Memories and Lessons Learned as a First Year Teacher

Throughout the school year, I compiled a mental list of do’s and don’t’s for the first-year teacher. Here is a list of some of the biggies that I remember. Some are serious, and some are funny, but all are relevant 🙂

In no particular order…

  • Everyday, make sure to answer the question “Why is this important to know.”
  • Don’t believe kids when they say, “But every other teacher is doing it!”
  • Always have a date and agenda up on the board–every student likes to come in and have a good grasp of what he will be doing for the next 90 minutes. It also keeps me from being asked “What’s today’s date?” and “What are we doing today?” Well, actually, I still get asked, but at least I can just point to the board.
  • The first one to get there wins. Being proactive is key. If I think anything will in any way be misconstrued by a student, I make sure to get to the parent &/or principal first. It works.
  • Prayer–prayer helps me to love the absolutely most unlovely of students.
  • The rabbit trail–my best and worst friend. Rabbit trails are valuable in the fact that in small doses, they provide a necessary relief and a fun pit stop, but in excess, they’ve ruined the trip.
  • Always have candy or some random gift on hand–even high school students like being rewarded on an occasion.
  • Mean what I say, and say what I mean. In short, be consistent in all things. I may think most of my class can handle an activity, but if everyone cannot handle it, then it must wait.
  • Be extremely kind to the custodians and secretary. Not only is this the right thing to do, but also because they know everything, and keep everything running.
  • Be honest and candid with students. For example, be upfront and explain why a certain unit is being taught. If I don’t know the answer, I tell them. If I don’t think the unit has relevance, I tell them by explaining that it’s a state mandate and we will all do our best to make it fun. Kids can sniff a hypocrite a mile away, so it’s best to just be totally honest with them.
  • Don’t be an open book. Having an air of mystique helps me be in control of my students, and doesn’t let them be in control of me. (This is also a great dating tip!)
  • Don’t waste time putting up bulletin boards, stapling papers, passing out papers, hole-punching papers, etc. Students LOVE to do this for me, particularly if it means ending class a few minutes early. No matter how good a teacher anyone is, the last few minutes of class are generally useless, especially on the block schedule. Instead of letting the kids take control, I “give” them those last five minutes to do things for me. Did I ever feel bad? Nah. Not in the least.
  • Take notice of kids who excel, and make mention of them at the beginning of class. “Johnny, I noticed your name in the paper for golf. Great job!” His face may get a little red, but he LOVES it.
  • Don’t grade everything, but act like I’m going to. Don’t be afraid of giving vague answers to those grade-hungry students. When they ask, “How much is this worth?” Say, “A good deal.” When they say, “Is this graded?” Say, “Possibly.” They will not resent this if all these assignments are useful and applicable in the classroom.
  • Wait time is actually shorter than it seems. Give them more than I think they should have.
  • Compliment female students in abundance. Many of these cute, seemingly bratty, high school girls are more insecure than I ever would have imagined.
  • Unfortunately, many of today’s teenagers are like sharks; when they smell blood they will attack, particularly if that blood, in any way, resembles extra credit. Make sure to reward those that understand the concept of thankfulness, and let the other ones go ahead and gripe.
  • If the students start to get a little rowdy, don’t yell…instead talk more quietly…for whatever reason, this works.
  • Every once in a while, just start out class by asking, “How is everyone doing? Are you all feeling tired? Ready for a break, etc.?” This let’s them know that I’m willing to listen, and I can somewhat sympathize with them.
  • If I can’t hear a good exchange of laughter during each class, then I’ve done something terribly wrong.


  1. Heather Dennis Black · · Reply

    Thanks for the list. I am beginning my first year of teaching English, speech, and drama at a Christian school. Your suggestions have helped a lot, even in a Christian school. Keep in touch.

  2. Hey, Heather!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m so excited for you in your first year of teaching. How did student teaching go for you? Just remember to take it one day at a time, and you will do wonderfully I’m sure 🙂

    1. Heather Dennis Black · · Reply

      Thanks. Student teaching went really well. I was at Wade Hampton teaching British Lit. I loved the school and my cooperating teacher. We got a long great. Are you on facebook? What is your e-mail address? Check out our website and blog at

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Sarah! Your students are blessed to have you as their teacher!

  4. I’m beginning my first year as an ELA 6th grade teacher this fall. Did a little search on teaching and came across your blog. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  5. Ms. S,

    Glad you enjoyed it, and good luck with your first year!

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