My advice to new teachers at the start of the school year


I first posted this in 2011, but I still stand by this advice. There are also some really great comments at the bottom that contain additional advice:

1) Be yourself (unless your “self” is rude, obnoxious, spiteful, arrogant, or similarly unpleasant in which case you should rethink your chosen profession anyway). When I first started teaching I worked very hard at adopting my “teacher persona.” I believe this was a result of some benign advice from an associate teacher or a professor at the faculty of education. The thing is, it’s exhausting and the kids see right through it. I tried to copy the teaching styles of teachers I respected and admired, and I suppose that’s not a bad way to start. It actually helped me figure out the kind of teacher that I’m not. I am not a stern no-nonsense disciplinarian. I am silly, laid-back, and occasionally irreverent. That doesn’t mean my students run amok, but I had to find my own way to “be a teacher.”

2) Dress up. A little. But dress your age. If you, like me, barreled on through your undergrad and straight into teacher’s college and then were lucky enough to get a position the next school year (I know… very lucky), then you’re… what… 23? Wow. You’re not much older than the grade 12s and you won’t look much older. You’re not going to fool anyone into thinking that you’re an ancient 30 something like I am, but when you’re 23, it’s embarrassing and awkward to be mistaken for a student (When you’re 32, it rocks). So, judge the vibe of your school. Some schools are more casual than others, but don’t think you can get away with the board short and flip-flop look that the eccentric, close-to-retirement, history teacher is “rocking” (questionably). If you dress up a little bit, it sends a signal that you think this important enough to dress up for and that helps–but don’t be afraid to out your own stamp on it that says “hey I’m not 32 yet.”

3) Don’t do stupid things. You’ve probably already been so scared by faculty of education lectures and gossipy horror stories that spread through your social foundations class about teachers who did foolish things on social media and were then fired. That’s not what I’m here to do. I do not want you to decide to erase your web presence and ban technology from the classroom because you’re afraid of all the horrible things that could happen to you. We are in an interesting place in our history right now and I suspect 20 years from now (I hope) we’ll all laugh about the angst we were having in education over social media. Rather than trying to eliminate your web presence, create a professional one. Start a professional blog where you reflect on and share evidence of your learning. Get on Twitter and start following other teachers (Not sure how to get started? Go here.). They will be a great support network for you and can help you out when it’s 1:00am and you really can’t hash out ideas with your department head and your girlfriend is sick of hearing about how stressed out you are. Don’t friend students on Facebook (I know some teachers who do and I have the utmost faith that they are extremely professional with their students but I won’t ever advise you to do it), but you may consider setting up a Facebook page for your class. If you teach in the Waterloo board in fact, it’s encouraged. That way you can keep in touch with students in with a medium they use, but they don’t have access to your personal information. Bottom line: never post anything online that you wouldn’t say in front of the class or in front of your principal. If you must vent, save it for direct messages and emails to your friends.

4) Cut yourself some slack. You won’t be a perfect teacher in your first year. Actually you’ll never be a perfect teacher. That’s okay. Think of your goal for your first year as being one of survival and harm reduction. Do as little harm as possible to yourself and your students, and you’re off to a good start in my opinion. If you’re a good teacher, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time agonizing over decisions you made, coming up with different ways you could have but didn’t handle a situation, and generally berating yourself for sucking. You probably don’t suck. Lighten up. Have a beer. Go for a night out with your non-teacher friends (do you still have those?) and don’t talk about school–they won’t get it and it’s not healthy for you to talk about it all the time.

This is hardly an exhaustive list but you probably have enough people giving you advice. Hang in there. Have some fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

12 thoughts on “My advice to new teachers at the start of the school year

  1. Great words of advice, Danika! I like that you kept it short and to the point. No sense in producing an overwhelming list of “do’s”. Your first point really resonates and I will be sharing this post both with our new teachers on staff, as well as the occasional teachers for whom I do an orientation session in the fall.


  2. Great Post. The first point about being yourself is so true. Some teachers feel that they are now in the class and they need to be in control. If that is your feeling than as you said I think you may need to find a different profession.

    I also think we need to give students more credit and they can tell when we are faking something and not being ourselves. I once heard about a study ( never saw it ) that said that within 10 sec. a student has made up his/her mind about that particular teacher.
    Therefore I would add one more piece of advice and that is “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

    Great post and have a great year
    Akevy (akevy613)

  3. Geez Danika, why didn’t you post that 15 years ago when I first began? ;> I started my first year of contract teaching by sharing a grade 4/5 class with another teacher (I was the teacher-librarian for the other 0.5 of my position). I tried very hard during those first few months to be “like her” so the class would have consistency between their morning and afternoon sessions but it wasn’t natural. Once I was more myself, it didn’t mean that problems disappeared (it actually caused some tension as students expressed their opinions on the different teaching styles) but it did mean one less thing to agonize over.

  4. First of all, thanks for visiting me at my new home! @Shannon: There are so many things I could think of to add but I was walking around the faculty of education at UWO last week and those were the main things that stuck out for me. :) Good luck with your orientation session.
    @Akevy: I love your addition. Thanks!
    @Diana: Well 15 years ago I think I would have had some very interesting advice for a first year teacher, mainly because I was still in high school. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get in a time machine and go back and ask myself what advice I’d give? Actually that’s not cool at all. I mean, if I had a time machine I’m sure I could come up with much better uses. Seriously though, thanks for sharing your story. I bet a lot of people can relate to that experience.

  5. Sound advice for new and experienced teachers alike. I hope this post gets a lot of traffic this month.

  6. Great post!

    As a sub (supply) teacher for the past 6 years I still feel like everyday is the first day. Great advice for all of us still at the begining of our teaching journey.

    Hope you have a great year!


  7. I love the real world suggestions you give here and am totally in love with the natural expressiveness in your blog writing, Danika. I wonder what teacher persona I’ve taken on without knowing entirely. I have one friend who has a total teacher’s voice that’s so irritatingly fake (though she doesn’t realise it) that I can’t listen to her talk to students.

    Any case, I hope you had a great first day back and hope it keeps up (though I’m sure it will). =)

    • Thanks, Tyson! I’ve considered that my tone might be a bit too casual for a professional blog but I guess that connects to my personality in the classroom. I could adopt a more formal tone in my writing and in my classroom but that wouldn’t feel authentic. So I’m glad it works!

      It’s been a great first week. I hope things are going well for you too!

  8. Thank you so much for this post. As a student teacher facing his first practicum in 4 weeks, your advice means a ton. And after having delivered an absolutely atrocious sample lesson, #4 gave me my first feeling of calm since 10am. Thank you, I needed it.

  9. I enjoyed the post very much. I would suggest that perhaps rather than “be yourself”, it might be better to “know yourself”. I know, for example, that I am not exactly the most strict disciplinarian. This is due to my personality. As such, I found it helpful to frame things such that what I considered to be an overreaction was actually an appropriate reaction. Keep up the great writing!