5 Rookie Teacher Mistakes to Avoid in the First Weeks of School

Are you a rookie teacher? No worries - we all have to start somewhere! The start of your first school year as a new teacher can feel really intimidating, so check out these five tips of mistakes you should try to avoid at the beginning of the year. Rookie teacher now? Nah, you're an old pro!

Sure, all teachers learn and improve their practice each school year. That's especially true when a veteran teacher changes courses, grade levels, or school buildings.

But that first year or two brings special challenges.

I *thought* was prepared. I had all kinds of tangible and theoretical tools from my grad program; I'd had a good student teaching experience. But there are a few things that no mentor teacher, master's degree, or orientation told me.

Let me save you the trouble of finding these out the hard way!

1. Don't blow your entire back-to-school budget BEFORE the first day. 

Even if you have taken others' advice and satisfied all of your own Pinterest-worthy-classroom dreams, you won't entirely know what you need until you're in the room, WITH your students, for at least one full week. Experience your new schedule fully, and THEN go finish shopping.

I wasted money on an attendance book that was all wrong for my needs (and made this one instead), bought folders and files that weren't necessary, and got tools that didn't end up being relevant after all. Unless you're REALLY confident about your curriculum, procedures, and audience, allow yourself to buy a different clipboard or re-do that teacher binder a week later.

2. Don't over-promise, either literally or figuratively. 

Yes, you might be discussing a syllabus, setting rules/procedures, and trying to create a safe culture that first week. But while doing all of that, don't get too confident and make big statements promising things like...

  • How fast they will get papers back*
  • What your grading style & amount of feedback will be
  • What the prize for something will be
  • What units and lessons are happening (unless you truly know this)
  • Routines that are time-consuming (ex: guaranteed minutes of reading time per day/week)

Verbal promises aside, don't figuratively over-promise by creating expectations that will be hard to maintain, either, especially...
  • Bulletin boards or displays that constantly need updating (or redone entirely)
  • Extremely frequent changes to seating charts 
  • Playing a new video every day
  • A "new books" shelf that begs to be restocked

Look, I'm not saying that you CAN'T pull all this off. Far from it! But don't let the glow of New School Year Enthusiasm trap you into a promise that you won't want to maintain in January. 

(*And if you want HELP with that grading/feedback time, a lot of teachers like my grading helper forms!)

3. Don't lose your personality in favor of professionalism. 

Yes, fine, agreed - you don't want to be TOO soft, or try TOO hard to be their friend. But the kids are sizing you up on several levels, and they need help to not only figure you out, but know what kind of relationship they can have with you.

  • Are you going to be someone who will recommend great books? 
  • Are you a teacher who also digs Star Wars? 
  • Are you the teacher they will go to when they need help? 

Find an appropriate way to show who you are, and not just what you teach. I often have a 3-slide PowerPoint of just photos to introduce myself on the first day, showing students things I did that summer, hobbies I have, or life milestones (especially my dog). It helps them get to know who I am as a person faster, just as I'm trying to figure THEM out!

4. Don't wait too long to start learning new things. 

Trust me, I get it. My back-to-school season involves a syllabus, community-building, pre-tests, and dealing with their summer reading assignment. 

BUT.

If you wait too long to start tickling their brains with new learning, then students will decide that this class is boring, or maybe easier, than it actually will be. Then the acting-up or tuning-out might start sooner than you want. The same applies to teachers who talk too much the first few days (instead of incorporating student talking and/or movement). 

Combat this by using bell-ringers, the start of your first unit, or a really worthy project as soon as you can, even if it's concurrent with the more dry stuff. Resist the urge to dwell in the aroma of new crayons for TOO long. 

5. Don't wait too long for the first confidence-booster. 

Notice that I did NOT say to give a prize, show a movie, or bribe them with candy early on. But students of all ages DO need to have hope that they can succeed in this class, that their efforts can result in good results, and that you are on their side. 

Maybe you'll choose to give a quiz that isn't too tough yet. Or make a group assessment. Or teach something firmly within their ZPD, with a method that's guaranteed to click. But whatever you do in the first weeks, try to ensure that your students choose to believe in themselves, in this class, and in you. 

The most important part... 
Finally, believe in yourself. You were hired for a reason, you are qualified to be here, and you CAN do this. Self-confidence is the best trick to NOT looking like a rookie, so stand firm in who you are and why you became a teacher.

You have so much to offer! Good luck! :) 

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