Starting out as a first year teacher can be overwhelming. Setting up a classroom, gathering materials, planning procedures and curriculum, and building rapport with your students, families, and peers can feel like one mighty to-do list! But when you start at a school with a built-in support system of fellow educators, it makes all the difference.
Norris School District in Firth, Nebraska has an impressive mentor program for new teachers that does just that. Three core members of this team, Lisa Carlson (Kindergarten), Abby Brown (1st Grade) and Tess Lentfer (2nd Grade) took time to share their top advice and encouragement for new teachers beginning their journeys near and far.
- Find a mentor.
If your school has a mentorship program, great! If not, find someone within your school willing to be your guide. At Norris, each incoming teacher is paired with another teacher to help get their room ready. Then, they’re available for guidance and support including weekly check-ins throughout the year. The administration, staff, and support team work together to create an environment of mentors who regularly ask: “How can I help?”
“As a veteran teacher I learn just as much from the new teachers as they learn from me. At Norris, we aren’t afraid to share ideas. We all have the same goal as educators … We want to help shape incredible humans!” - Tess
- Ask questions!
As a new teacher you may feel like you have a lot to prove. But it’s important to remember that other veteran teachers have been there too, and they want to help.
Tess suggests, “If you don’t know how to do something, don’t splash around in the water, ask for help! If you’ve never been in that situation, your job is to learn and even if you do it differently than someone tells you to, you can get ideas.”
- Accept the occasional lesson fail.
Even if you are a veteran teacher and something has worked in the past, it may not work for current students. Don’t sweat it. Use a growth mindset to learn from what didn’t work, and then move on.
“Sometimes a lesson doesn't work out and you have to try it again in a different way, and that’s ok!” - Abby
- Don’t stress about your classroom decor.
It can be a lot of fun to put personality and color into a room but don’t put too much pressure on yourself if that’s not something you enjoy. “I’ve let some of how everything looks in the classroom go. I’m now more focused on the content and the relationships.” - Lisa
“I used to have my husband help me make a theme and huge wooden cut outs every year for my classroom. 28 years later I have the same border that has been up for the last 5 years. It’s always new to that student coming in and you have to remember that.” - Tess
- Prioritize yourself, too.
Work/life balance is an important part of successful learning. When your personal needs are met, you are better equipped to care for the needs of others. Abby reminded us all that, “The kids may not remember what your classroom looked like every day but they will remember if you were a teacher who was ready to be there everyday. And if you don’t take care of yourself and your family, you can’t be there for them.”
- Know what work times work for you.
It would be easy as a teacher to be at school 24/7. There is always something to do!
“If I don’t have my school stuff done by 5, then it’s not going to get done. So I go home by 5. Sometimes as a teacher you have to put that home life hat on and have a quitting time.” - Tess
If you’re most productive in the evenings and it helps you feel more prepared and calm the next morning to knock out a few tasks before bed, go for it. Know your work style, and do what’s right for it.
- Grow along with your kids.
Remember to stay open with your students. “It’s amazing to me with lessons how much you learn from the kids yourselves. I think first year teachers need to realize those kids are going to teach you just as much as you teach them. Let them grow along with you.” - Tess
Take comfort that things will simplify with time and experience. Your skills and confidence will grow and relationships strengthen over time. The three educators collectively agreed that “When things get tough, remember your why.”
“I became a teacher because I wanted a job where I could be proud of the work I accomplished. I wanted a job that I could help create kind and caring humans as well as giving them the confidence to believe in themselves and their abilities. I wanted a job that was not going to be monotonous but one that was going to be challenging and constantly changing. I wanted to be in a profession that I could retire from and know that I gave it my everything and left a positive change in the world. Teaching is this job.” - Tess
New teachers just starting out and those that have dedicated years of service: thank you! Thank you for choosing this profession. Thank you for sharing your time and your talent. Take a deep breath, you’ve got this!