Tips for the First-Year Teacher

Even though I’m no longer in front of the classroom, I thought I’d share my best first-year teacher tips in honor of back-to-school week.

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I was 22 years old when this photo was taken, and I remember rushing out to parking lot duty right after. Parents and students stared at me as I stood on the grass trying to look intimidating in my white blouse, pink skirt, and nude heels.

Weeks later, a coworker shook his head in sympathy. “You got one of the worst duties,” he said, nodding to the rain outside. “Try to stay clear from parking lot duties.” 

I chuckled, adding it to my list. It seemed like I was prepared to hand out assessments on The Crucible, but I kept forgetting to take attendance. And put on deodorant. And pack a lunch for school the night before. The things they never covered in Literacy Methods 201. 

So, even though I’m no longer in front of the classroom, I thought I’d share my best first-year teacher tips in honor of back-to-school week. Because while they’ll tell you how best to teach poetry and which hallway to take in next week’s fire drill, nobody ever warns you about parking lot duty. 

  1. If possible, never take parking lot duty. Or bus duty. Or any duty that requires a coat, rain jacket, or discrete napkin to wipe your forehead sweat. I know that someone is technically going to end up with this one, and if it so happens to be you, do it with grace. But if possible, avoid it like you do with fully-priced school supplies. 
  1. Figuring out cell phone and bathroom policies is, like, 40% of the job. And every teacher handles them differently. Take your time, experiment with various Pinterest suggestions, and know that, at the end of the day, no one has ever perfected the mysticism of cell phones and bathroom passes. 
  1. Be humble enough to apologize to a student. You are not perfect, even though you will try to be. And if something happens in front of the entire class, use the same space to repent for your behavior. 
  1. That classroom is not your classroom forever. Teachers have used that room before you. Teachers will use that room after you. And even though it’ll never be permanent, make those four walls a home. Partially because you can’t help it and partially because they need it. 
  1. You will wrestle with upholding the best pedagogy practices you learned in college and the inevitable struggles of teaching “in the real world.” Breathe; this is normal. Not everything was a lie. Find the in-betweens you can manage and be proud of them. 
  1. Pray every morning in your classroom. You will notice, later on, the days in which you forgot to ask for help.
  1. Trusting your room to a stranger is hard. Figuring out substitute work is even harder. There are more “pros” to “cons” if you just tough it out. Nonetheless, take the sick day. The sun will rise and set without your supervision. 
  1. Be silly. Like, dress-up-for-every-costume-contest, participate-in-the-spirit-week events sort of silly. Teenagers are going to pretend that they’re not playful, but they’re craving joy in all its forms. Be professional, of course, have your boundaries, and make sure you submit to authority. But you already look like a kid, so go ahead and embrace it. 
  1. Don’t let your students know anything about your dating life (or lack thereof). My newspaper students found out I was single in September, and within a week, they were trying to set me up with their cousins. Pictures were sent to youth ministers. (Shakes head). It was bad.  
  1. As much as you will try to pretend otherwise, students will hurt your feelings. They forget that this is your job, you are trying your absolute best, and that their words can sting. Forgive them—not because they are children but because they are human. 

Oh! And don’t forget. Storing extra deodorant in your desk is strongly recommended. Teachers are cool about sharing post-its and staples. But a deodorant stick really crosses the line.


All my best,

A friend



Featured Image by Kimberly Farmer

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About the Author

Rachael’s testimony can be summed up in four little words: from ash to glitter. She's witnessed Jesus transform her brokenness into extravagance and now she brings her ‘extra’ self to boardgames, lip-sync battles, and costume contests. Currently, she lives in South Carolina where she works as the Membership Engagement Coordinator for Kingdom Winds and devotes time to writing, teaching, and crafting dangly earrings.