10 Things A First Year Teacher Should Do

516694_black_and_whiteDo you hate your job? I just finished my third week of school and am excited about how much fun my job will be this year. It’s super exciting. I remember back when I was a first year teacher, though. It wasn’t quite like this. This was underscored this week when a couple of anonymous readers (disgruntled and hey) left the following comments:

It’s interesting reading all these comments and I was searching the internet for other jobs I could do if I wasn’t a teacher.. My story is the opposite. I have a great bunch of students and a really supportive (mostly) group of parents also. I am disgruntled by the workload and also extra things that end up taking all of my time. The processes in my school are frustrating and I feel like we spend all of our time preparing our students to sit standardized testing so that our school results can improve. My frustration comes from not being able to nurture the other aspects of my students and that the day is taken up by all these other commitments. There is no time for doing those ‘just because’ activities. I am finding it really hard to overcome the politics at my school, the lack of consultation, the procceses and procedures and that unstable employment. It’s these things that are weighing in my mind and making me consider all my options.


I’ve been teaching two weeks and am stressed out to the max. I teach special ed and have to prepare 33 lessons a week. I teach three classes in one hour, jumping from two kids to another to two more. I literally run around all day like a chicken with my head cut off. I work 12 hours a day and constantly worry about my job. I come in on the weekends. I have the worst job for a first year teacher. I hate it.

I don’t know that you actually have THE worst job for a first year teacher, but admittedly, you have it pretty bad! If I were in your situation, I would do the following things immediately.

  1. Commit to stay at the school through the year
    This could easily be a defining moment for your life as you confront this challenge head-on. Don’t give up, no matter the circumstances.
  2. Remember that you do have some days set aside as sick days
    Use them. There is much to be said for the value of “mental health days.” Don’t abuse them, and also keep in mind that you need to save them and use them throughout the year, but why can’t you miss a day every three or four weeks? Let the subs see the mess you have to deal with.
  3. Avoid the temptation to gossip
    As we get more stressed, it’s a lot easier to say things about people behind their backs. If you do and end up looking for another job next year, it will come to bite you in the end.
  4. Avoid the temptation to live excessively
    Don’t live for the weekend. Don’t overeat. Don’t start smoking or smoke more than you have. Just keep a level head.
  5. Talk to friends
    It’s easy to focus only on yourself when the situation seems hopeless. Don’t do it. That simply makes you feel more hopeless. As we focus on others, we come out of our selves more.
  6. Do less, but do what you do exceptionally well
    You really don’t have to have a different lesson plan for each student. Copy and paste. Focus on the group of students you are working with completely while you are working with them.
  7. Slow down
    The only one stressing about your job is you. If you slow down, you will be less likely to make mistakes, and you will breathe more easily. I find that the parents of students with special needs tend to be more patient with teachers when the teachers are trying their hardest to help the student.
  8. Become friends with you administrators
    You don’t have to be their best friend, but get to know your administrators at least on the surface. Have a good
    relationship with them, and things will be much easier for you down the road. Always act with a conscioucness of how your actions will affect your situation later on.
  9. Keep complainints out of your vocabulary
    Talking about problems without suggesting a solution is complaining. Talking about problems while considering possible solutions is brainstorming. Come up with solutions before you even mention a single problem to anyone else. It’s tough, but it will make you much more pleasant to be around and you’ll find people become more sympathetic to your situation.
  10. Set aside one day a week to completely leave work by 4:00
    It’s easy for me to say “never take work home” but if most teachers did that, they would be at school until 8:00 most nights. But it is realistic to plan to have one  night a week where you don’t do anything work-related. Every week. Without fail. If you can’t do it the same day every week, be sure you know which day it is this week and just get up and leave at 4:00. You’ll find that you’re not much furhter behind tomorrow morning than you were this morning.

I remember how stressful things were for me when my coworker had a stroke. We had kids in the band hall constantly from the time I opened the band hall before 7:30 in the morning until I locked the door usually after 5:00. Even during my lunch time. I was perosnally responsible for over 225 students for three months. I know how hard it can be!

Hang in there, my friend. Welcome to the world of teaching. Hang in there. As is usually the case, I am sure I’ve overlooked some glaring solution that one of my lovely readers will point out in the comments here as well. So be sure to read whatever they write below!

