My advice for first year teachers

Jesse Johnson gchatted with me on August 17, asking me if I had any time management tools that would help first year teachers. Or any tools at all. Specifically:

what could first year teachers learn before they start teaching that would help them manage and organize and feel successful and love the job even as they are fumbling and learning

That’s huge. And new teachers are going to have different advice being chucked at them from all sides. If my experience as a new teacher is indicative, it’s like dodgeball but you’re taped to a flagpole. I think Jesse is onto something though: crowdsource teachers from all walks of life, and get a few concrete ideas from each about what they do to stay sane and happy in the midsts of a trial by fire.

Before my thoughts, here’s a recollection — not mine, but of @justagirl24 — of what it is like to be a first year (or student) teacher. It’s raw and honest, powerful in it’s evolution. Just so you remember what starting out is like. And while I’m on it, I remember the most powerful thing I learned my first year was learning how to separate the mountains from the molehills — something that takes time, learning the basics of your school, and asking a lot of advice.

Here we go.  Three super concrete things I would recommend to new teachers to stay sane and happy.

1. Take Saturdays off. If you’re a workaholic, like me, you’ll work hours everyday. I didn’t start doing this until last year (my third year), but I wish I started it earlier. I do not do work on Saturdays. It’s a rule.

To be totally fair, I broke that rule maybe a half dozen times, but I’m always hyper aware that I am breaking the rule, and it has to be for a good reason. A few times I had an all day (fun) thing to do on Sunday, so I did work on Saturday instead. I also allow myself a few hours of work on Saturdays when I have to write narrative comments on each of my students (twice a year). I make a treat out of it, though, and find someone to write comments with at a coffeeshop (followed by something fun), or I treat myself to heading into Manhattan to work at the (gorgeous) New York Public Library.

2. Find yourself a good crew of teacher friends at all different stages in teaching. Like, yeah, be super conscientious about this. Engineer friendships. Seriously, find people you like and are comfortable with in your school, and invite them out for coffee, or have a brunch at your place and invite them to it. Make sure you develop these friendships early on. You will soon find that if you have a teacher crew, you’re never going to be at a loss in terms of advice. You’ll have a bunch of go-to people to find out who to ask for what. You’ll be able to talk about specific students and get advice. You can explain things that aren’t going well and let others give you advice. And you can hear interesting things they do in their classrooms — and steal them.

Basically, you’ll have a bunch of math teacher blogger friends, but as real life friends. Meaning you can go to ye olde watering hole together. And


Okay, I think venting is one of the most important thing you can do as a new teacher. You’re going to be facing a lot of things and you’re going to get frustrated. With students, with administration, with other teachers. I mean, you have to keep it professional, but you should find a few trustworthy friends (preferably new-ish teachers) and complain your heart out.

Not conventional wisdom, I know. But one of the things that happens to first year teachers is that there are periods when you get dejected. You feel like you suck. Heck, you may even suck. (I feel that way all the time, and I totally crash and burn often enough.) And kids are getting to you. Maybe one in particular. And the pressure is building up. And your systems that you so carefully thought out aren’t working. The worst thing you can do is keep all this inside. It’ll start eating you up. You’ll start crashing and burning, and feeling trapped and alone.

The best thing you can do is VENT to some close friends. Because as soon as you say it aloud, it stops being your private shame. Think about it. When something bad happens, like you go to the mall and  you try on pants and realize, oh! that size doesn’t fit you anymore. You can either internalize it, be ashamed, and go about your business obsessing over it. Or you can make a joke about it and tell your friend who you’re shopping with. (As long as your friend isn’t a judgmental jerk.) It stops being this horrible thing, and it just starts being this thing. Okay, not a terribly good analogy. But trust me on this: venting is healthy. Keeping things to yourself, going it alone, being afraid to talk about problems, is the foundation for failure, methinks.

(Just a caveat: vent with those you trust who aren’t judgmental jerks, and be somewhat professional when you vent.)

That’s all.



  1. As someone who just started his first week teaching in a high school, I’d really like to thank you for this. This advice seems to be very concrete, measurable, and applicable to any facet of teaching. I know that I will have to work on not working on Saturdays.

    Your advice is definitely better than the advice of a student to “not suck.”

    1. Thanks!!! I’m less about pieinthesky things. I always want concrete things when I read blogs (I skim the rest), so I’m happy you said that. When I go to meetings, I need a takeaway to feel like it has been useful. Things like that.

      *Not that the philosophizing and debating and abstracting aren’t important or useful, in terms of your own reflection about who you are as a teacher. But they don’t have the same cache in my book.

      1. I agree about the shoes. Get great ones; they are worth the money.

        On the engineering friendships, I would encourage all teachers to engineer friendships in different spheres. Having someone local with whom you can grab coffee (or a beer) is great, but there are also online friendships that can be very helpful. If you have friends in both spheres, you can get a nice balance.

        Good luck and don’t sweat the little stuff. If you are reading this blog, you are already on a great trajectory. Having an attitude that values growth and learning is tremendous.

  2. All of these “rules” are great – but #1 is especially important in my opinion. I feel it is SO important that I just broke it for the first time in my 18 years of teaching (and that’s because I am SO far behind that it was the only way I had half a prayer of being ready for Day One).

  3. Sam,

    As I go into my first year of teaching after finishing my student teaching, thank you for this list. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of the engineering friendship idea.


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