Last weekend, I received an email from Sarah, a freshly minted teacher looking for some help. With her permission, I’m posting our conversation in the hopes that it’ll answer questions other recent grads might be having, too:

Hi Laura,
I have been hired to start my first year this coming August. I’ve been told I’ll be teaching four sections of sophomores and two sections of juniors. I love your blog, and I’ve been reading through posts. What do you think is most necessary for me to do this summer to be ready to go in and teach? I’m excited, but also freaking out!
Sarah

Congratulations, Sarah! I’m so excited for your new venture. Prepare yourself – this first year will be exhausting no matter how much you prep this summer, but there are some concrete things you can do now to be ready. Most importantly, you gotta nail down your systems. Have a plan for how you’ll run the room. What’s your discipline strategy? How will you handle the paper load? What’s the procedure to get an absent student caught up? How often will you contact parents with positive feedback?

Curriculum will come in time. Feel free to scratch out rough calendars, but know that curriculum is an easier piece than systems because your dept. will have materials (hopefully), you’ll find a mentor teacher willing to share her lesson ideas (hopefully), and you can always scoop up free and low-cost lesson materials at TeachersPayTeachers once the year is rolling.

For now, just think big picture about how you want to run the show. Last year, I built a 10-part YouTube series on classroom management with new teachers like you in mind. If you haven’t already seen the videos, they might be worth some time.

Finally, I just have to say, you have a pretty sweet schedule for a newbie; I’m taking that as a sign you’ve landed in a good department with folks who care about building talent. Awesome! Have fun with your kids and memorize their names quickly.

Okay, everyone, what other advice can we give Sarah? If you had just six weeks before seeing kids for the very first time, how would you prep?

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Join the conversation! 39 Comments

  1. Welcome to the profession! First thing, watch ALL of Laura’s videos-at least twice – and take just a few notes. Let those ideas simmer for a few days and then watch them again. Picture yourself the first week:
    * decide your wardrobe for the first week or two (dress up a little – those sophomores will be noticing what you wear). Get those things ready and then you won’t have to fret over it.
    * think back to some of the best teachers you had: How did they act and talk? What vibe did they give off? How do you want the kids to perceive you?
    * don’t apologize for being a beginner – fake it until you make it – act like you know what you are doing – not arrogance, just project CONFIDENCE. After all, you do know more than they do, you are a better writer than any of them, and you have read more than they have.
    * this is your life dream coming true – your own classroom! – so take time to enjoy it. Those first classes are very special. I still see some of my first kids and they are now grandparents(!), but we still share some great memories.
    * try to make contact with some of the other English teachers before school starts. If you have a department head, find out if there are syllabi and course descriptions for what you will teach. Check to see if yours is a Google Classroom site, if the kids have Chromebooks or other school-issued computers. If not, what are the tech possibilities at the school. If yours is a Google Classroom site, see if another teacher will give you permission to look at the courses he/she has already made.
    * ASK questions!
    * find out what kind of online grading system your school uses. Even if you don’t have access yet, nor have class rosters, see if you can access it to read the manual and get an idea of how it works.
    * I know it is a cliche, but you really should be careful to not be too casual or relaxed until you get the personality of the classes. There will be classes of kids who are eager for you to teach them and who will be nice and cooperative. There will be other classes who will test your every bit of patience and fry your nerves. You can always get “looser” but kids will resent if you try to get “tighter” – err on the side of caution and be more formal than you would normally need to be.
    * look up the characteristics of the Z generation – I already have a short, beginning of the year idea for the first week of posting those characteristics and getting responses for how accurately they think it describes them – you will get to know a lot about them as they respond and give opinions.
    * I’m sure there are many other things that will challenge you as you begin, but know that, through Laura, there are many of us out here just an email away who will share ideas, material, and advice. The work you are beginning is important and my wish is that it is just the beginning of a career that brings you great joy. I have been doing this for over thirty years and still am excited about the new young people I will meet in August.

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  2. Ditto to all of the above! And for your own sanity, don’t compare yourself to other teachers. It always feels like other teachers have more organized classrooms and more creative lesson plans, but as long as you’re doing your best, you’ll be doing great work, too!

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  3. One other important thing: learn those names as quickly as you can! The school secretary or counselor might be able to give you a printout of the names and pictures of your kids. I paste their pictures on one side and their names on the other side of a 3 X 5 card and quiz myself all the time before school starts. It impresses them no end when they walk in the first day and you can greet some of them by name. It also gives you a place to write notes – how do they pronounce their names, is there a nickname they go by, etc.

