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July 31, 2012

Advice for the Incoming Class of Teachers

Last night I was catching up on blog posts, and I saw that Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6 had shared her own first year story.  I remember my first year of teaching as well - all 5 of them.  I know, I know - you are supposed to only have 1 first year of teaching, but for my first 5 years I changed up what I taught and where I taught almost every year.  It wasn't until after that point that I stayed doing the same thing and life got a little easier.

So, what's my story?  I graduated from college & student teaching in the spring of 2000.  I was with many other new teachers looking for jobs that year and there weren't many opportunities in my area.  Sound familiar?  Anyhow, when moving back home, I applied to quite a few different districts, went on interviews, and nothing happened.  The summer came to a close, and it was only a couple of days before school started I got a phone call for an 80% science position that meant I would have to travel to 2 different schools throughout the week.    Even though it was something I never would have expected, I decided to take it because I wanted a foot in the door.  I had to apply for an emergency science credential that would only last for a year.  That year I taught every single grade level from 1st to 5th between those 2 schools.  I learned that every grade level was special in it's own way, and that I was capable of teaching every single grade level in an elementary setting.  I learned that classroom management was the most important thing, and that I had to adjust for each individual class that I taught.  It was not a one size fits all kind of thing.

The next year I was offered a Special Day Kindergarten/1st grade CH class on another emergency credential at one of those school sites (once again - I didn't interview for it, I was just called).  I learned that I was capable of learning the ins and outs of IEPs, and learned that the kiddos that I had always been afraid to teach were just regular boys and girls underneath their learning difficulties.  I was capable.  Classroom management was still key, but I needed to also collaborate with other teachers and experts to figure out the best way to teach the curriculum to my group of kids.  I couldn't just look at a Teacher's Edition and do the lessons in that one way.  

Then I switched to a completely different school district when the Superintendent called me personally to ask me to come and work for her teaching 6th grade homeroom and 5th, 6th, and 8th grade science. (Found out that she had found my name through my old principal.)  I did have an official interview this year, but it was implied that it would be mine if I wanted it.  I learned that middle schoolers were just big kids (with slightly bigger attitudes).  I enjoyed teaching it as well, but since it was completely different in middle school with switching classes, I had to be extra organized to stay on top of it all.

The next year I had a choice, and I chose to move to 4th grade in that same school district.  I found that even though I loved all the grades in some manner, I loved the curriculum of 4th.  That doesn't mean that I stayed there forever - over the years I have changed districts so I wasn't commuting 2 1/2 hours a day, I've taught a combo class, went to 2nd grade when there was an opportunity for smaller class sizes, went back to 4th grade when was laid off due to budget cuts and was rehired in my "dream position".  Now I'm starting my 13th year of teaching...

The moral of the story?  I've basically seen it all, done it all, worked with it all... and have learned that there are some things that carry over into every classroom.

1.  Classroom management is the key - but it takes time to figure out what works for you.  I do a lot of positive reinforcement in my classroom in addition to my color chart.  I do compliments and tickets for individual praise, table points for group praise, and warm fuzzies for whole class.  I update and send home behavior sheets every week (even though my class mainly always stays on green).  Why?  Because it works for me. 

2.  Use your pacing guide - it will get you from here to there.  I know these days everyone is so test focused, but the kids will only learn those spring time skills if you actually teach them.  We move on in my class when at least 80% of my class "gets it".  The ones that don't get it, they still have to work on it in small group or individual settings.  You have to keep moving forward.

3.  Talk to people - I still remember when I moved into my college dorm room freshman year, I felt overwhelmed.  I wanted to shut the door and just get organized.  My dad, a very wise man, told me to keep my door open.  Sure enough, I met so many people and learned so much from just talking to others.  Same thing happens at school - Ask for help.  If you can't ask at school, then ask me or any of the wonderful bloggers out there.  So many of us are on Facebook and can help you out. 

4.  Stay organized - It might seem silly, but keeping my classroom an organized place makes me feel like a better teacher.  I know where things are, I don't feel overwhelmed, and I can use my time wisely. I tend to plan out my lessons for 2 weeks ahead.  I understand that things change, and I usually have many eraser marks on my lesson plan page, but the main thing for me is that I know the direction I'm going and I want to make sure I'm prepped.

5. My last tip isn't really for the classroom, but it can help you so much.  After you graduate, take as many post grad classes as you can as fast as you can.  You are already in the mind set of being a student, and it helps with moving up the salary schedule quickly.  I know I graduated in a different decade (man, that makes me feel old), but I did my student teaching post grad - it was cheaper, and it counted for units.  I did my CLAD post grad as well, and before I even stepped foot in my first classroom I was already at 30.  I found that I could take independent study classes to work with my schedule, and was able to move up to 75 units pretty quickly.  You aren't stuck going into a classroom for units if you don't want to, but the extra amount in your paycheck can help out a lot.

Okay, I'll step off my soap box (for the moment).  Hope this helped someone!    


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! What a trooper you are to have changed so much in the beginning of your career...and you stuck with it! I don't know if I could have done that. Thank you for linking up :)

    Teaching in Room 6

  2. We started teaching the same year! Thanks for reminding me it was different decade.
    Back in Fourth

    1. Doesn't it seem like yesterday and so long ago all at the same time? I found my college graduation picture a couple of days ago when cleaning out clutter at home, and thought about how long ago it really was.

  3. So many young teachers are going through what you went through with changes. I am starting my 6th year of teaching this year. My first two years were PreK Sp Ed. Then I had three years in a row at the same district but each year was a different grade and/or subjects (grades 3 and 4). This year I will be starting at a new district. I was cut from my other district because of budget problems (surprise, surprise). This year will be fourth grade (which I LOVE) but I will be teaching all subjects in a self-contained classroom. I am nervous but very excited!

    1. It is so much fun to teach everything. :) I love being able to tie it all together for the kids. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. Hi Emily,

    I was wondering if you'd be able to explain your colour behaviour management system and how it works and also if you're able to send me a copy of the parent teacher night powerpoint?

    I'm just about to graduate soon.

    You can email me at I'd sure appreciate it :)


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