The ABC’s of Successful Teaching: How to Survive Year One

Dear Almost First Year Teacher,

Are you ready? Are you prepared? Fasten your seatbelt because you are about to begin one of the wildest rides of your life: Year One of Teaching. (Dun, dun dunnnnnn…) *Insert doomsday music.

But don’t worry. To get you started I have compiled a list of tips and tricks that have personally helped me be successful in my educational experience so far – totally free of charge! These “Do’s” and “Don’ts” are little tidbits of wisdom that have been offered to me by many of my mentors who are coaching me as I am nearing the finish line of my first year as a high school teacher in rural Missouri.

(The end is in sight! I can see almost it!)

Your free informational “The ABC’s of Successful Teaching: How to Survive Year One” seminar begins in 3…2….1….


A – Admit your mistakes. Sometimes you will hurt a student’s feelings unintentionally, say the wrong thing, totally teach a concept incorrectly, or drop the ball and forget to do a very important task. Show ownership for your wrongdoings, apologize when needed, fix it, and move on!

B – Be flexible. Thing won’t always go as planned. You’re going to have plenty of annoying situations that continuously challenge you to think outside the box. There will be fire drills. Interruptions. Announcements. Assemblies. Your PowerPoint presentation or internet is going to malfunction. You won’t get through a lesson in one day like you thought you would. You’re going to be asked to work a concession stand, be a class sponsor, or cover someone else’s classroom at the worst possible times. Get over it, get creative, and get through it.

C – Cry it out. Sometimes you have a terrible day. Vent to someone. Scream into a pillow. See a therapist. Eat an entire tub of ice cream. Do whatever you have to do to let it all out today so you can focus on making tomorrow better.

D – Don’t give up. Just when you think you are at the end of your rope and want to start applying for any other job than this, remind yourself of why you started this career in the first place and how hard you worked to get where you are.

E – Educate yourself, too. Despite the fact that you have a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree from a university, you DON’T know EVERYTHING. Seize every opportunity to better yourself and never stop learning new things. (And quit griping about professional development days! There is ALWAYS something to learn – even if it’s how to fall asleep without getting caught).

F – Find something positive about every day. You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have to send a kid to the office, break up a fight in the lunchroom, deal with angry parents, get a bad evaluation from your principal, sleep through your alarm and wake up thirty minutes late, and totally botch that lesson plan. But you will also have those moments when you get everything accomplished for the day and get to go home at 3:30. A parent calls to praise you for your hard work. You get an award or recognition for a major accomplishment. A hard to reach student finally gets it. A former student comes back to thank you for the impact you made in their life. Dwell on these moments instead and let the bad times go.

G – GET HELP. This is SO important! You are going to have a million questions and face many situations too overwhelming to handle on your own. Reach out to a co-worker. A colleague. A board member. Your principal. An expert in your community. Other teachers in other schools. Never be afraid to ask for advice. Many people are out there to help you succeed, if you let them!

H – Hold your ground. This is YOUR classroom, and it will only operate how you choose to operate it. Set high expectations and follow through with clear consequences when those expectations are not met. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Be firm and consistent – if you want your classroom management issues to be minimal and your students’ respect to be earned.

I – Include your parents, community, and administration on what’s going on in your classroom. Invite them to visit or observe when you are teaching something really fun and engaging. Send home newsletters. Create a classroom Facebook page. Use the Remind 101 App. Submit an article to the local newspaper. This is just good PR and will really showcase what you are doing with your students!

J – Just breathe. Stress is sure to come your way, but you WILL get through it! Just take it one day at a time.

K – Keep your head above the water. In Year One, it’s ALL about surviving! Most days you will just be a page or two ahead of your students – and that’s okay! Don’t let yourself drown in the Sea of Overwhelming. Be like Dory and just keep swimming!

L – Learn your students. Build those relationships from day one! Find out their favorite movie, their birthday, what sports and clubs they are involved in, where they work, and the name of their dog. Learn their strengths and areas they need to improve on so they can succeed in your classroom. Ask them what their goals are and what they want out of life – and coach them through this process. This not only helps you know how to help them, but it also helps you earn their respect because they know you care.

M – Make time. Don’t let your job come before your spouse, your kids, your family, your friends, or yourself. Go home when the last bell rings for the day. Go out on a date. Play with your kids. Take a personal day. Take a bubble bath. You have to have a healthy balance between work and your personal life, or this job will consume you.

N – Never put yourself in risky situations. You don’t ever want to be in a condition that could cost you your job or career. Keep your guard up, cover your back, report any issues to your superior, and make sure you always maintain a PROFESSIONAL – not PERSONAL –  relationship with your students. You never know what you might be falsely accused for, so make every effort to ensure this never happens!

O – Organize EVERYTHING. Your first year sometimes feels like you’re mostly re-inventing the wheel every day, but keep track of every single worksheet, test, rubric, and PowerPoint you make now so that next year you don’t have to!

P – Prioritize. Things are going to pop up unexpectedly and there are going to be many balls you are going to have to juggle. Learn how to separate urgencies and emergencies from things that can wait until later and create a plan of action of how you are going to deal with it all.

Q – Quit trying to be their best friends. Seriously, stop. You want them to respect you first then like you later.

R –Reflect, reflect, reflect. Take mental notes of things that work and things that don’t. This is the only way to improve your practice and make you a top-notch teacher!

S – Sleep. You cannot physically, mentally, and emotionally function at your best and keep up with everything if you are running low on the zzz’s. Learn to put the grading pen and papers down and go to bed!

T – Try new things. If you notice that something isn’t working quite the way you want it to, try a different approach! Never be afraid to open your mind to the unfamiliar and step out of your comfort zone.

U – Understand that it WILL get better. Seriously, we’ve all heard this a million times, so there has to be some truth to it. Every veteran teacher has preached and promised this at some point or another to all the newbies and the rookies entering the profession. This job never gets easier or less crazy, YOU just get BETTER with experience!

V – Vacation. Seriously, do it. Book a cruise. Lay on the beach. Ski down a mountain. Go camping and fishing. See Mount Rushmore. Do whatever you gotta’ do to escape and ENJOY LIFE so that you are energized and refreshed enough to tackle another school year.

W – Wine-up or whiskey-up. Enough said!

X – Expect to make mistakes. You aren’t always going to win the Teacher of the Year Award, so don’t get all worked up when you mess up. Learn and grow from what doesn’t work and keep mental track of what does! As Thomas Edison once said “I haven’t failed. I’ve successfully discovered 1,000 ways NOT to make a lightbulb.”

Y – Yell less, communicate more. Spend most of your time clearly outlining your expectations and holding students accountable upfront so that you don’t have to raise your voice later.

Z – Zone out the negativity. Trust me, there is no scarier place on earth than the lunch table in the teacher’s work room. As a young, new teacher you are going to hear a lot of gossip, bad-mouthing, complaining, and unwanted “advice” coming from some pretty stressed-out and burned-out teachers who are fed up with school policies, other teachers, the principal, parents, and that kid who is always getting ISS or kicked out of school, et cetera, et cetera. Tune it out (respectively) as much as possible so that you can develop your OWN mentality and voice!

Hope you enjoyed this free informational segment and have gained some helpful hints to put in your teacher toolbox and take straight into your own classroom your first year! Lastly, welcome to the profession and congratulations on embarking on one of the craziest yet most rewarding journeys you will every experience! Take it all in and learn as much as you can, because Year One goes by fast and you WILL survive it! After all, I’m still here to tell you about it!!


Someone Who’s Been Where You Are and Has Made It (so far.)




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