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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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New Kid on the Block: Surviving My First Year in the Classroom

Mark Nichol

Editor / Writer

What does it take to ensure that new teachers have a fair shake at succeeding? Perhaps my experience is instructive.

I come from a family of teachers: My father, both grandmothers, and an aunt all spent time at the front of a classroom. A few years after I graduated from college, though I had not studied education, I decided to follow in their footsteps -- and the prospect of doing so excited me. After earning my teaching credential, however, I couldn't find a full-time job. I spent a year and a half working as a substitute teacher, and when I again failed to get a classroom assignment, I resigned myself to another twelve months of pinch-hitting.

But then, two days before the start of the school year, a principal asked me to substitute indefinitely in a third-grade class whose teacher had abruptly taken another job. I showed up the next day, bright eyed and eager, and a couple of teachers happily skipped a long, boring districtwide teachers' assembly to help me set up my classroom at the last minute.

When I greeted my thirty-two little charges that first morning, I had to be honest with them and tell them I might not be their permanent teacher, but I was hired at the end of the second day, and we settled into the routine. Soon after, I was told that my predecessor had loaded the student roster with many kids with behavior problems, but they seemed a nice enough group, and I knew from my experience as a substitute that eight-year-olds enjoy the novelty of a young male teacher. (The school had only one other, in a kindergarten class.)

I had delusions of being a super teacher, creating much of my own curriculum, and inspiring these young minds to think outside the box (this was long before such phrases as "project learning" had been invented), but that school year was very difficult. The principal, at the insistence of the parents of one of my students, transferred their son to another classroom, then promised he wouldn't remove any other children from my class, but soon after did exactly that.

I dutifully followed all the advice I had heard and read about classroom management; nevertheless, I had trouble making it stick. I tried to reward engaged, well-behaved students with my attention and to give attention to the more difficult ones whenever I caught them being good, but my classroom was often chaotic, and I struggled to succeed.

The principal met with me informally about my challenges. Though he meant well, I left his office no more hopeful than when I had entered it. The vice principal observed my classroom a couple times as part of the evaluation process, but her official forms and officious meetings with me told me nothing I didn't know about my shortcomings and offered little in the way of practical advice. (I also had the feeling that she, a brand-new administrator, was as overwhelmed in her job as I was in mine.)

At the end of the school year, I was exhausted from spending almost as much time at home preparing lessons and grading assignments as I spent in the classroom each day, but I hung in there, teaching in the relatively relaxing environment of summer school and determined to do better the next year. Plus, I was optimistic about the opportunity to work with slightly older children as a fourth-grade teacher.

Does any of this sound familiar? Share your remembrances of your first year of teaching, and read my follow-up to this post.

Comments (94)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Christine Z's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the best educational advances...a mentoring program for first year teachers. When I was still a pre-service teacher, I did not understand the importance of a mentoring program. I really didn't see the need. I thought I could do it all...on my own. Boy was I wrong. I had no idea who anyone was in the building...or where to find supplies...or even the curriculum. I was certified in secondary earth science in CT and moved to NY State for my husband's job. I knew my content...but not the NY State curriculum. My mentor, Cindy, was a blessing. She helped me through the curriculum, taught me to loosen up, and enjoy teaching.

Paul Mwangi,'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been on the classroom front for the last 16 years. Looking back at my early years in the classroom, I feel most of my early years were less productive to my learners. I am of the opinion that my early teaching life could have been more productive if I had got the necessary tutoring from the experienced teachers. In my days, we had less of sherpherding from the experienced senior teachers. I struggled with the children from purely trial and error methods of classrooom management as taught in college.
Many years down the line, many novice teachers are going through this dreaded line. How can we help the novice teachers to learn the art of classroom management to reduce their anxieties?

