“What I Wish I Had Known”

Teachers share their best advice to help new educators start their first year with confidence.

Woman Walking Into Office

by NEA Member Benefits

Being a new teacher can be daunting, from managing your own classroom to navigating the ins and outs of being a school employee. To help you get off to a great start, we polled NEA members to find out what advice they wish someone had shared with them when they were new teachers.

We selected some great pieces of advice that represent a wide range of topics, from learning to be flexible in the classroom to building mentor relationships with experienced teachers at your school.

Any tips you want to share? Visit our Facebook and Twitter pages and post your best nuggets of wisdom for new teachers!

Empathize with your students

“Get to know your kids, and let them get to know you. You are a big part of their lives just as they are of yours. Feel their challenges, their sacrifices, their joys and their hurts, and you get memories that will last a lifetime.” — Erin Havlin, high school chemistry teacher

Be flexible at school and at home

“The most important thing to remember is to be flexible. Planning is important, but a teacher needs to be able to quickly modify plans when new situations arise. Also, it’s important to give all you can to your job, but you need to take care of yourself mentally and physically as well!” — Patricia Swiatek, inclusion teacher

Understand your role in students’ lives

“There must be a balance between enthusiasm and cynicism for you to survive the long run. If you start out with nothing but optimism and enthusiasm, the kids and or parents will quickly break your heart and spirit. However, if you go in with the understanding that you can’t affect everything about the child and their life but only your small piece of it, then you can maintain both your sanity and drive that makes you want to enter the classroom, even on bad days.” — Nicholas Smyk, paraeducator

Find a mentor

“You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Veteran educators are always willing to share their experience and lesson plans with you if you ask for assistance. Don’t shut your door and expect to go it alone. Seek out help from those teachers who are respected by their students and their peers. And when you become one of those teachers, be willing to take others under your wing.” — Laurie Brandon, high school English and social studies teacher

Manage your classroom fairly and firmly

“Classroom management is very important. Have fair rules, consequences and rewards. Do not try to be the student’s friend. They need to respect you first and then they can be your friend, like being a parent instead of a playmate. Always keep promises you make to students, and if you tell them you are going to do something as a consequence or punishment, then follow through. If you don’t, they will not respect you.” — Diane Mentzer, library media specialist

Ask for help, and learn from your mistakes

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Develop relationships where you can be honest and get advice and new ideas. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!” — Kendra Wisenbaker, fifth-grade teacher

Get advice and support from teachers

“Be prepared for anything! College courses do not prepare you for the reality of teaching. However, there is a great group of teachers talk to and look to for advice. That’s what I found when I joined NEA student and then my local when I became a teacher. I’m always thankful that I have that connection to other teachers so we can share our stories and advice.” — Amy (Murphy) Gabriel, fourth-grade teacher

Build professional relationships within your school

“Establish relationships with all other employees in the building so that you can observe expert educators in action and also so that you can get help from building maintenance and the cafeteria when you need it. You’ll need all of this help and support at some point! Learn to tactfully address issues with colleagues, and don’t take it to the level of lounge gossip—ever.” — Bev Supanick, ESOL educator

Make a personal connection with your students

“First and foremost, you must genuinely love the children. Curriculum, lesson plans, paperwork and tests are all important and necessary, but the real difference is made in that personal connection. One day, I was sitting on the floor adjusting a bass xylophone when my 1 p.m. class arrived. They soon gathered around me on the floor, and I did nothing on my lesson plan. We all connected in a personal way and had a wonderful impromptu class together.” — Janet Sinks, elementary music teacher

Continue learning to better yourself

“Join your local association. Become active in that and start working your way through being involved with all the association has to offer. Take advantage of professional development, and continually stay abreast of best practice and research and then implement that in your day-to-day teaching. After a few years of teaching, I’d recommend studying for National Board Certification. I believe it is the road to becoming a better teacher and a leader in the field.” — Roxann Dittmer, special education preschool teacher

Keep up with the times

“Never stop learning! I enjoy taking classes to keep up with technology and all the latest teaching trends. It energizes me to be in a group of adults, talking about the things we do every day. I always learn a new tip or strategy for my ‘little bag of tricks.’ ” — Kim Howe, educational technician

Don’t let work overshadow your personal life

“Work to maintain work/life balance. Teaching can be exhausting, overwhelming and difficult, but spending too much time at school and too much time at home doing schoolwork can make it worse. You’ll be a better teacher if you keep that balance.” — Amy Verner, fourth-grade teacher

Always remember your motivation

“Constantly remind yourself why you are in the profession. You’re not going to get rich, there are going to be more headaches than you anticipate, and there are going to be times that you tell yourself ‘it’s not worth it.’ If you keep in mind the kids you’re reaching and the difference you can make in one kid’s life, it will be worth it. Focus on your success stories, and don’t focus on the kids that won’t allow you to reach them (for whatever reason). And write down the funny stuff that happens. It’s good to have a drawer full of those things when you’re having a bad day.” — Aaron Frazee, high school social studies teacher