NOW You Tell Me: What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me During My First Year Teaching!

A first year teacher recently shared with me how eager he was to begin his second semester because he had learned so much about what not to do during his first semester.  He was, as first-year teachers often are, overwhelmed and eager to make some changes with the start of a new semester.

This photo (click photo for link), “Push for Help” is copyright (c) 2006 Johnathan Nightingale and made available under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license (

© 2006 Johnathan Nightingale.  Creative Commons.  Click here for full citation (#5).

I can remember feeling similarly my first year.  The list of things that I would do differently stretches down the hall, but here’s my top eight:

  1. Engage your students from the moment they walk in the door.  If you don’t have something for students to do, they will find something to do (like get into trouble!).  Waste just 5 minutes a day, and you’ve wasted 15 hours in a school year.  Waste five minutes each day in a 7 class rotation and you’ve wasted 21 days of school each year!
  2. Silence is golden.  Your silence.  Not the students’.  Use your silence to gain student attention.  Never talk “over” students.  Allow your silence to speak.  A wise teacher once told me, “Never speak unless you are the only one in the room speaking.”
  3. Manage or be managed.  Someone will set the tone in your classroom. It had better be you.  Good teachers are masters of their subject matter.  Great teachers are masters of their subject matter and their classroom (and not necessarily in that order).
  4. Students will rise or sink to your expectations.  Approach your students positively.  Refuse to label your students.  Expect them to rise to the occasion; don’t assume they won’t.  They’ll prove you right every time.
  5. Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.  Plans change, situations come up that need to be addressed.  Plan ahead, but expect the unexpected.
  6. You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Whoever said a teacher shouldn’t smile until Thanksgiving must have been one miserable person.  Smile at your students, with your students,  and  at yourself.  You can enforce expectations politely and respectfully.  NEVER raise your voice or let your emotions dictate a “vinegar” response.
  7. It’s okay to be wrong.  It’s even okay to admit it.  You will mess up and make mistakes.  Admit them. Own them.  Model for students how to handle their mistakes.
  8. It’s okay if the students don’t like you.  Teaching is not a popularity contest.  Do what’s best for the students in the best way you can.  The real question to ask is not “Do they like me” but “Will they respect me in 15 years?”

This list was culled from a much-longer list of things I’ve learned in the last 20 years.  What would be on your list?  

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Marty Reed teaches at Veritas School, a classical Christian school in Richmond, Virginia. Her twenty years of teaching, coupled with her duties as pastor's wife and mother of two, provide her with excellent insights to share with FOCUS readers.

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  • Edward Earwood

    Your #5 would be my #1–Indeed, blessed are the flexible.

  • Jordan Culver

    Great stuff! I agree with all and try to apply all in my classroom. I might add as caveat, “pace yourself.” If burnout enters the above10 tend to exit.

    • Martha Earwood Reed

      Excellent observation! Burnout is a real problem for teachers! Maybe that needs to be the topic of another blog post. Thanks for joining the conversation!

    • Matt Ticzkus

      Jordan, thanks for commenting and welcome to the FOCUS Blog! As Marty said, burnout is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed here on the blog!