    As the year goes on, if you are in a small enough community, watch for articles in the local paper: sports, honor roll, 4H winners, etc. I clip things from the paper almost every week and post on a prominent bulletin board. I look for our graduates’ names for being in the service or for getting on Dean’s list at college.

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  4. Well-said, Rho! 🙂

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  5. Indeed, Delia! AND what works for the teacher across the hall might not work for you. That’s normal.

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  6. Absolutely what Rho says! Names are POWER. Learn ’em fast. I always try to be the first teacher on my students’ schedules to know and use their names, especially out of class. If I can spot one of my new kids on the Quad and say, “Hi, Charlie,” in the first week of school, I just won Charlie. 🙂

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  7. Sarah. Don’t be afraid to say no. The first couple of years are really challenging and you don’t want to over commit yourself. Many young teachers volunteer for everything and find themselves burned out before mid-year comes. Focus on your brand-new job and don’t forget to leave some time for yourself. Laura has some amazing resources so don’t be afraid to use them. AND never be afraid to ask people if they would share resources they have. Teaching is all about sharing for survival. Congrats and welcome to the teaching community 🙂

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  8. First of all, RHO basically said it all. Great things to remember.

    Secondly, I would also say that the best thing I have ever done was to begin with some project that you can space out for the first week as you go through basic beginning-of-the-year things: syllabus or parent letter, procedures, principal visits, etc., and also collected information about the students.

    I have done both a Six-Word Memoir, with a paragraph that elaborates on how their memoir relates to them, and Fingerprint Narratives, both of which you can find tons of resources online. I find that this allows me to space out those required elements I need to establish at the beginning of the year and gives me a plethora information about the students that I find valuable to make for a smooth year. Not only are these projects designed to have the student tell about themselves, but as they work on it in class throughout the week, I can see which students are creative, which ones are great planners, who my procrastinators are, and also informally gauge their writing level. I also let them pick partners or groups to work with in class, which points out friends. I have done this at all levels — from middle school to the juniors that I work with now — and it is such a great way to begin the year.

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  9. Just to add on to Laura’s comment about systems…think about how you want to start your classes and make it a routine that your kids can count on, especially in those first few weeks. If the routine is the same, you ALL can relax a bit about expectations. You can always change it up, but the first few weeks of routine smooths the way.

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  10. I would advise you to consider multiple ways you post a weekly agenda, including what is due. For me, the first year rash of “I didn’t know” or “You didn’t tell me” I was not prepared for. 2nd year – no problems at all.

    Also, last year, I contemplated all the little things that took individual time (like “Can I have a late pass?” or “My vocabulary grade is wrong.”) and I had printed notepads for kids to fill out so I could just sign or research later. I added a “How I Will Make Up Missed Classwork” forms for those scheduled absences like sports events. Much better.

    The before class “I need to talk to you”s are my pet peeve. Any way you can streamline that crazy little stuff makes your class more efficient and you less crazy.

    Good luck! Hang in there. 2nd year is better.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. GREAT advice, everyone! I must echo JLL in the value that routine brings. It might seem boring to launch with bellringers (I use MUG Shot Mondays, Lit. Term Tuesdays, Words on Wednesday, and SSR on Fridays), but the kids actually crave routine and it helps me set the right “let’s get down to business” tone for class. Use ’em!

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  12. Absolutely, Chixsngr, the second year is WAY easier than the first. By the third year (given that you receive the same preps), you’ll even be able to leave school by 4 p.m. and have a social life again. Stick with it! It’ll happen. You will find your groove.

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  13. Everyone has given great advice! Don’t isolate yourself from others–occasionally working through lunch is OK, but don’t make it a habit! Connect with other teachers! Also, greet your students at the door as they come in the room. Shake hands with them (keep some hand sanitizer in your room) and let them feel your positive energy. Have a plan in place to handle cell phones and be consistent. I used a red, yellow, green day system. Red= no phones are visible. Yellow=face down on the desks ready to use in class for school work (kahoots etc) and green= plug in your music while you work time.

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  14. Thanks, Deb. Loving your red/yellow/green light idea. Our kids need us to be super overt with cell phone usage policies. Good reminder.

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  15. I’m a new English teacher too. I was a permanent sub the last 6 weeks of school for English 3. Starting in August, I’ll be teaching English 2 and 4 full-time on a 4×4 block schedule. I have a two-part question for Laura and the experienced teachers on this thread … When reading books in class (The Great Gatsby, Of Mice & Men, Romeo & Juliet, etc), which is your preference: silent independent reading, reading as a class (taking turns), or having students follow along as they listen to an audiobook? Do you use the same approach with every class or use different approaches to better suit the dynamics of other classes? For example, silent reading for well-behaved classes and taking turns in wilder classes.

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  16. Welcome to the party, Katherine! Great questions. I hope others chime in, too, but I’m happy to share what I do. My approaches vary quite a bit, depending on the grade level, personality of each particular class, the work we’re studying, and whether I have a headache on any particular day. Just keepin’ it real. I do a lot of aloud reading (I’m a hambone and do different voices) to get us started on a chapter and then, after maybe 10 minutes or so, I’ll switch it over to independent silent reading for the next 10 minutes. I use some audiobooks, but only when they have a great narrator/sound effects/etc. Whenever we’re reading a play (Romeo & Juliet, for instance), I’ll assign roles and we’ll act it out together in class. I never give Shakespeare as independent reading – WAY too much for my kids. I’ll also use that same performance energy to turn a regular novel into a play by using a Readers’ Theater approach, which you can learn more about here: https://laurarandazzo.com/2014/08/19/help-teens-work-through-thick-text/

    I’d encourage you to dip into these strategies before taking turns or using the dreaded “popcorn” reading, a guaranteed way to make everyone in the room hate reading. Avoid at all costs.

    Hope this helps. 🙂

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  17. Hey to Laura and all the other teachers on this thread! I’m looking for new, fun, and interesting icebreakers to use for the beginning of the year. What icebreakers do you guys use in your classes for students to get to know each other better? I want to try to implement them next year because I think this will really help them collaborate better on group projects and communicate better during class discussions. I want them to get to know each other’s names and get to know each other on a personal level. I think that this is very important to develop in a class. Thanks! 🙂

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  18. You’re so right, Robert – it’s vital to build your classroom community and get students feeling comfortable with each other so they’ll be willing to take risks later. I spoke a bit about this topic in a previous post (https://laurarandazzo.com/2015/07/15/those-first-few-days/), and I tend to rely on Quarter Trios to do the heavy lifting of this job for me: https://laurarandazzo.com/2015/08/10/new-year-game-plan/

    Okay, everyone, what’re your favorite icebreakers? Robert – and all of us – are curious. 🙂

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  19. Laura,
    Thanks so much for your response. You’re definitely my English Teacher Spirit Animal! ❤ Oh, and I'm watching this thread because I'd love to hear everyone's favorite icebreakers as well.

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  20. My pleasure, Katherine! 🙂

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  21. Congrats!! No down-time! Over schedule yourself because any “free” time is when misbehaviors occur.

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  22. Amen, Sara! I just finished Year 19 and still dread “dead air” in my class. Keep ’em busy and always have a stack of extra stuff on hand to throw at that one class that always seems to finish more quickly than your others. This is one of the main reasons I invented Quarter Trios a few years ago.

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  23. Hi Laura! If you don’t mind me asking, what are Quarter Trios?

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  24. Of course I don’t mind, damianela11! Quarter Trios is the name of an ongoing classroom competition that runs for each nine-week marking period, hence the “Quarter.” The “Trio” part is because I assign teams of three students that compete against all of the other trio-teams for the grand prize of a few bonus points in the grade book at the end of the term. Think Hogwarts’ house competition. I started doing this three years ago to add some fun to my classes (the kids were getting way too serious and I wanted to bring some joy back to learning) and to fill those dead-air pockets of time that sometimes creep in toward the end of a class period. Trio games are a lot better than letting kids fiddle with their phones for those minutes and I enjoy channeling my inner gameshow host. There’s a lot more details about Qtr. Trios in this original blog post: https://laurarandazzo.com/2015/08/10/new-year-game-plan/

    Hope this helps! 🙂

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  25. Every teacher has their own classroom persona and it will take a while to find your own teacher version of you that is authentic but professional. As others have said, it’s much easier to start firm and relax than the other way around.