Amy B.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was assigned a mentor when I started teaching in 1984. However I can honestly say I didn't gain anything from it. I was a band director who had the shop teacher assigned as my mentor. He observed me twice and said good job and left. He had no idea about the musical aspect of teaching. My struggles where not in the practices of teaching, but the musical ideas that I wanted to teach. I found myself having no where to turn for help. As I a vetern teacher I make sure I mentor every year. My advice for young teachers is to reach out and find someone to help-even though they may not be "assigned" to you. Good luck to all!

Erica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First year teaching
So many of the experiences shared remind me of my first year of teaching. I think it is so interesting that Mark too had a young, new administrator, who was probably overwhelmed by her job as well. I remember not receiving much useful feedback; I was offered very little in terms of improving and becoming more effective.

Christina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My first year teaching was somewhat similar to yours. I started out in the middle of the year, replacing a teacher who had walked off the job (literaly). This was a full-day kindergarten class, with many behavior problems. Everyday for the first month I came home in tears. I was given advise from another teacher at a different school, that the administrator needs to get involved. I went back the next day and told them, I can not help all these kids myself, and that I need help. Right then, my vice-principal put three of the kids on a strict behavior plan, which really worked. It included rewards for good behavior and consequenses for negative behavior. One of the students had to be moved to an alternative school, because of his danger to himself or to others. By the end of the year, I had less behvior disruptions and a lot less stress. I could not have made it without the help of the administration.

Joan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have only been teaching a couple years but clearly remember my first year teaching as if it was yesterday. I felt and sometimes still feel overwhelmed with a large class of young students. I really feel that more support needs to be in place within schools for new teachers. I know many districts assign mentor teachers but often, that is not enough. It would be great if every new teacher was assigned a support team who not offered support and encouragement, but could "drop in" the classroom at any time to offer support or suggestions and met with the new teacher whenever they needed to. The learning curve of a teacher the first couple years of teaching is just huge.

Joan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for bringing up the fact that the early years of teaching with help from effective, experienced teachers could be much more successful (not only for the teacher, but also for the students)and a lot more less stressful for new teachers. I think sometimes that since experienced teachers feel that they went through it, that new teachers should learn on their own too - which is a terrible way of thinking.

Sandy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in my 12th year of teaching first grade and remember all too well the feeling of being pulled in every direction and not wanting to appear uncooperative and, therefore, saying yes to far too many requests. I found that I had to start saying "no" in order to be the best I could be in the classroom.
You may want to speak to your administrator personally and confide in him/her that your desire is to be a team-player and be actively involved but you need to focus your time and energy in the classroom right now as you want to be the best teacher you can be! (This worked for me my first year.)
Do you have a "mentor" teacher? Is he/she helpful?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had done my student teaching in the UK. This was a most wonderful experience for me and I felt that I learned so much! I did this in the fall of my senior year of college. I was lucky enough to be hired by a wonderful district by May and so I was secure in a job upon graduating. I went into my first year with this idea that I had already been through so many challenges in my student teaching because what could be more challenging than working in a school district abroad? I wanted the kids to love me and I wanted to be the BEST teacher my school had ever hired. I soon found myself just trying to keep my head above water that first year. What first started as strong inspirations to be the "best" soon became desires just to be "mediocre" as I faced challenging behavior students and a curriculum I was unfamiliar with after finally getting used to the National Curriculum in the UK. I was also planning my wedding for January and had some other personal events happen that first year. I would describe it "hellish" but also rewarding as I will never forget my novice year students. They were the first ones I ever had a lasting impact on, they were the ones that I tried my new teaching skills with, and they were some of the most amazing kids I had ever met. One thing I think we will never forget, no matter how hard our first year was, is our students. They will have lasting impressions on us. We will have many other classes through the years, but never again will we have our "first year class".

Danielle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I give you a lot of credit for jumping in there and getting right to work. It is a hard thing to jump into someone else's classroom after school has started and take control. I am in my second year teaching, although my first year was very over whelming, until I got into the swing of things I felt like I was never organized, always doing plans at home Sunday night always running around. I believe it takes time and once it you get it you got it!!

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