5 Teaching Tips You Didn’t Learn in College

You braced yourself for difficult student behavior, long hours beyond contract time, and mounds of grading, but your professors didn’t prepare you for everything!  Check out some tips that may help ease your first year teaching expectations and planning.


#1 Create a Copies System

This may seem like an random, less significant tip, but it can be a life-saver when it comes to keeping your never-ending supply of copies from mounting into menacing, unorganized stacks that hijack your desk and sanity!  We have found it to be one of the greatest keys to your organization.  One of the members of our Honors Grad U family used the following system, but you’ll want to play around with your options to find what will be most effective for your needs!

  1. Find some space to keep 10 hanging files: an open crate of hanging files, or maybe part of a filing cabinet drawer.

  2. Label the files Monday-Friday twice so you have 2 weeks of files ready.

  3. Stick your files in place.  Any time you make new copies, check your planner and slide them into the day you’ll need them!

  4. At the end of each week, move the 2nd week bunch of files to the front of your crate or drawer!

#2 Planner: Old School or Digital?

It’s possible that your professors did in fact cover this one with you, but given the 21st century technology integration fervor, it’s likely that they strongly advocated for all-digital planners–after all, free apps and programs like Planboard are available for such purposes!  However, having tried both digital and paper approaches, we’ve found that digital may not necessarily be the best tool for everyone, even if you absolutely love all things technology.  Your planner will be critical in your time organization, so be sure to consider several factors to decide what will be more beneficial for you:

  • Collaboration:  Evaluate how your school or team collaborates with one another.  Do you share every detail of your schedules, or is it more general?  If the need is more on the side of specifics, you may find that going digital may be more time-effective, especially if everyone else on your team is using the same program!  For this reason, it may even be a requirement at your school to use a specific type of digital planner, so be sure to find out!

  • Schedule Flexibility: Does your principal have a habit of announcing assemblies at the last possible moment?  Are constant interruptions to the regular weekly schedule more the norm than a regular weekly schedule?  If that’s the case, you may want to consider the wonder of the seconds it takes to pencil in a few arrows to shift around your schedule, rather than minutes (or more) as you try to determine your platform’s ability to edit the template.  Paper planners continue to perform reliably when it comes to quick edits!

  • Internet/Printer Logistics: If you’re more inclined toward the digital route, be sure to consider a couple logistics.  Do you plan to keep your planner handy on a tablet or laptop?  If so, make sure there are offline options, such as downloading a program to your desktop or an app that will keep things available even when the internet is not!  You don’t want your internet dependence to leave you high and dry when it comes to your daily plans if there’s an emergency!  If your plan is rather to just print your plans each week, that may be a good solution to these kinds of tech logistics.  However, be sure to consider whether you want to rely on printing plans all year long, when you can buy a paper planner that already has all the pages in one place!

  • Neatness: This is probably a no-brainer, but be sure to examine your own handwriting neatness!  It can be frustrating for you to be unable to decipher critical plans in the moment you need them–not to mention for a sub!  Typed plans can be a dream if this is an issue for you.

#3 Coworker Socializing

In the overwhelming workload of your first few months, you may be tempted to spend your lunchtimes barricaded in your room to catch some extra grading minutes.  We don’t dispute that this may be essential at times.  However, we highly recommend taking a break to socialize with your colleagues whenever possible.  The reasons for this are varied:

  • You’ll form relationships that go beyond just professional acquaintance.  Not only is this a bonus for the sake of making friends, but for enhancing collaboration experiences as everyone becomes more comfortable around one another.

  • You will feel mentally refreshed to finish your day when you give your mind a rest from teacher-mode!

  • You will be able to build solidarity with other teachers as you share experiences with one another–it can be incredibly comforting to realize that experienced teachers are facing your same struggles, along with some of their insights to solutions!

#4 Classroom Planning: Recognize What’s Fluid and Solid!

As you plan your classroom design, policies, management, and more, you may get caught in the overwhelming and stressful trap of thinking you need a plan for everything by day 1!  While there are some areas that do need to be addressed by then, many others are what we consider to be “fluid,” meaning they will adapt as you go.  Here are some examples of what we mean to help you distinguish between the two as you prepare your classroom:

  • Solid

    • Disclosure document: This includes policies on homework, grading, and other items that would be stressful for students and parents if they get changed too much.  Click here for a sample disclosure document.  Work with your team to develop this!

    • First two weeks of plans

  • Fluid

    • Classroom incentives: Don’t feel like it all has to be set in stone from the beginning for students to be motivated!  In fact, an element of mystery may enhance their interest!

    • Floorplan: especially if you’re an elementary level teacher, you’ll be moving things around all the time anyway!  You’ll get a better feel for how you want to move through the space as the year progresses.

    • Your daily schedule: Obviously, if you teach at the secondary level, this is already determined for you.  For elementary levels, however, you may feel strained as you try to make time for everything.  However, as you create and try out a basic schedule, you will discover necessary adaptations throughout the year–some things will require more or less time than you planned for!  So don’t worry if there’s not a neat time slot for absolutely everything at first!

#5 Cut Yourself Some Slack!

We don’t mean this in the general, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-working-hard way.  Rather, we mean that your professors probably didn’t warn you that as you prepare for and begin your first year teaching, you will likely (ok, definitely) check out Pinterest for inspiration from time to time.  And, just like in the classic, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” if you explore Pinterest for teaching ideas, chances are you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle.  You’ll find teachers who craft perfect, personalized student holiday gifts (from Christmas to Columbus Day!); you’ll find teachers who structure every lesson into engaging, hands-on, inquiry based instruction; you’ll find teachers who have built international networks with classrooms around the globe for regular Skype and blogging interactions; you’ll find teachers who have mastered the art of grant-writing so thoroughly that not only is their classroom a floor-to-ceiling library of highest quality literature, but every student is equipped with an i-Pad.  Chances are that when you see all this spectacular inspiration, you will get discouraged.  This brings us back to emphasize the initial tip #5: cut yourself some slack!  You may fall absolutely in love with these experienced teachers’ Polar Express parties, or their inspiring bulletin boards, but the thing to remember through it all is that they are experienced teachers.  You have enough to do during your first year of teaching without adding on stress of what else you could be doing, because there’s always going to be something more you could be doing!  By all means, keep track of those Pins for future reference, but always keep in mind some perspective in your teaching pursuits!

Featured Image: University of the Fraser Valley