Have you gotten a new job teaching high school? Congratulations! You have entered a unique profession that is full of thrills, chills and spills — literally and figuratively!
Starting any new job can be overwhelming; I remember my first year very clearly even though it was 18 years ago. My goal in this article (and actually with this whole site) is to flatten your learning curve, lessen your stress and help you embrace your job.
Okay, let’s get to work. There are four separate “buckets” that you will be dealing with in the first couple of weeks of the new year. They are:
- School logistics
- Colleagues and administration
- In-class systems
- Outside of class responsibilities.
If this is your very first year you will have to address many mundane but mandatory aspects of your new school.
- What supplies will you be given and what will you have to buy yourself?
- Where are the bathrooms?
- How do you get a bathroom and classroom key?
- What are your official hours?
- Is there a time clock to punch in or a card to move from “out” to “in”?
- If you teach in a city parking may be an issue; where is the best place to park? Are there alternate side parking days and what are they? I teach in New York City and this is a biggie.
- Are there regular mandatory professional development days; if so, when and where?
- What is the procedure for making copies, and is there a maximum? One year when funds were tight we were allowed one box of copy paper for the semester. Other schools give you a code and a maximum number of copies you can make.
- Who is the payroll secretary? She’s your new best friend!
Those are some of the questions you need answered ASAP. No problem. Just write down the questions before your first day, on your phone or hard copy. Throughout the first day ask different people each one of the questions. Don’t bombard one of your new colleagues with all these questions; they will run away from you for the rest of the year! Write down the answers as you get them so that you don’t have to think about it. That’s it — you’re done with bucket #1:)
COLLEAGUES & ADMINISTRATION
Here is my best advice for getting to know all these new people: you have 2 ears, 1 mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak. This will allow you to slowly learn the culture of the school, idiosyncrasies of various people and the best way to respond in different situations. In some schools teachers and/or administration let their crazy out of the bottle on a regular basis. Other schools are more low-key and colleagues are more private. Usually it’s a combination of the two.
Another reason to be more reticent than may be your natural character: you keep you foot out of your mouth. You may complain about someone only to find out later that you were complaining to their best friend or lover! Or you might comment about a challenging student only to find out you’re talking to the child’s uncle.
I bring you this advice from experience. When I’m nervous I talk too much — okay, let’s call it what it is — I babble. I divulge too much too soon, ask questions that may have been better not asked. Don’t do this!
Your first couple of weeks in class require only 2 priorities: implement classroom protocols and build relationships with your students. That should be your focus each and every day. Don’t sweat the other stuff. For instance, if your lesson was too short or too long, too hard or too easy, don’t worry about it; you’ll get that in time.
You cannot teach, and students cannot learn, without first managing behaviors in the class. This topic is covered in depth in another article.
The very best way to enjoy a class with fewer distractions is to get to know your students and build mutually respectful relationships. Especially in high school, this is imperative.
Classroom protocols make it easier for students to know what to expect and how to act. Pick what’s REALLY important to you and consistently reinforce those rules. You can have your students create the rules based on prompts you supply. This helps students to feel ownership of the class environment. Establish your class routines in the first week and apply them consistently. For instance, what is your bathroom pass philosophy? Yes, I wrote a whole article on just that topic; why? Because the little things matter.
OUTSIDE OF CLASS RESPONSIBILITIES
This is where the overwhelm can easily set in. You’re responsibilities include, but are not limited to, lesson planning, unit maps, grading student work, bulletin boards, classroom decor, communicating with parents, collaborating with other teachers, meeting with administration, inquiry work, administrative duty, grade-book management, meetings and meetings about meetings.
Your number one priority, especially for the first few weeks, is to have your lesson plan for the next day complete — including all copies — before you go home. Everything else can wait. If you are a social studies teacher I explained my lesson planning technique here.
It is also important to be organized. You will drown in paper of all kinds; reign it in. I love folders and accordion envelopes. Keep it simple:
- one folder for professional development or binder (it will be voluminous very quickly!)
- one folder for important documents (anything you have to sign, observation reports, etc.)
- 2 accordion envelopes for student work, 1 for to-be-graded and the other for completed-return-to-students. These are great because you can keep each separate class in a different pocket.
- one folder for lesson planning.
- one folder for forms: copy forms, request for supplies forms, custodian request forms, etc.
- I keep a grade-book as a backup to our online system, as well as for inputting grades anywhere and anytime.
That’s it! A few folders clearly labeled, file everything before you leave each day and you can always find what you need. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.
A FEW REALITY CHECKS
- You will work overtime. No way, no how you are going to be able to get the minimum necessary work done within your school day. Acknowledge and accept that fact. This is not unique to teaching; most newbies work longer hours.
- You will make mistakes. Be grateful you’re not a brain surgeon, so you won’t kill anyone!
- Put away your heels, ladies. If you don’t put function before form you will regret it. I keep a pair of flip-flops under my desk just in case.
- You WILL have terrible, horrible days sometimes. Just take a deep breath and put things in perspective: 1 month from now it will be forgotten, or at least unimportant. I have photos of my family posted near my desk for such occasions. One look at my grandson calms me down every time.
ANY new job can be stressful and scary. Add 120 teenagers sizing you up and the intimidation factor skyrockets. However, you worked long and hard for this and you can do it. So carefully prioritize your time using the guide above. Go easy on yourself. Keep your sense of humor. Know that it will get easier. You are embarking on a job that will touch many lives for many years in many ways.
One of the great things about teaching is that you get to start over again every year. If you’re reading this article in April and you never created class routines or your paperwork systems are a hot mess there’s always next school year. It’s just like Groundhog Day, if you’ve ever seen the classic movie where Bill Murray gets up each day and it’s deja vu all over again. The difference for us teachers is that we get to rewrite the script and reinvent ourselves with a new set of students. How convenient is that?
You got this!
Enjoy your students, your job and your life!