3 Tips for First-Year Teachers


visual from Ellen Moir’s 1998 article “Phases of a First-Year Teacher”

The first time I saw Ellen Moir’s Phases of First-Years’ Attitudes Toward Teaching was over a decade ago when I was training to become a teacher mentor. I scanned the teacher’s journey as it careened down a steep ravine and up again, all the while reflecting on my tumultuous first year. You may be thinking, “That’s not going to happen to me”. While maybe not all new teachers go through all of these phases in exactly this way, over my years of educating and training new teachers, I have seen that most do. When the time comes, as it most likely will, with these phases in mind, perhaps you (1) won’t be so surprised and (2) can remind yourself, when the going gets tough, that you are not alone.

Thus, as you prepare for this new school year in a flurry of anticipation, here are a few recommendations for channeling your enthusiasm.

Keep a journal that tracks your progress. What excites you about teaching? Why did you become a teacher, and what are your hopes and fears for this school year? A journal can be an excellent way not only to reflect on your practice but also to capture that essence of excitement so that you can later look back when you might need some inspiration or support. These days, blogging can be a great journaling platform, whether you do it for yourself or to share with others. I still find the old-fashioned pen-to-paper approach quite useful as well.

Start a new teacher group. Early in my career, I realized the importance of a support network. Though it is also essential to have support from veteran teachers, other new teachers are also a valuable resource for sharing ideas and experiences.

Backward map! As a new teacher, I realized that I had slid into the survival mode of day-to-day planning. While my teacher-preparation program had prepared me for curriculum planning via a bigger picture “end-in-view” for teaching and learning, I remained overwhelmed by a mountain of other, seemingly more pressing considerations: getting to know my students and colleagues, finalizing a schedule for what classes I’d actually be teaching — in that first year, I had four completely different classes of varying grade levels to prep, using a cart navigate the three floors of the school because I taught five classes in five different classrooms, figuring out the school and district guidelines for (1) attendance, (2) grading, (3) class discipline and (4) mandatory participation in professional development, attending English department and schoolwide faculty meetings, and so on.

With all of these pressing responsibilities and (for some of us) little guidance from other colleagues, it’s not surprising when that bigger picture teaching and learning end-in-view may seem too daunting and time-consuming to take on. Truly transformative teaching, however, is more than just planning and implementing a good lesson, so here are three steps for backward mapping your instruction around larger learning goals:

1. Identify desired results: What knowledge and skills do I want my students to have?

2. Determine acceptable evidence: How will I know that the know/understand? How will they demonstrate evidence of their learning?

3. Plan learning experiences: How will I plan my instruction accordingly?

What suggestions might you have for a first-year teacher? Or, if you’re a first-year teacher, what additional questions and/or guidance would you find most valuable if/when/as you journey downward from Anticipation to Survival?