Tuesday 23 January 2018

10 tips & advice for beginning teachers

I do not claim to be an expert teacher, not at all.. However, I am no longer a beginning teacher! Woo!

The first two years of your teaching career are a whirlwind, in the best possible way. 

Setting up your first classroom can be terrifying; experienced teachers might puzzle at that and think it overdramatic, but I think it definitely can be. What do I put on the walls? How do I arrange the desks? Where is the laminator? Is this worth keeping? Should I buy this thing? Do I still need mat space? What are my schools expectations for my walls? How much coffee can one person drink in a day before they go crazy? How can I subtly ask for help with xyz, without making myself look like I don't know anything? What's a PROBE? What am I supposed to do with that kid? What do I do if I need to pee during class-time? Whats the system for morning teas? Am I doing this all wrong? Is everyone here secretly judging me for having motivation 'hang in there baby' posters by my desk?

There are so many things you don't know, and even more that you don't know that you don't know. It can be vey daunting to ask for help and ask (what seems to you) stupid questions to people who seem to have their lives sorted perfectly.

From someone who has just finished these testing first two years, and in no particular order,
Here are 10 tips I would offer to 1st year teachers.

  1. Don't buy all the things. Setting up your first class can be expensivvveeee. There are so many things you think you need. You probably don't need to buy your own laminator - but if you want one anyway, Kmart ones work great! You don't need to go to Spotlight and get fancy fabric for your walls. Buy flat sheets and use them instead, or don't use wall fabric. You don't need to buy cushions for all 30 of your lovelies to sit on; they will survive sitting on the carpet. If after a few weeks or months, you still feel you need a particular item, then sure, buy it. Just don't buy everything you think you might need all at once. Take time to think about it.
  2. Go to the staff room whenever you can. This one seems obvious. Why would I not take a lunch break? There is 101 things for teachers to be doing, and they never go away. Physically going to the staff room to eat your lunch and talk to a few colleagues can be great for your mental health (and social life). Take that 20 minute break from marking spelling tests. You deserve it.
  3. Don't obsess over your furniture layout or walls. I remember rearranging my kids desks about 5 times, trying to get them in the perfect place. Ready for it? There is no perfect place. Last year my desks moved around the room on a daily basis depending on what we were doing and what size groups the kids needed/wanted to be in. Don't worry about the desks. For both desks and walls, these should change throughout the year to reflect the learning you are doing. Not having them perfect for the first day of school is okay. They will and should change throughout the year anyway. 
  4. Ask questions. As a BT surrounded by confident experienced teachers, sometimes you can feel like an idiot. You have so many questions that nobody else seems to be thinking. ASK THEM ANYWAY. Whats a PROBE? When do you stop doing JAM and start doing GLOSS? What if I have really low kids, which do I do? What is the percentage for a pass on a running record again? What do my STAR scores actually mean? How do I scan this document? How I do double-sided photocopy? Do we have a photocopy budget? Why do I have do ...? How do I...? What if...? Whatever it is, ask it. You will not be judged and nobody will think you're stupid. Now that I am starting to be asked questions instead of being the one asking them, I actually really like it. As you get more confident and experienced, you do things on auto-pilot, like driving a car. You forget why you do certain things, and it's good for you to be asked why you are doing it that way because it makes you reflect on your own practice. 
  5. Ask for help. Same thing really here, but with the extra added layer of protecting your mental health. Feeling overwhelmed during testing week? Ask for help. Ask other teachers to show you how they set up for theirs, how they get through a whole class in one week. They might have small things that they do to make the whole thing more efficient. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to ask for help. Teachers can be very supportive and they might even offer to take your class for an hour of PE so you can finish off that last GLOSS. 
  6. Find your marigolds. Just read this.  (This is also helped by those visits to the staff room, where you actually get to know your colleagues).
  7. Understand that there are two ways to laminate things, and yes it does make a difference. Okay so, there are two way so laminate things. print, laminate, cut OR print, cut, laminate, cut. The difference is that the first process doesn't necessarily completely seal around each bit of paper, because you might cut around it and one part might open up, but, you have to cut each thing twice... Anything you want to keep and reuse for years and years (assuming you want it to stay in perfect condition)? Do the print, cut, laminate cut option. This way, each piece of paper is individually sealed and less likely to be ripped open/water damaged etc. In my humble opinion they also look better (see picture below for an example).
  8. Do things as you go. You don't need to plan for Term 3 when you are halfway through Term 1. Take things one week (or maybe two) at a time. On this note, keep on top of your BT folder. Don't leave things for the holidays, document observations, professional development etc. as you do them. 
  9. Spend a bit of time getting to know what resources your school has. There are a lot of things that aren't obvious things for people to point out to you in your first tour of your new school. Regardless of what year level you teach, familiarise yourself with the colour wheel books and school journals. Know how they work, where they are, and how to put them back correctly. Is there any cooking stuff for the kids to use, and where is it kept? What PE equipment do we have? Where are the road patrol signs and jackets kept? Where is the extra photocopy paper and printer ink kept? Is there an art room; is the stuff in there a free-for all or not? Is there any science equipment and where is it kept? What hours is the caretaker here? Can I just call them to fix something or is there a system for booking them in? Do we have a ladder? These seem like really mundane things to know, but once you know them, things are easier. 
  10. Be nice to the office lady, librarian, cleaners and caretakers. These people have a huge role to play in schools, and having them be your friend is important. 
Random other advice...
  • Use this website to download letters for your walls. In Word, you can rearrange the letters to spell out whatever you want. Then cut, print, cut, staple. Reuse forever and ever and ever.
  • Get a TWINKL account. It costs money, but it is so worth it. There is an endless amount of stuff you can download and use off this site. I have found it particularly helpful for display stuff, for example -
  • Don't know what to put on your walls? Start with the basics. Your teacher corner will require the NZC posters and some key competencies. I found this in my cupboard left behind by the previous teacher, but having this around was helpful (especially for report writing). If your school runs PB4L or SOLO, that should be somewhere as well.

To all 1st years teachers, good luck! I hope my 10c of advice will get you thinking, if not be actually helpful. You will never forget your first year. Enjoy it!


  1. Some great advice there, Ashley - always remember to keep breathing, just keep breathing - we get there in the end! Preparation and participation is paramount!

  2. This is gold Ashley. Thanks for taking the time to share from your experience. You are an expert in successfully navigating the BT years.

    Have a marvellous year this year.


  3. Aww this is awesome and I miss you! You are a fantastic teacher, Ashley - have the best first year as a fully registered teacher!

  4. Thanks for this Ashley. I am mentoring another BT this year and it's great to hear from a 'now registered teacher' what was valuable in your first years.

  5. This is such a great post Ash, so many good points! I wish I had've had this as a first year (most of it is still relevant to me even as a secondary teacher!).

    One thing I may add to that list, is don't be afraid to share! In Manaiakalani, we take for granted sharing. I think my confidence in my teaching and learning has grown so much faster than some of my colleagues and fellow graduates, because of sharing. We are all afraid of being judged or critiqued, but I think that is important to become even better than before.

    Looking forward to reading about what you get up to this year. :)

  6. Go Ashley - what an awesome post and great insights into the first few years! Still relevant for us third year teachers too :) Look forward to seeing you continue to strive this year and can't wait to read more posts!


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