Advice for First-Year Teachers from an Administrator

Kate Gallagher
Kate Gallagher
High school principal; M.A. in Urban Education, ESL Program Specialist
Two administrators walking down the hall talking

Your first year as a teacher will be a whirlwind. Student teaching is super important and many valuable lessons and skills can be gained during that time with your cooperating teacher, even if it’s how not to teach! As important as this time is in your pre-service, there is very little experience that can come close to what you will experience as a teacher after graduation.

Teaching is a profession that is very hard to simulate because of the responsibilities that come with the role. Your first year will be your on-the-job training and you will make many mistakes, but you will also experience the sweet reward of success. It will undoubtedly be tough, but there are some things that can help immensely!

Work Closely with a Teacher Mentor

Typically, your district or school will identify a mentor teacher for you to work closely with during your first year. This may be part of a larger induction process. Spending time with a mentor upon hire will help acclimate you to the building, your classroom, school norms and culture along with history, and start to help you build relationships with colleagues.

Your mentor can introduce you to other department or grade-level colleagues, be helpful in getting you access to the correct technology, and teach you how to use internet-based platforms and resources like email and learning management systems. It is important to learn from your mentor how discipline is handled, who you can turn to for help, and also about the cultural norms of the student body. Consider that your mentor was likely chosen for a reason and was considered worthy of having expertise to pass on to you. Lastly, allow your mentor to show you what your school is proud of and what they’re working towards.

Get Involved Outside the Classroom

The best teachers develop positive relationships with their students. Rita Pierson says, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,” in her TED Talk “Every Kid Deserves a Champion.” When I started in education in 2006, the most senior teachers on my staff told me things like “Don’t smile till Christmas!” and “You can’t be fun or they won’t respect you!” They acted like students wouldn’t behave in my class or respect me unless I was mean and tough on them.

There may be some teachers who try to give you the same advice. These are the same teachers who are creating negative memories and associations with learning that their students will recall for the rest of their lives. The generation we dream of reaching needs our care, support, and guidance more than ever. These things are actions of a teacher who respects their students and develops authentic, trusting relationships with them.

One of the best ways to show your support of students is to get involved outside of the classroom. Lots of teachers coach sports or become club advisors. These are great ways to get to know your students as people. The moments you will share will allow you to see your students outside of the academic setting and as a daughter, son, sister, or brother instead of only through the lens of teacher to student.

Clubs and sports are wonderful ways to get involved, but your first year will be overwhelming and demanding with just your teaching responsibilities. Consider something that requires less commitment for your first year and attend a few athletic events as a fan, a concert, art show, or even something within your students’ community like a parade or festival! Showing up to these things proves to your students and families that you serve them and that you are not only teaching for a job, but you are truly invested in them as people and a community.

Professional Development

Public school districts, private schools, and charter schools all offer or require a number of professional development opportunities throughout the school year. These are typically geared toward supporting or propelling the school’s values and goals. They may also be for compliance.

During your first year you will be inundated with information, and it will be difficult to see more than a small tunnel view of a larger picture. Sometimes, professional development is the last thing you want to do. You’ll rather be in your room planning, organizing, or grading. Even though it might not seem important at the time, it is in your best interest to try to focus and not think of all the other things on your “to-do” list. Teachers are masters at multi-tasking, but professional growth is extremely important even if it is inconvenient at the time it is assigned.

There will also be opportunities for you to seek out professional developments for your own professional growth. Depending on the state you hold a certification in, you will probably be required to earn a certain amount of continuing education credits per a number of years to maintain your certification. Taking graduate level classes is a great way to continue your professional growth. Starting these your first year of teaching may be too much to handle right away, so take some time for serious consideration before deciding to pursue a program.

Choose Wisely

A school building is like a small sample of a large community. You will work with a wide variety of people who have different personalities, likes, dislikes, and beliefs. It is important that you choose wisely when deciding who you accept advice from and spend time with. There will always be people who are negative and unhappy. This unhappiness and negativity can spread like wildfire throughout a building and quickly destroy a positive culture. It will serve you best to seek like-minded, positive people to spend time with and socialize. This will assure that you have access to the support that you will need and others who are helpful in nature!

Don’t Give Up!

Your first year will be tough! Sometimes you will have moments that make you doubt your career choice. Do not give up! It will get better! The toughest days are the days that you learn and grow the most while becoming a better teacher. These days are necessary to help you get better. At times, things may be overwhelming and stressful, but there will always be days that are as rewarding as those days are tough. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. As they say, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Seek motivation and positivity. Most importantly, don’t give up because the work that you do is important and you are impacting the lives of your students!

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