Are you new to teaching in the primary grades? Welcome! The elementary school classroom is a rewarding and exciting place to be! I know I’m a bit biased, but I think first grade is just the best! If you’re new to first grade (or the primary grades in general) and looking for tips to make your year run more smoothly- you’re in the right place! Today I’ll be sharing 5 tips for the first-year teacher!
Teaching first grade, or any primary grade, comes with unique rewards and challenges. As a long-time first-grade teacher, I can happily say that working with young students has been such a rewarding experience for me. Although, there are a few things I wish I had known when I was a first-year teacher. If I had a heads up on just a few of these things, I’m sure I would have fallen into my teaching groove much more quickly! Come along as we discuss my essential tips for success as a first-year teacher.
1. Get Organized as a First-Year Teacher
Before you do anything and long before those students show up at your classroom door, it’s crucial to spend some time getting really organized. Primary school teachers use all kinds of manipulatives, art materials, and games on a regular basis. Having a system in place for these items will make teaching SO much easier!
Spend some time mapping out how you would like to store these items. Think about what items you want children to have access to and which items are just for you. Personally, I love using plastic drawer carts with labels for anything the kids will need access to. This way they can easily put their materials away independently.
Choose Supplies Carefully
I know that choosing what you want to include in your classroom can be overwhelming! There are SO many great resources out there right at back-to-school time, it seems like everything is on sale. Rather than overspending on things you might not even use, try to be strategic with your buying and just start out with the minimum.
As a first-year teacher, you will learn A LOT once school gets going. You will figure out quickly what works and what doesn’t. It’s likely you’ll want to switch things out, so resist the urge to overbuy and keep it simple to start. You can always add from there. If you’re looking for the best basics, be sure to check out this post where I list all my faves!
Don’t Forget To Organize Student Data
In the excitement of organizing and setting up your classroom, this piece is easily overlooked. Having some kind of system to organize student data, parent communication, and other important information is key. This can be as simple as a desk drawer with labeled file folders or binders with a divider for each student. The choice is yours, but try to set it up prior to the first day of school so you don’t end up with a backlog of paperwork piling up on your desk right away!
2. Have A Plan For Classroom Management
Classroom management is key to successful teaching. If only I knew just how crucial this was before I started as a first-year teacher! While it’s easy to assume these things will just fall into place – don’t! Develop procedures and plans for classroom management prior to the first day of school for success. Here are some key components to consider before school starts.
1. Classroom Rules
Make sure to have classroom rules visible and posted for students. I like to spend the first few weeks of school going over these during our morning meeting to make sure everyone understands.
I recommend focusing on short, positive statements like “Treat everyone with respect.”
Keeping your rules concise helps your students really grasp them and using a positive tone will also make encouraging the rules easier.
2. Center Expectations
Centers are used on a daily basis in most primary classrooms. They are a great way to expose students to multiple concepts in a short period of time and promote independence. Plus, centers are often presented in the form of games and activities that students love. Grab some center signs for your classroom to help students understand the boundaries of each area.
Make sure you cover expectations for center time at the beginning of the year. Some good things to discuss with your students are procedures, clean-up, and handling of materials.
It’s also good to have a plan in place for “fast-finishers” or students who finish the activity before it’s time to switch. I used a designated drawer unit with fast-finisher activities. These were typically color-by-number worksheets or word searches that students can work on independently.
3. Routines Are Key
Finally, make sure to plan out how you would like your day to run with routines. In my opinion, routines are one of the best ways to manage the classroom. When students are in the habit of doing something regularly, there’s less room for chaos to creep in.
Start out with a solid morning routine and build from there. Starting the day off with a morning meeting and morning work will set you and your students up for success. Work with kiddos to learn the morning routine and then add from there. As you teach you will discover other routines you might like to add to the daily flow of your day.
3. Form Relationships As a First-Year Teacher
Relationships are key to building trust and a strong classroom community.
As a first-year teacher, it’s vital that you spend plenty of time getting to know your kiddos and helping them get to know you. First grade is such a wonderful age for socialization. By this time, students are a bit more socially and emotionally mature and have developed a sense of right and wrong in social settings.
