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Top 5 Tips for Surviving Your First Year of Teaching High School

Top 5 Tips for Surviving Your First Year of Teaching High School

Congratulations, you’ve gotten your first teaching position! So, now what? I remember my first year in the classroom—a whirlwind of successes, missteps, and quite a few sleepless nights! I recently reached out to my teacher friends, some veterans with years of experience and some whose first year wasn’t so long ago, and they offered the following tips to help you survive your first year of teaching high school.

1) Establish an atmosphere of respect in your classroom.

You want your students to respect you. One way to accomplish this is to show them respect. “Show the students you respect them as people who have a contribution to make to the classroom community,” said my friend Katharine M., an English teacher. Value the knowledge and background students bring with them, and get to know them as individuals. This fosters respect and helps make connections. Katharine continued, “If you show them respect, for the most part, they will return it and be willing to work when you ask.”

2) Create and follow routines, but also be flexible!

Developing classroom procedures and routines will help your students know what to expect and will help you maintain control. Consider procedures and routines for how a class period will be spent, when and how students can access their phones, what students should do when they enter the classroom, and what students should do when they have to be absent. Be proactive and consider procedures for following lessons, accessing materials, leaving the classroom, and more. At the same time, once those routines are established, don’t be afraid to be flexible! “Be organized but flexible,” remarked Pat G., a world language teacher. “The teachable moment appears unexpectedly.” If your classroom mostly follows a schedule and a routine, then those flexible moments are more easily managed.

3) Focus on the positive.

Negative behavior often stands out and can overshadow the positive behavior happening in the classroom. “Instead of reprimanding noncompliant students all the time . . . recognize students who ARE on task,” shared Christine Q., an ESL teacher. Focus on positive behavior, and reward students accordingly. Rewards may be verbal praise or could be linked to class- or school-based rewards. “Build them up and recognize their [students’] successes,” said Kathy P., a music teacher. No matter how small or large the success is, it’s important to recognize it.

4) Allow for mistakes (both yours and your students’!).

You are a human being, and so are your students. This means that mistakes WILL be made in your classroom! It could be an academic mistake, a behavioral mistake, or a mistake in not being prepared. “Students are testing their wings and don’t always get it right. . . . No one sets out to do poorly,” said Debbie G., a special education teacher. “Your genuine compassion goes further than reprimanding or belittling.” Help students understand the mistake, and explore what they can do differently when faced with a similar situation in the future. And, highlight and celebrate your own mistakes as well!

5) Be yourself.

Debbie also suggested, “Be yourself so your students can too. They will respect you for being genuine because that’s what they are trying to do—to be their best genuine and authentic selves.” Bring yourself into your classroom and your lessons. Get to know your students, and make the subject matter as personal as possible for them.

Bonus Tip!

Remember you are surrounded by experience and wisdom. Peggy V., a history teacher recommended, “Watch and listen. Respect the seasoned teachers, and know that they were once first-year teachers too.” Identify a mentor (or two!) to offer advice. During my own first year of teaching English, I had two teachers who I considered mentors. One was another English teacher, which was perfect for content-related questions and ideas. The other was a science teacher whose classroom was right across the hall. This was perfect for quick chats in between classes.

Looking for more ways to prepare for your first year of teaching? Check out these four student rewards that encourage intrinsic motivation—and don’t cost a thing!

This post was originally published August 2019 and has been updated.