Tips for surviving your first term of teaching*

bento box family of chickens
Lunch is calling. Image used under creative commons licence.

Ladies and Gentlemen who have started teaching 2012

If I could offer you only one tip for surviving your first term of teaching, remembering to eat lunch would be it. The long-term benefits of the daily déjeuner have been proven by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

Take time to get to know your students. All of them have a story and interests. Even the most challenging of students usually have things that they are interests and talents. Take time to find out what they are.

The monday morning jam
Avoid trying to attempt any photocopying of resources on Monday morning. Get you photocopying done on the weekend or Friday afternoon or really any time apart from Monday morning.

Use your Classroom Release Time wisely.
Classroom release time can easily be frittered away especially if you have the time spread over the week rather than one specific day. Get out of your classroom to avoid distractions and have a set of goals you want to accomplish during the time. Try and get into as many classes as possible to observe other teachers doing their thing.

A notebook of notes.
Get an exercise book with each students name written on it and hey presto you have your ‘notebook ‘which is great to refer back to if looking at patterns for attendance, lateness, missing PE etc.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ever.
In my experience, the easiest way to make small problems become big ones is by not asking for help. Teachers are in general incredibly generous with their knowledge and resources. Gobble up all advice and don’t be afraid to pinch resources. You’ll pay it forward eventually.

Have at least one school-free day a week. Go home early (i.e before 4.30) at least one day a week. Yes this term I haven’t followed this advice very well but particularly on weeks where you have late finishes make sure you schedule yourself at least one early finish.

January is a financially challenging month for beginning teachers. At the time of writing there are ways to wrangle money for registration costs. etc from WINZ if you are persistent. If you are moving cities, you qualify for removal expenses from the Ministry of Education and the unit in charge of relocation are friendly and helpful. On the other hand, the Ministry’s Salary Assessment Unit are hands-down the worst government agency I have ever had any interaction with. Communication with this agency is only conducted via post and you might not get paid correctly for a few weeks months.

Initial Registration
Teacher registration is fairly painless process. If you have lived overseas in the last 10 years, organize your overseas police certificates well in advance of your application to avoid stress. Teachers Council will send you an email confirming receipt of your application and then again once its confirmed before sending out a nice shiny registration card.

Teaching Observations
Having your teaching observed is a way for you learn and grow. Treat every observation as a chance to improve your teaching. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Don’t talk over the top of  students. Ever.
This is sometimes a hard one, but waiting for silence and stopping when students chatter is really important. By talking over kids you send out a message that you don’t expect to be listened to and in turn that you don’t expect your kids to listen to others.

Check kids have understood verbal instructions before starting a new activity.
In my class  I use hand signals to check the kids know what they are doing. 5 fingers up means ‘I’ve got it’ while no fingers means I have no idea. Anyone under a 3 being asked to stay back for another round of explaining or modelling.

And it all comes back to food…
Make up big batches of food in the weekend and freeze individual portions for later in the week. Having pre-frozen dinners on hand for the nights where I was too exhausted to do anything but watch old episodes of the West Wing saved not only my sanity but extra dollars and a few extra kilos.

*Shamelessly stolen from the sunscreen song.

11 thoughts on “Tips for surviving your first term of teaching*

Add yours

  1. That’s an impressive list of useful learning. Especially the advice about lunch 🙂 One of my newer teacher Brisbane friends (second year) started a tumblr of her healthy lunch boxes by the end of the year!


  2. Stephanie,

    Great tips. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and always find your posts to be insightful and very well written. Not talking over the top of them is a tip that I have to work on a lot as a casual teacher. I had also never thought of observing other teachers during release time. A fantastic way to keep learning from one’s peers. Hope you can get the odd evening off in the second term.


  3. Hi Stephanie,
    Awesome tips! The student interests one is very true and I’ve found that often the below standard or ‘difficult’ students in the class are the ones with the strongest interests that you can tap into (eg football, horses, LEGO). You just need to keep your ears open and give them the positive, rather than negative, attention they need. Also really liked the photocopying and release time tips.


  4. Hi Stephanie! I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and love it as I have just started a new classroom two weeks ago and it’s a bit daunting. Your entries are interesting and relevant to me as a kiwi. Keep it up! Love the tips. Such a good idea about the notebook. Will have to start that.


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