First-grade students are eager to share about their lives and interests. During the first few weeks of school, I recommend playing a lot of simple games to help break the ice and get students to warm up. In case you didn’t already know, first graders can be pretty silly creatures by nature, so it’s won’t take much to get them smiling! If you’re stumped on ideas for how to start building relationships try these simple ideas:
- Greet Students Daily: Giving each student a friendly “good morning” each day is a great way to make them feel valued and important. This can be as simple as standing at the door and saying hello as they enter the classroom for the day.
- Promote Positivity: I love to recognize students who are doing a great job or being a good friend. Giving out some kind of small token of recognition like coupons, stickers or small prizes will motivate your students to be kind to each other and encourage positive behavior.
- Celebrate Individuality: Getting to know things about your students and checking in with them shows them you care. Ask students about their sports games, pets, families and weekend plans to help gain some insight into what is meaningful to them in their lives.
- Create A Safe Community: This final tip involves being present for students and just making sure they know you are there for them. I like to encourage this by being fully present when students speak to me to help convey that they can trust me. Students should feel welcome, valued, and important when they are in the classroom.
Don’t Forget About Parent Relationships
This one can be a little scary as a first-year teacher, but don’t fret! Parents are concerned about their children and eager to form relationships with teachers who care. Making an active effort to connect with parents in your classroom will help you in so many ways.
I love to start this out during back-to-school night with a family questionnaire. You can include questions about their child that will help you serve the student better. Some great starting points are:
- History with education (favorite subjects, past experiences)
- Special interests (sports, toys, books, pets, etc.)
- Medical info they want to share (allergies, asthma, etc.)
- Any other family info they want to share (living arrangements, primary guardian, etc.)
Asking parents these questions right off the bat will help you understand their family dynamic a little better and gain tremendous insight into their child. This is also a good time to share contact information and the best way to reach both of you should the need arise.
4. Ask Lots Of Questions
One great thing about being a teacher is you likely have some wonderful colleagues. Teachers are a rare breed of people and I felt so fortunate to work with such a wonderful faculty during my years in the classroom. Don’t forget that teachers LOVE to teach! This is great news for the first-year teacher, as you likely have many questions.
Don’t hold back on getting those answers! Reach out to colleagues for advice, demonstrations on teaching specific topics, and their own list of tips for the first-year teacher.
Over the years, I have found that asking questions helps form meaningful relationships and really will help you both grow as educators. Reach out to teachers you admire and soak it all up.
5. Be Kind To Yourself As A First-Year Teacher
Finally, give yourself a little grace. No matter how well you plan and how organized your room is, there will be things that don’t go as planned. And guess, what? That’s totally OK! As a teacher, it’s important to embrace the idea that we are always learning. Even after years in the classroom, there will be things you change, adapt, and tweak to meet the needs of your students better.
There will be lesson plans that you’re SO excited for that completely flop. Some days will feel so hectic you’ll question your sanity. There will be moments of struggle. BUT, there will also be moments of absolute triumph. There will be days that are so touching and encouraging that you can’t help but feel giddy. And best of all, there will be a room full of little people that you get to watch grow into bright learners each and every day.
There will be hard days, but there will also be AMAZING days that leave you absolutely glowing. The key to making it through those difficult times is to remember that no one asks you to be perfect. You are growing and learning too and that is all that is asked of you. So don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember, the amazing days will far outweigh the tougher ones!
Finally, Don’t Forget To TAKE CARE OF yourself!
Oh, and don’t forget to make a plan for teacher work-life balance! Teachers are notorious for doing ALL the things and forgetting about themselves.
While juggling everything can give you a “superhero” type of feeling initially, it will lead to burnout eventually. That being said, make sure you’re aware of this and plan for how you will balance out school life with home life. Prioritize self-care, and organization, and set boundaries! You’ve got this, teacher friend!
Save These Tips!
Don’t forget to pin these tips on your favorite classroom Pinterest board so that you will have just what you need for a successful year right at your fingertips!