A “You Can Do It!” Checklist for First-Year Teachers
Note: This post was updated in September 2019
Every teacher remembers his or her first day of school as a brand new teacher. Starting your first year can bring a mix of excitement, nerves, anticipation, and anxiety. Soon, the butterflies in your stomach and shaking knees will be a thing of the past.
Until then, we reached out to veteran teachers to create a New Teacher Checklist to help you have a successful first day — and first few weeks — of your very first school year! Our checklist for first-year teachers includes everything from setting up your first classroom to creating teacher friendships to the essentials for your first year of teaching.
1. Do Your Homework
In the weeks and days leading up to your first day as a new teacher, there will be a lot of prep work.
- Review your class roster and check student files, particularly the students who have special needs and who will need learning support outside of your classroom.
- Send out postcards or letters to your students introducing yourself and welcoming them back to school.
- During your classroom set-up and in-service days, meet and coordinate with other grade level teachers to plan for the first day.
2. Prepare Your Classroom
The fun part of setting up your first classroom is decorating! Creating classroom bulletin boards, adding posters with words of encouragement, and coordinating decorations themed around your first units of study can be done in the days leading up to your students’ arrival. But don’t feel pressured to have every inch of your classroom decorated. You can fine-tune and update as the year progresses. Our Classroom Decor Pinterest board has lots of inspiration for classroom doors, bulletin boards, seating, and organization.
You’ll also need to consider how you want to organize your students’ desks. Straight, orderly rows of desks may appeal to your “left brain” tendencies, but it may not always be the best option for optimal classroom management. Whether you go with clusters of desks, a semi-circle layout, or replace traditional desks with tables, you’ll want to consider the following in your classroom design:
- Ensure you can see everyone and everyone can see you.
- Create a layout that encourages student collaboration.
- Make sure you can walk freely among the students and reach all students quickly.
- Leave enough space so that your classroom centers are separated and defined.
Don’t forget your own space. Decide whether your desk will be in the front of the room where you can access it as you teach or if you’ll keep it off to the side or in the back to be used mainly during planning periods.
This helpful (and fun!) tool allows you to play around with different set-up options and find the one that works best for your space. Enter the dimensions of your classroom and start placing classroom elements until everything is in its perfect place.
3. Stock Up Your Classroom Library
For many teachers, the classroom library or “reading nook” is their favorite part of the classroom, but also the toughest to get organized. Take inventory of your books and fill in any gaps. Here are a few reading essentials for your first year of teaching.
Whether you’re inheriting your leveled readers from a retiring teacher or getting a few new ones from the powers that be, you’ll want to check that your reading levels are covered. Consider making a color-coding system using colored stickers that equate to reading level(s). Many publishers make their level list available online to help teachers with this task. Your new system will not only help you see what’s in your library but also help students quickly and easily return the books to their proper places.
Nonfiction and Fiction
Separate your nonfiction and fiction titles into two designated areas of the library. This tip is especially important when teaching your students the difference between fiction and nonfiction literature. From there, consider sorting and presenting your nonfiction books by theme (e.g. history, space, animals, biographies, etc.) and fiction books alphabetically.
Whether it’s Judy Moody, Harry Potter, Geronimo Stilton, or Nancy Drew, set up bins dedicated to each beloved character and make these high-demand books easy to locate.
Featured Authors or Teacher Recommendations
Consider a small “featured” area that you can revise and update throughout the year. Here you can highlight the authors you’ll be discussing in your author studies, seasonal favorites, and your top picks. Have students vote for their favorites as the year rolls on.
4. Have a Plan for Day One (and Two, Three . . . )
In the first days of a new year, new teachers need to find a balance for disciplining infractions in your classroom. You don’t want to set a precedent for letting infractions slide. At the same time, you don’t want to come down too hard and have your students start to shut down. On your first day, assign time to review procedures, but know that once may not be enough. Be sure to readdress disciplinary issues as they arise over the first week.
Maneuvering the Middle suggests focusing on three issues that are important to you, which you will consistently enforce without question. These could include kindness towards one another, students leaving their seat without permission, proper hallway behavior, or taking responsibility for missed homework and assignments.
5. Don’t Go It Alone
You’ve got a school full of helping hands! You’ll soon be working closely with other teachers in your grade or content area, but you have even more resources available to you.
- Partner with the school librarian to create a lesson plan or learn about new educational tools.
- Talk to the instructional support team or guidance counselors if you’re having trouble with an individual child.
- When you see a student struggling, reach out to the teacher he or she had last year for input on how the teacher helped this student succeed.
- You can also enlist the support of reading specialists, ELL teachers, and special education or gifted teachers for ideas and advice in their specialties.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
It might be another teacher in your school or those Pinterest-perfect teachers you follow on social media, but someone may cause you to doubt yourself. Remember, they’ve been at this for many years and have gone through many trials and errors. Instead of feeling down, take inspiration where you can, and you’ll soon find a way to do things your own way.
7. Be Smart on Social Media
In college, social media may have been the main way of communicating with your friends. But in the professional world, you need to be a bit more guarded in what you share and how you respond to others. Many teachers change their profile names and images so they are less likely to be searched out by students or parents. However, even with this strategy, the words you say or the images you show can get you in trouble. Be thoughtful and follow the same social media responsibility rules you’re teaching your students!