First-year teachers may feel overwhelmed, but a few tips can help calm their anxiety as they begin their first new year in a new classroom.

5 tips I’m excited to share with first-year teachers

First-year teachers may feel overwhelmed, but a few tips can help calm their anxiety

Key points:

I’ll never forget my first day as a teacher. I was so excited to begin my career teaching kindergarten students who were deaf or hard of hearing. My enthusiasm petered out when I saw green paint spilled all over my classroom. Overwhelmed and flustered, I hadn’t accounted for mishaps like this to be part of my lesson plan and was quickly faced with the realization that there were many things that happened in the classroom that weren’t accounted for in my lesson. Thankfully, one of my fellow teachers reassured me in the aftermath by saying, “You clean it up and try again tomorrow. Now you know not to put as much paint in the cup next time.”

Throughout my 26 years of teaching, I’ve heard similar accounts from other first-year teachers anxious to get their footing in their new roles, but more than anything, they wanted to connect with their students and students’ families. They wanted to avoid cleaning up spilled paint, searching for the right lessons or managing repetitive tasks that took time away from their students.

Every educator has been the new kid on the block, and I can assure you, we’ve all spilled the metaphorical and literal paint. While your day or week may not perfectly mirror the lesson plan you so diligently created, I have five key tips to help first-year teachers feel more confident in their classrooms this year, so that the little messes don’t feel so big.

1. Seek out the support of your colleagues.

I had an amazing colleague when I worked in deaf education. I could visit her room and vent everything that went wrong to her, and she’d be there to encourage me. While the teachers’ lounge may feel like a daunting place, remember that we’ve all been the new teacher in a school at some point. Leverage your colleagues, seek out their experiences and expect to hear both positive and negative stories that helped shape who they are as an educator. Not only will you gain more confidence in knowing others have been in your shoes, but you’ll also gain the perspectives of those who can remind you that with every misstep, there’s a positive that comes from your day. Finding someone who can help you find those positives is key to ensuring your success in the classroom, as well as your students.

2. Narrow down the activities you “have to do.”

Teachers ask questions and make a lot of decisions as they prepare lessons. Are they grade-level appropriate and aligned to standards? Is all of the information up-to-date and accurate? Is the material I’ve created visually engaging to my students? Suddenly, you feel like you need to choose among 22 things and don’t know where to start.

If you can find high-quality resources that answer three or four of these questions simultaneously, you’ll feel less pressure. Find resources that streamline your ability to choose engaging lessons that support your teaching. Web-based platforms with lesson libraries of high-quality, standards-aligned interactive lessons, games and activities are especially useful, as are resources that let you upload your own slides, videos and PDFs. With all your materials in one place, you can spend less time hunting for resources and ensuring their credibility, and more time doing what you love—helping your students.

3. Be open to technology that supports your teaching.

I spent five years working as a technology coach where I helped teachers integrate digital learning into their classrooms. Pre-pandemic, I met educators who weren’t open to using technology as a tool because of the fear that it may take their place in the classroom. While no technology can ever replace the impact of a teacher, technology can support educators in managing repetitive tasks and gathering evidence of learning. We discovered the value of technology during the pandemic but also learned that technology’s impact can only extend so far without a teacher’s implementation and guidance.

4. Engage your students in new and different ways.

I’ve always told teachers: Decide what you want your students to learn first, and then figure out the appropriate tool to support their instruction. Children learn and absorb information differently and therefore need a variety of ways to take in and engage with the materials you have prepared. For example, you can reinforce concepts using interactive videos, games, and quizzes. Yet, it’s challenging to create digital resources from scratch—and even more challenging to adapt them to meet the needs of each student.

Utilizing technology that is standards-aligned and provides educators with options to leverage interactive videos or other formats of material allows for greater flexibility in the classroom and less stress on the teacher.

5. It’s all about balance.

Looking back, I put too much pressure on myself as a new teacher–something I’ve seen time and time again from others in the field. I learned to permit myself to tackle today’s unfinished work tomorrow, and practiced the same level of patience and grace I gave my students, with myself.  We all want what’s best for our students, but it’s essential to remind yourself regularly—you and your students are resilient. First-year teachers should always look for their successes and celebrate them regularly.

Related: What does learning fueled by student motivation look like?

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