During our August #NCTEchat, we asked teachers to share one thing that they wish they had known during their first year of teaching. We received SO many fantastic responses! We’ve pulled just a small sampling on common themes to provide you with inspiration as you head back to school.
You can see all of the responses, as well as responses to other #NCTEchat questions, on the chat archive.
Embrace Student Choice
I wish I had known that it is imperative to teach process over product, and that reading and writing lives grow when I give students the power to choose their own books and writing topics. It’s critical to explore writing territories w/ students.
As a first-year teacher, I wish I had known that many of the best project ideas come straight from students. Give them a voice on how they want to showcase their learning, and they will surprise you every time.
Choice & community is transformative. 1 of best things I did in 1st year was a book club where kids read what they wanted & then chatted with peers about it. This should have been norm, instead of a special reward.
I wish I knew that I should spend more time building relationships in the beginning of the semester. Curriculum matters, of course, but until you’ve developed meaningful relationships with students, the learning won’t be as effective.
It’s all about building relationships! Smile, breathe, relax, be real, learn from mistakes, connect with others, and celebrate success (repeat as necessary).
Take the time you need to establish norms/procedures and build community at the beginning of the year. Once students know what’s expected, they can and will take charge of learning.
Establishing rapport from day one will absolutely lead to a successful classroom! Show your students you love them, and they’ll love you back and do the work.
I wish I would’ve known how important relationships were. Everything else is secondary. Be there for the kids. Love them unconditionally. You may be the only one who does.
There are no catch-all strategies, pedagogies, or practices that will solve your problems/create quick fixes—thinking so undermines the complexity of your students. Teaching is first and foremost relational. Invest in your relationships with your students!
Most often when a student gives you an “attitude” or isn’t doing your worki—it isn’t about you or your class. Ask them what’s going on in their life. And if you’ve already established rapport with them—they’ll tell you.
Between Content and Kids: Choose Kids
You can (and should) be passionate about and love your content. You have to love the kids more. Sometimes they hate your fav book. Sometimes they don’t get what you want from the poem. Sometimes you have to forget content to focus on them. Btwn content and kids: choose kids.
I wish I had concentrated more on seeing and caring for the children in my classroom instead of worrying about the curriculum, the state tests, and pleasing the principal.
Don’t Go It Alone
That I wasn’t in it alone and asking questions really is okay. If you are a first year teacher this year, please ask for help, ask when you aren’t sure.
Two things I wish I’d known—1) you will not be able to cover everything in a year so prioritize, and 2) it’s okay to ask for help. No need to be a martyr or superhuman. We are all here to help and we’ve all been there.
Also, it’s impossible to have it all figured out. Reach out to those teachers you know value students and love their jobs. Make friends and find mentors. You’ll get there. You’ll make it.
Ask for help but follow your heart. If you’re making decisions because you care about kids you are on the right track.
Surround Yourself with Positive People
Avoid the habitual gossips and complainers found in any school. You need to fill your bucket by connecting with peers doing the work, not complaining about the work. We are all human and venting from time to time is only realistic. Eating lunch with constantly angry ppl is toxic.
A tip for first-year teachers is to find lots of people who can help you stay positive when you’re feeling stressed. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing colleagues who make me love coming to school each day!
Learn from Other Teachers
I wish I would have been able to observe other teachers more often—to pick the best teacher and implement what works the best for me and my classroom
There are teachers in your building who want to mentor you. Seek them out and lean on them. They really are prepared and ready for you. Don’t be shy.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Time management! I could be at school from 7a–7p and still never to be done or get ahead. Work smarter, not harder!
I wish I had known that it’s GOOD to set work-life boundaries. No prize for being last to leave or working 80 hr wks. The work will always fill the empty space if you’re not proactive in fighting for balance.
It’s never all done. The job will take every minute you can give it. Work hard but prioritize. You’re a better teacher when you take time for other people, things, too.
Words are Powerful
As a new teacher, I wish I knew how powerful my words truly were. Be mindful of what you say to students. Get to know them, and choose your words wisely.
