Claire’s Unqualified and Unsolicited Words of Advice for First Year Teachers!

(From a very inexperienced, second-year-so-basically-still-first-year teacher, because obviously I’m an expert by now. Really this is just a way for me to reflect on the past year, and to convince myself that I did indeed grow/change as a result of this first foray into the adult world.)

1. Trust in God. 

The job market is terrible, and the job itself can be stressful as well, but God is in control. There were moments when I had nothing planned for the next day, or times when I was fairly certain I would be unemployed, but God is good and He always provides at the perfect time. It’s also comforting to know that regardless of how hard I work, God is ultimately the One who will get things done. He is in charge of all the variables and outcomes. Obviously, I will try my best to do a good job, but at least I don’t need to kill myself getting there!

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:5-6)

Disclaimer: I still have so much trouble with this, and objectively speaking, I have really had nothing to worry about in terms of my career. My goal for the next school year: seek God FIRST and let everything else figure itself out. Which leads me to my next point …

2. Have a work/life balance. 

I am most definitely a reluctant workaholic, by which I mean I am very lazy but the very nature of the teaching profession is that you need to workworkwork in order to get the bare minimum done. I think I would’ve worked all day and night this past school year had I not had people to spend time with and care for and invest in! Small group was one of the commitments that I really looked forward to each week because it was a break from work and it always pointed me back to the whole reason for my existence – living a life that is glorifying to God.

Also, sports are a great way of venting and letting out all the pain and stress that young adolescents inflict on you. I suck at frisbee and even though it’s almost impossible for me to run for more than 30 seconds straight, it was a lot of fun!!!

3. Learn from your mistakes.

I make a lot of mistakes! Once, when I was a camp supervisor, I called home and told a mom that her daughter had had an accident, and the mom freaked out, and then I had to back track and tell the mom that it was okay; her daughter had just peed herself and needed some pants.

I continued with this mistake-making trend in my real-life adult job. I assigned a take-home project to a class of “less motivated” students. The reason why this was a big mistake was because I spent a lot of time chasing students and emailing/calling home for students to hand in their projects! By the time all the projects finally came in, we were halfway through the next unit and I just had zero motivation to mark the darn things! The next time I assigned a project, I kept it in-class, and marked whatever the students had done. BOOM, lesson learned! (Next year, I will start with in-class things, then do a nice ~*gradual release of responsibility*~ until the kids can hand stuff in with few problems!)

Another mistake I made – not calling parents. When I did my first teaching assignment in an elementary school, I was afraid of parents and so I never called them … until the last possible moment, when it became clear that their kid was going to get a 60 on their report card. A very scary mom yelled at me over the phone for not letting her know earlier. At my next job, I emailed and called parents all the time to tell them about upcoming tests and evaluations, and a lot of parents sent me emails back saying “Thanks!” and “I really appreciate these emails!” and then I felt better about myself.

Next year, I will try to do the thing which teachers call “sunshine calls,” which is when you call every parent to tell them how wonderful their child is. I have to do this early in the year, before I get to know my students too well and then won’t be able to think of good things to say! (I’m kidding. Ahem.)

4. Meet your students where they’re at … then drag pull lead them to where you want them to be.

Most teachers have heard of the good ol’ zone of proximal development by my main man Vygotsky. Basically, it’s the teacher’s job to help kids do stuff that they ordinarily would not be able to do own their own. Teaching Grade 9 Applied French (where there was maybe one kid who actually enjoyed the subject), I spent a lot of time telling kids that they could do it, then pushing them, guiding them, and giving them hints until they actually could succeed. There was a lot of complaining. There was a lot of, “But Madame, this is an Applied class!” But I forced them to keep trying, and I am hoping that they at least learned to never give up. Which, again, leads me to my next point! (Wow, what a wide variety of transition phrases!)

5. Think beyond the curriculum. 

I loooooove French, but the reality is that most kids do not like French at all. So I’d like to shift the focus from teaching French to the kids, to just teaching the kids. I didn’t do much of it this year, but my goal for next year is to be very clear and explicit in teaching my students how to be good students. Let’s be honest – the French may not stick around in their brains for very long. But helping kids to develop study skills and good work habits (responsibility! collaboration! SELF-REGULATION.) can be something that I emphasize in my otherwise potentially useless class, and these things will definitely help my students in their other classes.

6. Try new things. 

It was difficult to find a job in high school right after graduating (although the French made getting an interview much easier). So I decided to switch over to the dark side, aka elementary school. I just wanted a job. And I figured I could learn things. Looking back, I learned A LOT, and it was such a great introduction to the teaching profession. I taught Grade 6 to 8 French, which was not too new and was really just a matter of reading a new curriculum document, but I also got saddled with Grade 1 and 3 Dance. I cannot dance. But I did dance for that job, and it wasn’t that bad, and I enjoyed my time with the little kiddies!

So far, my career has sort of been equal parts French and ESL, the latter of which I never really thought I’d do. But I like it! So the lesson is, don’t be afraid of trying new things, because you might end up liking them more than you originally thought.

7. Ask people for help. 

Teachers are in the business of helping others, so they love to dish out advice! (Why else do you think someone as unqualified as me is writing this blog post?!) Everyone has resources, everyone has tips and tricks that make life easier, so just ask! In my first job, I visited two other teachers constantly to ask for help (about report cards, IEPs, keeping track of marks, etc.). Everyone wants to help, so don’t be shy!


Well, this was a nice self-reflection exercise. Hopefully it was somewhat useful to any teachers out there. I don’t know. I’m pretty lost myself!

One last tip for the high school peeps out there: don’t eat the caf food. It doesn’t taste very good, and students will have a strangely keen interest in what you are eating for lunch and ask a lot of questions.


5 thoughts on “Claire’s Unqualified and Unsolicited Words of Advice for First Year Teachers!

  1. gladyskong says:

    Speaking in truths! I’m definitely learning all these things as I’m going and definitely struggle with the work / life balance especially now that I live on campus, where work is two minutes away from home.

  2. tntlessonplans says:

    What a great blog!
    I have been teaching for over 17 years, and I totally agree! My biggest struggle was the work/life balance. Although I’d like to say I’ve got it solved after all this time, I find it’s really hard to detach when I get home, especially when I’ve had “one of those days”.
    Your last one is a biggie as well. For some reason, it’s hard for us teachers to admit we need help (it may actually be a human thing rather than a teaching thing), however supporting each other and helping each other are the ways we all pull together as a community and make it through to tomorrow. Thanks for reaching out with this blog and giving us all a chance to chat!

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