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

10 Comments on 10 Things A First Year Teacher Should Do

  1. Maybe I just have a great teaching position, but I’ve had no problems doing most of the things on that list. (Of course, I have had problems with other things, but that’s to be expected somewhat.) The things I am most grateful for as a first-year teacher, though, are a very personable and approachable principal (who is great and probably the primary reason I took this job without a moment’s hesitation) and great staff who have been open to giving advice or talking things out. I also can’t really fathom leaving a position during the school year, but I admittedly have not been in a situation where I’ve felt like it was necessary.

    For me, the first four weeks have been challenging in a lot of ways (I have some difficult students but not overwhelmingly so), but I keep coming back to the fact that I really have the greatest job ever. It often doesn’t even really feel like a job (although it certainly takes a lot of work to be prepared). I hope that these first-year teachers are able to get there, despite the struggles.

  2. I agree with all of these (though honestly, #2 never worked for me – it’s way more stressful to me to not be there and know I’m going to have to deal with whatever happened when I come back. But I do know teachers who find those days really helpful), but can I add one?

    11. Find something you love about your job. If you have something you love that you can focus on when you’re feeling down, it’s a lot easier to pull yourself back up. For me, it’s the kids – their stories, their ridiculousness, their hope, their potential. Sure, some days I want to throw them out a window, but overall, I do what I do because of them, and when I’m feeling frustrated even with an entire class, I can look at individuals or other classes and remember what rockstars they are. And it helps.

    • Sure, some days I want to throw them out a window, but overall, I do what I do because of them, and when I’m feeling frustrated even with an entire class, I can look at individuals or other classes and remember what rockstars they are. And it helps.

      I love it! Thanks for the smile. :)

    • I absolutely agree with this, and these are the moments when I become acutely aware of how much I love my job. Thank you for pointing this out.

  3. I think the advice above is great and should be stuck to. I’d also like to expand on the “get to know your administration” idea- find a mentor in the school that can give you some support. I had a handful of great people offering advice and answering every question I threw their way. One was an assistant principal and the others were teachers. Make sure you ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    This is my second year in. One thing that my AP kept repeating was, “It gets better.” It does. Stick with it, survive the first year and the next will be much better. I’m only a couple days into my second year and the difference is so stark that after school this Friday I was sitting wondering what happened, but wondering what had made the students listen to me every time they asked me to. Last year on the first Friday of the year I was sitting in my room feeling completely numb wondering why students at my school threw textbooks at one another instead of listening to adults.

    Listening to those who can empathize helps to. My blog is dedicated in part to first year teachers. It’s http://frontlinewithwine.blogspot.com/ .

  4. Wow… these are such great comments to a wonderful post. I’m a student teacher and it has been easy to find myself pulled down by all the stress and anxiety felt by teachers. Not to mention all the rhetoric surrounding education policy and politics. Thank you for contributing your positive voice to the dialogue about teaching… it is so very necessary and appreciated.

    Thank you thank you!

  5. Remember to enjoy the students. They are what makes teaching such a worthwhile endeavor.

    Every once in a while, leave the planned curriculum behind, and go “off road” with them, sniffing out a teachable or learnable moment. Unexpected, shared experiences lead to a sense of community that can last much longer than any set of facts.

    When all else fails (or anytime), laugh with the students. It’ll remind them (and you) that learning can be a great deal of fun.

    Don’t let “standards” get in the way of seeing each student as special and unique. “Standards” are set by people looking at populations. Teachers get to know the individuals.

  6. I have to vote for #2. I know planning to take a day off is hectic, but mental health days are important. As someone who had “prefect attendance” her first 4 years of teaching, I can tell you it is highly overrated. TAKE DAYS OFF. You need them.

    it won’t kill the kids if you have them do a worksheet or read a chapter or watch a movie every once in a while.

  7. Although I am not yet a teacher, I really liked your list. The suggestions you make seem very practical, and I am going to save the list for when I am a first year teacher!

  8. This is such a great list of advice. The first couple of years are very tough, but as time goes on you learn little tricks and tips to become more efficient and effective with your teaching, planning, and grading. Just be patient!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.