As a first-year teacher I wish I knew the actual impact that a teacher can have on a student. Don’t underestimate how you will affect your kids (positive or negative)!
I wish I had known how important it was to be vulnerable. I felt a huge pressure to be perfect for my kids and admin, but I became a much better teacher when I let go of unrealistic expectations and chose to be myself.
New teachers: Give yourself time. Don’t try too hard to emulate anyone else’s style. Be authentic. And take a deep breath. It gets easier. You get better more quickly than you realize.
It took a couple years for me to figure out that it’s possible to be my laid-back self in the classroom AND to have good classroom management. I spent way too long trying to manage my room like other teachers, but ultimately found success by just being myself.
Relax and Smile!
I wish I’d known to relax. Enjoy the kids, have conversations right away about whatever they want to talk about and to NOT do icebreakers. LOL!
I wish I knew my first year that the no smiling until Thanksgiving is a myth. Smiling, being your authentic self & developing relationships day one is key
It’s not a race. Slow down, be thoughtful. You are not their last teacher. Have fun. See the kids and be present. Almost everyone you meet wants you to do well (keep an eye out for that one who doesn’t and stay far away). I’m starting my 20th (!) year, and I still get jazzed.
You Don’t Need to Know All the Answers
It’s ok to say “I don’t know the answer. Let’s find out together.”
I wish I had known that is was OK to say, “I’m not sure.”
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
Be kind to yourself. Teaching is stressful, and it can be easy to get focused on the one thing that didn’t go well rather than all of the things you are doing right. Take note & reflect on mistakes & issues, but don’t obsess on them.
I wish I knew that trying to get it all right would result in getting it all wrong, but trying to master a few small, important things (e.g., authentic relationship building, structures and routines in the classroom, etc.) would lead to great success.
Every lesson, every day does not have to be perfect. Innovators allow themselves to experiment with styles & create lessons to benefit their students. Sometimes, those will be awesome, other times, the lessons may fail, but there’ll be more good days than bad.
I wish I had known that a bad lesson does not make me a bad teacher. The best teachers in the world have horrible days with horrible lessons. What makes them amazing teachers is their ability to own up, reflect, and change course.
You will make many mistakes and learn from them. May your students do the same.
I wish I had known that I worry way more about my mistakes than my Ss do! The longer I teach, the more I realize that kids NEED to see our mistakes. They can’t truly succeed until they learn how to get back up & learn from failure. Too much pressure to be perfect!
Your Students Won’t Always Share with You. That’s Okay.
One thing I wish I would have known going into my 1st year is that you are not entitled to know every detail about your student’s narratives. Be there for what they want to share.
Listen. And if they don’t speak or tell the full story, allow them the choice to do just that. We’re not the writer here, they are. And they will share when *they* are ready and willing.
But When They Do, It Will Be Beautiful.
When kids write something meaningful, they give you a glimpse into their soul and share things with you that they haven’t before.
You Don’t Have to Teach Everything . . .
You don’t have to teach EVERYTHING. You can hit certain points, you can have students decide what they want more focus on. Teaching ELA is about skills and IMPACT, not all the “right answers.”
. . . . Or Grade Everything.
I wish I knew I didn’t have to grade every piece of writing. My first few years I almost cracked with the hours I spent doing this.
You don’t have to grade every single thing. Informal and diagnostic assessments are okay—it doesn’t all have to go in the gradebook!
It’s Okay to Cry
Also . . . it’s ok to cry. It’s ok to feel stuck and scared and overwhelmed by data and testing. Chances are, you’re one of the good ones for feeling these things.
It’s Always Worth It
I start my 18th year in Sept—my best advice is to surround yourself with positive people. Teaching is hard but it is the most rewarding job on the planet. one day at a time. You are strong, you ARE making a difference, you ARE changing lives.
It’s always worth it. The kid who drives you crazy will make you a better person and better teacher. Going out of your way to check on Ss will make a difference. Every day, you are doing great if you are putting in effort. You will make it!