Advice from Veterans for New Teachers

by Christine Boatman

New teachers everywhere: welcome to the education profession! I and all your colleagues are so glad you are here to be a part of our team raising the next generation of students. We see your enthusiasm and excitement. Your passion and zeal bring joy to our schools and rejuvenates all of us. We are excited to hear your new ideas.

While there is so much anticipation and excitement with being a new teacher, it can be hard! Just remember that all veteran teachers were once first year teachers; with that in mind, I have gathered below some advice for your first year in the classroom, both from my own experience and from the advice that was given to me by my colleagues when I was a new teacher.


As a new teacher, there are so many different tasks to balance. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received when I was a new teacher was an analogy that helped me to understand the importance of prioritizing all the things I needed to do. Being a teacher is like juggling a large handful of balls. Some of the balls you are juggling are plastic and some are glass. Inevitably, some of the balls will get dropped because it is impossible to do everything. The key to success is to know which balls are glass and can shatter and which balls are plastic and will bounce without any damage. As a new teacher, prioritize the balls you are metaphorically juggling. A glass ball would be planning tomorrow’s lessons; a plastic ball would be making a beautiful bulletin board. Make to do lists, decide which of your tasks are glass and which are plastic, and then prioritize accordingly. Let a few plastic balls fall and bounce!

Find a Mentor and Ask for Help

Every veteran teacher was a new teacher once. We have all struggled to figure out which printer our computer connects to, how to navigate the complexities of grading software, and how to fix the copy machine when it breaks for the third time in a week. We have all spent late nights reading the new novel we are about to teach and planning engaging lessons. Your colleagues want to help you as you are navigating these new challenges. If you have questions about anything from printers to grading to school policies, don’t be afraid to ask—I know your fellow teachers will be happy to help! Asking these questions will save you lots of time that can easily be wasted traveling from printer to printer. But beyond asking the small questions, I also recommend seeking out colleagues who have previously taught the classes you are teaching. They have taught these novels, history units, and math concepts before. They will likely already have gallery walks created, lab directions written, and project examples you can use to help you piece together your units. During your first year of teaching (and all the subsequent years), you will be creating a lot of new content. It is okay to not create everything and to borrow things from other teachers. Most veteran teachers are happy to share resources and examples of work that have already been completed.

Focus on the Positives

It can be easy to get wrapped up in the stress of the busyness of each day at school, standardized testing, and school politics. Instead of focusing on the stresses that the education profession can bring, focus on the small wins. Focus on the student that mastered that new skill yesterday or the moment that a student excitedly showed you their completed project. Focus on the smiles of happy students when they participated in that engaging activity you planned for this morning. Save the kind notes students write to you. There will be hard days as a new teacher, but in every hard day, joy can be found. There is power in celebrating even the smallest wins.

Remember that You are Just Getting Started

It is easy to walk down the halls of a school and see other teachers who look like they have it all together—beautiful bulletin boards, perfectly organized classroom libraries with laminated labels, and color-coordinated filing systems. Remember that these teachers have been honing their craft for many years. In time, your systems will also be finely tuned, but remember that Rome was not built in a day. The classroom library you admire was the product of years of book donations, gathering book recommendations from students, and categorizing and recategorizing the bookshelves. The beautiful bulletin boards were created over time and the laminated pieces are re-used each year. The color-coded filing system was developed after the teacher’s desk was constantly covered with papers and four other filing systems failed.

No one expects you to have everything figured out.  These things come with time. Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect perfection at the beginning of your career. Make lists of things you see that you aspire to, and put these on a long-term to do list that spans multiple years.

Set Boundaries and Practice Selfcare

Selfcare can sound like a loaded term when you have over a hundred papers to grade, next week’s lessons are unplanned, and your to-do list is a mile long. Sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed; it is okay to take a minute to breathe and refocus. And it is so important to remember to maintain balance in one’s life. To me, it has been helpful to pick one afternoon a week that I let myself work very late to allow myself to leave at a reasonable time other afternoons. I also will set alarms on my phone to tell myself when it is time to leave my classroom to focus on other life priorities. Family, friends, health, and rest are important. By setting healthy boundaries and taking care of your own needs, you will be a better teacher for your students.

Overall, teaching can be hard, but know that your colleagues and I believe in you, we stand behind you, and we are here to help you succeed. Here’s to an exciting year!

Christine Boatman is a middle school social studies teacher at Estacada Middle School in the small town of Estacada, Oregon. She is passionate about problem-based learning and promoting critical thinking in her classroom. Boatman regularly presents at conferences, including the Oregon Council for the Social Studies and Oregon GeoFest, and recently she gave a keynote speech at the Gates Foundation ECET2 conference. When Boatman is not busy in her classroom, she loves hiking with her husband, Daniel, and dog, Riley.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: