George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Baptism By Fire! That's what I call the first year of teaching. No matter how much preparation and mentoring you have received, you are building the plane as you fly it. To make sure you don't crash and/or burn (yes, pun intended!), I put together some hard-learned lessons from my experience as a new teacher. In addition, these are good recommendations and reminders for veteran teachers. When you get hunkered down in the day-to-day while the year presses on, you tend to forget what really works well, because you are working so hard. I hope you find these five tips useful!

1) Push Out Content in Different Ways

You know what's exhausting? Preparing PowerPoints, presentations and other lectures! Guess what? You don't have to do this all the time. Yes, there is a time and a place for a lecture or direct instruction, but there is also a place for a variety of strategies to have students take ownership of content learning. Use jigsaw techniques, games that teach, reciprocal teaching and other effective strategies that put students in the driver's seat of learning. Move from sage of the stage to guide on the side. While all lessons require preparation and planning, a variety of lesson types can not only keep your students interested, but also keep you energized to try new ways of teaching.

2) Go Home!

I mean it. Go home! There is always something more to do, I know it. But you know what? It can wait! Now obviously, you do need to stay late for events, meetings and tutoring with students, but you also need to set boundaries. It is easy to get sucked into the school building, so make sure you leave when appropriate. Go home to your family (or your cat, in my case). Let your students and peers know that you are taking care of your own self by attempting to have a life outside of school.

3) Establish Boundaries for Your Time

Of course this relates to the tip above, but it has more to do with the overall structures you have in place for your time during the school day. It's OK to keep your door closed. Yes, there are times to work with students, but there is also time to put on NPR with your cup of coffee, check you email and commence your morning ritual. Your lunch is sacred, so make sure you take that time for yourself, too. If professional development is scheduled, keep that sacred as well, because it is some rare time you have to work on your practice. Students, parents and others will respect the fact that you set time aside for them, but also for yourself.

4) Use Your PLN

In a previous blog here at Edutopia, Mary Beth Hertz wrote about the importance of the "connected educator," suggesting that we all make sure to network with fellow educators. Great teachers steal (and you'd be a liar if you said you were "borrowing"), so make sure you use technologies like Edmodo and Twitter to keep yourself connected to other educators, your personal learning network (PLN).

5) Know What You Are Assessing

Obviously, teachers should know what they are assessing, but sometimes we forget and start assessing everything. If you collect a formative assignment, only assess for a few things. Do you have to assess for conventions all the time? No, but there is a time and place for that. Do you have to assess correct answers in math problems? Perhaps not this time. Perhaps you focus on process-oriented feedback. Know what you are assessing, and be transparent about this to students. Not only is this manageable for students to digest later, but it makes the time you spend assessing and giving feedback shorter, focused and more efficient.

Again, these are tips, and may not work for everyone, but I think in general they encompass what I learned in the first years. You can only care for your students if you are caring for yourself. If you create and live in structures that allow you to work smart, then you'll transition into a confident, veteran teacher so much more quickly!

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Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.'s picture
Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist & Author of The Homework Trap

Good tips. I would add two comments. A sixth tip is to follow the concepts of the serenity prayer: to accept the things that are out of our control, act on the things that are in our control, and know the difference. The class is in the teacher's control; the home is not. Each home is different. Each parent is different. We can stave off burnout by not getting overly invested in how parents behave and what students do in their homes. My other comment is to look at comment number 3, recognize the wisdom of putting boundaries on time, and then considering how that applies to students as well. Should they be working until their assignments are done? Or should they be working (on their homework) for a fixed amount of time and allowed to stop working when that time is up?

Ms. Bea's picture
Ms. Bea

You're tired...your students are tired. Be kind to yourself and your class. Facilitate activities that help you and your students feel better. Take frequent breaks - stretching or take mindful moments during transitions to be quiet and listen to the sounds around and within. One tool with a variety of activities to do just that can be found at

Also, students are more chatty this time of year. Give them something content related to talk about so they won't decide to talk when you need them to listen.

Have fun with them. They'll be on their way to their next adventure before you know it!

Erik Palmer's picture

I was just given the PBL in the Elementary Grades book by some schools I work with. Loved what I read until I got to preparing for the presentations and the presentation rubrics. Speaking skills have always been an afterthought in education and no one seems to know exactly how to teach or evaluate speaking. First, you don't teach speaking with "a one-minute bad example" speech. (see Second, you shouldn't jumble disparate items together in a rubric. This is part of a post I made:
Common Core State Standards are part of our lives now. Part of those standards is the Speaking and Listening standard. Though all teachers at all grade levels in all subjects have students speaking in their classrooms, few teachers have ever been given instruction on how to teach speaking. We sort of know what to look for and we have score sheets for grading presentations that show what we think is important. No two teachers in any school have the same score sheet or rubric, however. Every teacher has a unique idea. When SBAC and PARCC assessments come online, how will we figure out how to evaluate oral communication in some consistent way?
Understand that all speaking has two very distinct parts: building the speech and performing the speech. This is true for all oral communication: one-on-one, small group, large presentation, webinar, video, and more. Building a speech refers to all the things we do before we ever open our mouths. We think of the audience, we work on the content, we organize the content, we construct visual aids, we dress up--all before we ever say a word to the audience/camera/microphone. Presidents, actors, and newscasters have people who build speeches for them. It is a special talent and some students will be better at creating the communication than others; some will be better at creating the communication than performing it.
Performing the speech refers to all the things we do as we are talking. I use the word performing instead of delivering to emphasize the true nature of the task. As we speak, we need to be poised, we need to be sure every word is heard, we need to have some life in our voices, we need to make eye contact, we need to gesture, we need to pay attention to pace--all of these are done during our address to the audience/camera/microphone. Performing is a special talent, also, and some students will be better performers than others; better performers than builders.
Never blend these two very different aspects on any rubric. Create separate sections for building the communication and for performing the communication. Students will be clear on areas of strength and weakness. You will be clear, also, and won't let a well-built speech make you oblivious to performance defects or a well-performed speech keep you from noticing a lack of content.

Marie's picture
eighth grade math teacher in Camden, New Jersey

Thanks for the great tips on how to avoid teacher burnout. I also enjoyed the comments from Dr. Goldberg. It is true about us not having control about what happens in the homes of our students. You can do so much in the classroom to move a child to the next level but until they get the support from home where someone is telling them to do their home/study and go over it with them to make sure that it is completed - we are not going to be able to see gains. What frustrates me is after spending so much time going over a concept and then you give a quiz or a test based on what was taught - you get students not applying what you have taught on the assessment. Their retention span is very limited and as a teacher I feel like I am starting over everyday-reteaching the same thing over and over.

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

I found it hard to admit I wasn't Wonder Woman. But once I realized, one year as a Resource Specialist, I couldn't take on half of someone's caseload who was out, when mine was full, I felt much better and could fulfill my commitments with peace of mind. We need to stand up for ourselves, and each other, too.

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