Goals of a First-Year Teacher

Clay Scarborough
Clay Scarborough
High School Principal; M.A. in Education, Principal Certification
Young teacher sitting at her desk in a classroom writing on papers.

Congratulations!!! After years of hard work, dreams and dedication you have finally landed that first teaching job…now the fun and hard work begin! You finally get to make those lesson plans, implement all those fun activities you have thought of for years, get to shape and mold the young minds of America, and take a moderate dose of reality once you get your own classroom.

Regardless of how much reality might burst your bubble that first year, this profession gives you a chance at some of the greatest rewards that no other profession can offer. As a teacher for ten years, assistant principal for five years, and now in my third year as a high school principal, I can share with you two major goals and some tips for that first year as a teacher.

Goal One: Become a Second-Year Teacher

You could almost boil down the goals for a first-year teacher down to one goal summed up in this one phrase: the goal of a first-year teacher is to become a second-year teacher. While I was an assistant principal, an instructional coach for many years shared that knowledge with me as we were both coaching along a corp of new teachers at an over 90% low socio-economic urban school.

In short, your first goal is survival. The kids from time to time will give a run for your money; however, what you will find to be one of your greatest tests is your ability to juggle the demands of time with a combination of the ESL, special education, and other paperwork that will come your way.

One of the biggest surprises to new school teachers is not instruction or classroom management (but that is not far behind), it is the paperwork and deadlines that are required by federal mandates, district initiatives, and school preparation. Once you survive the lessons, the classes, and paperwork, you are a veteran!

Goal Two: Shut Up and Do Your Job

This is really not supposed to sound harsh, but it was some of the best advice that was given to me and another college student while we played golf with our professor at college. He meant that by going into your professional learning community, your department, your staff meetings, and by listening to those that have been there before, you will accomplish many objectives. First, you will earn their trust. Second, you will pick up on what works and doesn’t work just from listening. Remember, you are building relationships and adding to their team. Take time to figure out where you can help the team and the school outside your classroom.

Other Tips to Help in that First Year of Teaching

You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you…

Yes, this is before that first job, but one key to success during that first year will be the team around you. In larger districts you will likely have three to six teachers teaching the exact same thing that you are. In smaller districts there may be only one other person to plan with.

This team is a large predictor to how successful your first year will be. When you interview, be looking for clues or ask about how often and how long departments/teams get together to collaborate. With a good team or person to plan with, you can literally beg, steal and borrow your way to a great year, so to speak. In some cases, all you may have to do is take their game plan into your room and run with it. Tweak it later, but learn from those you have done it already.

Find a mentor…

Any district worth its salt is going to assign you a mentor teacher. This person, in my experience, is someone who can show you how to take attendance, input grades, order supplies,  help set teacher goals, or even lend you a shoulder to cry on or an ear to just listen. This mentor can help make a bad day turn into a good day. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or seek out someone that will act in this position. Make sure you can find someone who you can go to with any question or when you need to blow off some steam. 

Observe when you can…

Time is going to be a struggle, but when you can, don’t stop observing teachers like you did when you were in college. Try to watch who others say are really good teachers and get ideas from them. Mainly you are watching for instructional strategies and classroom management techniques that you can implement right away in your room, but keep an eye out for professional development goals for teachers you can embrace for yourself as well.

E-Learning tips and navigating the first year of teaching during COVID-19

When it comes to e-learning we are telling our first year teachers two major things to keep in mind. First, go as electronic as you can. Whether you are on Google Classroom, Blackboard, etc., become the facilitator of online learning whether the student is in the class physically more than six feet from you or online physically six miles from you.

Let online delivery house your resources, videos, documents, etc. and be the facilitator in the room and at home. This will also make a major difference in that from day to day depending on exposure and positive tests, you might not know who will be in the classroom at home. This makes the students’ learning mobile and accessible whether they are at home in quarantine or in your classroom.

Number two: know your technology. Test it over and over again. That way when breakdowns happen, you can fix it easily and move on. This also makes you a valuable member of the team when you can fix all the other technology problems on your hallway.

Concerning COVID-19, during this time since there will be more uncertainty, there are a couple of items that cannot be forgotten. First, be extra flexible. Procedures, how and when work gets turned in from students, and different things the school will ask for change from day to day. The goal is still the same: to educate. How that happens will likely shift before the goal is reached.

Second, you have to take care of yourself! Take vitamins, drink water, get plenty of sleep, get some sunshine, eat well…all of this will help your immune system so that physically and mentally you can walk into the classroom and handle what comes your way.

COVID is an obstacle, but the goal is still the same. Education has been around longer than COVID; it will also outlast COVID.

Once again, congratulations! Your first year is about survival, learning your job, and keeping your head above water. It’ll take a few years before you move from survival to expert level. Be patient and survive that first year!


*Updated August, 2020
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