Transitioning from Student to Real World Classroom

Clay Scarborough
Clay Scarborough
High School Principal; M.A. in Education, Principal Certification
Young female teacher standing at the back of a classroom smiling.

For the last approximately 17 years of your life, you have been the student. You have been the one sitting in one of 15, 20, 30, or 100 desks or rows learning from the teacher. But now, as a first year teacher, you are the one setting the rules, creating the procedures, grading the papers, handing out detentions, etc.!

Now, you must transition from being a student teacher to being the teacher in the real world classroom. Let’s talk about some points to think about as you make this transition.

Know Who You Are

Take a good look in the mirror and try to get a good feel for the kind of teacher you expect yourself to be. Will your classroom be extremely structured with perfect measured rows and bulletin boards? Will your classroom management be more positive behavior-focused or punitive in nature? What are your favorite instructional strategies? Will it include purposeful talk between students, centers, flipped classroom, etc.?

You need to have an idea of your personality and what will likely work for you. It is hard for a nurturer not to smile until Thanksgiving. It is hard for someone who likes quiet in their classroom to allow a lot of group projects. Know who you are!

What Will My Classroom Look Like?

I know this sounds similar to the first point, but this gets down into the weeds of your classroom. In fact, it was during the last couple of years of my teaching career that some of this actually crossed my mind, not during my first year in the classroom. What are the details of how your class will operate?

When students enter your room, what are the exact procedures they will follow? Where will their backpacks go? Will they grab journals when they come, and after that, where will they go, what will they do, what will they do after that? When students ask for help, will they raise their hand, and when they raise their hand, are they to do that quietly or call your name at the same time?

When students get up to go to the bathroom, will they sign a sign-out sheet? Do they have to ask or will they just go when they need to? Will there be a limit on how many trips they can take in one week, six weeks, one semester, etc.?

I know some of the examples above may sound trivial, but these little details like where the pencil sharpener may be, how students transition from one segment to the other, how they enter, and how they clean-up, are potential pitfalls to how your class will operate and how you manage it.

Manage Your Time

You had to manage time as a student between completing college and (maybe) working at the same time or even during your student teaching experience. Or, in my case, playing college sports while working on a master’s degree. Either way, you had to prioritize your time to accomplish what you felt was the most important goal you were working on.

This will continue during this transition. Some of you are entering your first year of teaching and may have kids or may also be newly married or learning a new town, etc. Balance your time! Before school starts you may need a Saturday to get the room ready, or stay later an evening or two to make sure you are progressing enough that you can sleep well at night.

But, if each Saturday you are at school or if you are leaving school when it is dark the entire month of September, you will burn out, you will miss your family, and you will not be the best you can be for your students and colleagues. Set limits on your time at work and recognize the importance of self-care; do something you enjoy in your free time (you have to make sure you have free time!), exercise, and make sure you are getting some sleep. You may have to schedule free time and exercise or fun time into your day, but it is needed for success.

Become Your Best Teachers

It is a very true fact of life that who we learn from (by choice or by not) will dictate much of what we will do in the future. It is not a coincidence that good quarterbacks are with good coaches, and some good quarterbacks fail because they do not end up with good coaches.

The same is true in education; the teachers and colleagues we learn from (good and bad) will make a difference in how we treat and teach our students. Thus, really think about your best teachers and what they did that made them so great and find the parts of their repertoire that you, as a new teacher, can add yours that fits with your strengths and personality.

Maybe it was the way your high school English teacher pushed you without you recognizing or the way your elementary teacher made science fun when you had no interest whatsoever. And even greater than that, how did that one teacher make you feel about yourself when you felt like the world was caving in on you? Become your best teachers!

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