching journey! Teaching is truly a learning process, and even the most veteran teacher reflects each year on how she can improve her skills for the next school year. Don’t despair! With time and patience, you can purposefully work to improve your teaching skills throughout the school year. If you come into your new teaching profession with the understanding that it takes time to get everything “right,” you’ll be happier, less stressed, and enjoy the amazing vocation you have chosen.

In the remainder of this article, you will reflect on three key areas that you can tackle sequentially to help prepare you for a great year of teaching!

Classroom Management and Culture

Without a well-managed classroom, students cannot engage fully in the lesson, lesson time may be lost, and the learning environment may be stressful or chaotic. Without a strong and positive classroom culture, you’ll never get your students fully engaged in your lessons. By taking the opportunity to focus on your classroom management strategies first, before worrying about perfecting your lessons and student engagement methods, you can establish strong expectations early, which will lead to easier lesson implementation and more engaged and focused students. Many new teachers want to try and “do it all” at the very beginning of their career. But, taking the time to recognize the importance of classroom management as your main area of focus before worrying about the other components of teaching could potentially help you breathe easier and focus on perfecting one skill at a time.

As you work to focus on and perfect your classroom management skills, ask yourself these questions as a starting point:

  • Are my expectations for student achievement obvious throughout the lesson, and also reiterated constantly?
  • Do my students execute transitions, routines, and procedures efficiently?
    Am I reinforcing student behavior using positive feedback on a consistent basis?
  • Are students engaged and focused in the lesson by asking or answering questions and attempting the work?
  • Are students completing tasks at a fast pace consistently
  • Are my students and I respectful of one another, and do I use and reinforce constructive language in the classroom?

If the answer is no to one or more of the above questions, consider what areas you can seek out additional professional learning opportunities. Select 1-2 areas to start with, then develop strategies to improve those areas. As you work on improving classroom management and culture, you will notice your classroom is more conducive to delivering great lessons that promote deep learning.

Instructional Strategies and Learning Activities

As a new teacher, you don’t have years of experience refining and polishing your lesson plans and activities. You’ll learn that sometimes a lesson is just a miss- and sometimes a lesson really shines! The way to ensure you always provide your students with excellent learning activities and instructional strategies that promote their thinking is to prepare, plan, and practice. While this takes time, you’ll notice that once you are ready to tackle building your excellent lesson plans, you’ll find it much easier to teach your students since your classroom management strategies are strong and your classroom culture is positive.

As you work to analyze and improve your instructional strategies and learning activities, ask yourself these questions as a starting point:

  • Are my lesson structure and activities always well aligned to a specific standard or lesson objective?
  • Are my instructional materials, prompts, and other tools high quality and appropriately demanding for my students?
  • Is it clear to my students that the lesson is well planned, and would they say the content being delivered is clear and accurate?
  • Do my lessons consistently reach every level of student in my class, and are my lessons differentiated appropriately when necessary?
  • Are my goals for student mastery measurable, and do I have clear plans in place for students to achieve those goals?

If you answered no to one or more of the above questions, or if you don’t know, you may want to consider focusing on strategies to help in your planning and preparation of lesson activities. Focus on one area at a time as you master each skill!

Student Ownership and Learning

Once you have mastered your classroom management and have prepared and delivered excellent lessons, only then can you focus on deeper learning that requires students to take ownership of the content they are learning in the classroom. From a well-planned lesson in a well-managed classroom, you can now begin monitoring your students for depth of learning, check for understanding in various ways, and teach them to self-assess their progress. Don’t worry if you do not master these skills right away; as a new teacher, you will work to improve these skills throughout the school year and beyond.
As you work to analyze what your student’s ownership and learning looks like in your classroom, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I give my students multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery using various methods to check for understanding?
  • Are my students, and not me, completing the majority of the learning through multiple methods like discussion, analysis, writing, etc.?
  • Do my students answer questions that require them to cite specific evidence to support their ideas?
  • Do my students take the initiative to ask questions or clarify concepts to improve their understanding of my lesson?
  • Do my students use methods to monitor their own learning, and can they assess whether or not they have met the lesson’s goal?

If you answered no to one or more of the above questions, you can choose strategies and professional learning that focus on what the students are doing in class. This set of skills is also great to witness in a veteran teacher’s classroom- ask to observe a lesson or two!

The key to a great first year of teaching is to reflect on what you are doing in your classroom each day and work to make sequential changes and improvements until you have mastered a skill before moving on to the next skill to implement in your classroom. Don’t worry; it will take some time- all great teachers must start somewhere!

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