Dear brand-new teacher,
It's your first day as a teacher. You worked hard to get to this point, and you've probably spent a lot of time dreaming of the day when you finally could call yourself a teacher. Well, now you've achieved that dream, and panic might be starting to set in. I'm sure all the things that might go wrong this year are racing through your mind. But don't worry—everything will be just fine. Just take a deep breath and listen to these tips from someone who has been there before.
Figure out the unwritten rules of the school.
Some unwritten school rules are universal. For example, you should always treat custodians, secretaries, and cafeteria workers with respect. You should say hello to everyone in the hallways, even if you're overwhelmed. Be careful what you say in the teacher's lounge; treat your coworkers like they're related to an administrator.
Further reading: What a Teaching Veteran Wishes She Had Known Earlier in Her Career (Video)
Do your best to attend after-school social events with colleagues, but save the vodka shots for another time. Be careful what you write in emails. Don't ask a question in a faculty meeting about a situation that is unique to you, and never ask a question three minutes before a meeting is over.
Other unwritten rules will be unique to your school. Pay attention to how veteran teachers act, and don't be afraid to ask for advice. You'll be fitting in in no time.
Listen to veteran teachers.
You might be trained on the latest and greatest pedagogical techniques, but don't forget that veteran teachers are a valuable resource, too. They have a wealth of information to pass on to you, and they can be your strongest ally. Listen to what they say about students, curriculum, and school politics. You should still try out new things and question the status quo, but don't neglect the wisdom of your elders; veteran teachers can be a great sounding board for fresh ideas.
Respect the chain of command.
Just like the business world, schools have a hierarchy that must be respected. Don't go to the principal when you haven't spoken to the vice principal first. Don't meet with the superintendent before speaking to the principal. If your director does the scheduling, don't talk about what classes you want to teach with the principal. Honor the chain so you don't ruffle any feathers unnecessarily.
Don't lay blame at the feet of the parents and put the ball in their court for remedying situations. Instead, recognize that parents and teachers need to work together to triage troubled students. Start parent meetings by sharing something positive about the student; for example, her wonderful sense of humor or his willingness to help others. Then explain the issue you're noticing, clearly articulate an action plan for how the parent can help your student, and explain the work the student needs to do to be successful. Be sure to define your role, as well. Parents won't see you as an adversary—instead, they'll see you as a partner who wants the best for their child.
Know when to call for backup.
Sure, you want the administration to know you can handle things in your classroom, but make certain that you also know when to ask for help. You're a teacher, not a therapist, so call a social worker for that troubled student. Report abusive or inappropriate behavior immediately. Talk to your mentor if you're unsure of how to handle a situation. Don't be afraid to use the resources that are there to help you.
Pursue your educational goals.
If you don't yet have a master's degree, get one as soon as you can. Then figure out how you can continue to grow as a teacher. Most educational degrees come with an increase in salary, which is a strong incentive to keep up with your studies. Earn a National Board Teacher Certification. Sign up for professional development opportunities that will make you a stronger teacher and improve your practice. Teachers are lifelong learners, and education creates opportunities.
Make careful career decisions.
I know it's just your first day as a teacher, but think about where you want to go in your career. Becoming an administrator is not always the best decision for teachers—especially those who love being in the classroom—but it can be a great fit for some educators. Figure out how you can be a teacher-leader. Find the growth opportunities that are right for you.
Learn the protocol and be patient.
Don't suggest changing the curriculum at your first meeting. Don't suggest a "better way to do things" unless you're 100 percent sure it will benefit every single person in the school. Don't criticize current practices, especially when you don't know who is responsible for their design. Listen. Watch. Wait. There will be plenty of time for you to give input.
Don't spend all your own money.
There will be a lot of things that you'll need as a teacher, but try not to spend all your own money. There are plenty of free resources out there for teachers. Explore your options, and don't go into debt.
Don't take on too much.
As the new kid on the block, you're going to be asked to take on additional roles, whether it's as a club advisor, a committee member, or a part of the curriculum design team. It's flattering to be asked, but remember that you can't do it all. Don't spread yourself too thin. Say no if you need to.
Further reading: How to Nail the First Week of School
I know you're excited to start your new career. You're armed with just about everything you need to be successful. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Expect some rockiness, but enjoy the ride. It's your first day as a teacher—now go have fun!