5 Survival Tips for New High School Teachers




In the weeks before my first teaching job began, I alternated between feelings of exhilaration and feelings of total fear. It was my dream assignment, teaching 11th graders U.S. History. Thanks to my time student teaching, I felt confident in my teaching ability. And, I knew the content. But, it is completely different to step into someone's class and teach versus being in charge of your own classroom. I learned a lot that first year. It was challenging and one of the hardest of my career, but what I learned helped shape me and helped me become a better teacher.

Here are a few things I wish someone had told me before I first set foot into my classroom.


1. Think small

Most of us enter the teaching profession, not for the great pay and benefits, but because we want to make a positive impact on the lives of students. That’s awesome! Teachers make a huge difference in the lives of students, but it doesn't happen on day one. It takes time to build relationships. Keep yourself focused on the now. Things will go wrong, and you’ll probably feel like you missed the mark in at least half of the interactions you have with students. This is normal. Don’t take it home with you because, trust me, they won’t!

2. Survival is not a dirty word

Just because the school hired you, it does not mean they expect you to out-teach the veteran teachers on day one. You are at the beginning of a very steep learning curve. Take one day at a time. Yesterday is in the past and let it go. Try to plan your lessons a week or so ahead of time, but know that it is OK to be planning today for tomorrow.

Teaching at any level is hard. But in the high school setting, the psychological strain of trying to endlessly negotiate with teenagers can wear you down fast. Think about the class rules that worked (or didn't work) when you did your student teaching. Talk with veteran teachers at your school (don't have friendly veteran teachers at your school? Join the Let's Talk Teaching Teens Facebook group) and create a few class rules (the fewer the better). Enforce your rules and follow up with consequences. Don't vacillate or negotiate. Of course, not all students will be difficult. But some will, guaranteed. It sucks. You won't reach them in just one day, but if you are genuine, consistent, and fair, you have a shot. 

3. Be prepared

Of course, mental preparation is one thing. But you need to know what you are teaching. The first time I taught World History, I was grasping at straws. I was teaching students content that I had never, ever learned in high school or in all my college classes. I butchered names of people and civilizations. I had some great lessons and I had some that crashed and burned. I learned. I picked myself back up and started fresh the next day. If you find yourself teaching a subject you don't know much about, you may want to check out my post about YouTube Channels that Rock for videos to help you. It may seem daunting and scary, but just take it one day at a time.

It helps to build about an extra ten minutes of activity into every lesson. Because, inevitably, some things will take much less time than planned and others simply won’t work at all. Additionally, I like to have sets of emergency back-up plans copied and ready to go at a moment's notice. These saved me numerous time from broken copiers, unexpected lengthened class periods, and activities that didn't work as planned. Looking for some emergency plans? Click here for my no prep emergency sub plans (I actually loved to use them when I didn't have a sub, too!).

4. Be flexible

It'll happen. You'll feel that dreaded awkward silence as an activity you thought would be magnificent and life changing falls lifelessly before you. If you’re prepared to move straight to the next thing in your lesson plan, you’ll do fine. I’ve seen some spectacular classroom train wrecks as teachers try to convince the students to like an activity. Don’t go there, just move on. In turn, if an activity is going even better than planned, don't push students to end it just to keep your schedule on track.

5. Don't compare yourself to someone's highlight reel

It's easy to jump on social media and start feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. Don't get hung up on those beautiful classroom pins on Pinterest and Instagram and those Facebook posts and Tweets from teachers who have it all together. Remind yourself that these are highlight reels. They don't show the entire picture - just the best parts. Your highlight reel looks pretty amazing, too.

Teaching is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The best piece of advice I can give any new teachers is – be yourself. Especially at the high school level. Teenagers are extraordinarily good judges of character. And what they hate the most is fakes. Just be genuine and show them that you really do care.

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