    Every teacher also has their own set of systems and procedures regarding lesson planning, organizing their rooms, grading, etc. Shamelessly ask people about their methods and experiment. Read online, too – Laura and Angela Watson are my online go-to’s – but try to get to know the teachers around you a little and how they do things. Learning how to organize your time and systems is a huge time saver after you get your first few years under your belt. Best of luck!!

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  26. Agreed, Melissa! It takes a while for all of us to figure out which methods are a smooth fit for our personalities and which ones just feel wrong. What works like a charm for you might be a total flop for me. It’s helpful to realize from the start that’s part of the mystery (and fun?) of the job – figuring out who you are as a teacher. Thanks for commenting. So glad you’re part of the community! 🙂

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  27. Lots of wisdom here! I echo the importance of asking questions and not feeling incompetent in doing so. This year won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Your best is good enough. Also, try not to take the students’ behavior, attitude, etc personally. Just because some students don’t respond well doesn’t mean it was a bad lesson or you’re a bad teacher. We frequently don’t know what is going on in their world that spills over into the classroom. Good luck!

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  28. Yup, Kathleen. Nothing will thicken your skin like facing a roomful of teenagers. (They’re especially vocal everytime I get a haircut, too. Oh!)

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  29. Hello, everyone! I just wanted to share something I found on Reddit. It’s about how teachers build classroom community without icebreakers. Enjoy!

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  30. Great resource, Robert! Thanks for sharing. Also, I just finished building a set of cheese-free First Day of School stations. Check out the FREE materials here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/First-Day-of-School-Stations-Activity-Icebreaker-Middle-High-School-FREE-3254153

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Cool! Are you using this next year? Have you tried it before? Do the students like it?

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  32. This one’s new to me, but I have high hopes that it’ll be a breath of fresh air as I switch up the routine. I’m still planning on using the meme-based lecture on Day 2 or as a bulletin board, but the stations appeal to me because they’ll facilitate authentic conversation instead of me doing so much of the talking on Day 1. Hope you give it a go!
    🙂 Laura

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  33. Nice! So, are you having students from all your classes put their sticky notes on the wall? Or are you gonna remove them after the class ends? Thanks for this resource! I’m definitely using this next year and I hope it goes well with my classes too!

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  34. Yeah, Robert, I’ll remove the sticky notes at the end of each class. In fact, I think I’ll have the students remove them once they’ve filled out their index card. It’s ALWAYS better to make them clean up. 🙂

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  35. Alright, cool. Are you also going to have students complete the worksheet on the same day? What I normally do is have the students write ME a letter, introducing themselves, their family, hobbies, skills they need help with, hearing/vision problems I need to consider when making a seating chart, etc. It’s a great way to get them to start writing immediately. If you’d like, I could send you the assignment.

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  36. Right now, my plan is to have the kids start the grids with whatever time is remaining after the stations wrap up and finish the grids as homework if they aren’t done in class. I’m thinking your letter idea hits a lot of those same questions, too, and makes a nice alternative if you’re looking to get a more fluid writing sample. Feel free to send it along; I’d love to take a look!

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  37. With Robert’s permission, here’s a link to the beginning-of-the-year writing assignment he mentioned above. Please note that he told me that this assignment was taken from somewhere on the internet and he’s “having a hard time locating the original source because so many people have uploaded the same assignment.” If this belongs to you, definitely leave a comment and let me know if I should take it down. Otherwise, hope this is helpful to folks who want to try a letter approach to start the year!

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UJo4EnPjJwjtnnhp51G6y8rMSHfH_2BA9tBuElIDTtE/edit

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  38. Hi Robert! I actually highly recommend using Laura’s brainteasers as an ice breaker – thanks, Laura! Here’s a link: https://laurarandazzo.com/2015/06/23/mess-with-their-minds/. I used these on the first day of school and it was a blast. It was a great way to talk with the students about how critical thinking and problem solving are what make learning fun, and that there is no shame in developing an answer and being wrong. It was also a nice way to talk about cheating; sure you could Google and find the answers, but what have you learned then? You could have students get in groups to solve them, but I found that students naturally ended up pairing off to discuss answers. Be sure to give a mandatory wait time once you reveal the questions so that everyone has a chance to try to solve them.

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  39. Sweet, TeacherSurvivalGuru! I never thought of using those slides this way. Definitely a conversation starter and unlike anything else they’ll see on Day 1, for sure. 🙂

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