Six Emotional and Physical Steps to Prepare New Teachers for Back-to-School

Aug 11, 2016 · 6 min read

It’s finally here: after years of training, a daunting and exhausting student teaching semester, and a roller coaster of emotions, you’re about to start your first year teaching. As you stand in your classroom (your classroom!), eager to finally apply the pedagogical, academic, and social lessons you’ve learned to a real-life group of students, take a moment to really reflect on what you want this year to be: it won’t be perfect. You already know that. And it definitely won’t be exactly what you’re expecting. (What are children if not bundles of surprises?) But it will be an amazing, powerful, completely fulfilling experience if you maintain the right mindset, even throughout the rough parts. So start with the immediate opportunity: tackling Back-to-School. Below, we’ve gathered 6 of our best tools — both emotional and physical — for first-year teachers to ace their very first first day 0f school.

Emotional Steps:

Remember your teaching philosophy

During your teacher education journey, you probably developed a teaching philosophy, either for a class or simply on your own. As the school year approaches and stress begins to build, take the time to sit down and remind yourself why you chose this profession. Envision what kind of teacher you want to be, the changes you want to make in children’s lives, and the impact you want to have on teaching and learning. If you like journaling, painting, or calligraphy, consider writing/illustrating your philosophy and framing it for your desk as a reminder during your future moments of doubt or discouragement. Of course, as you learn and grow as an educator, your philosophy might change. And guess what: that’s okay. Part of being an effective, passionate educator is a careful balance of sticking to your core beliefs while remaining open enough to reevaluate your methods. Follow your own path, and listen to your students’ needs when there’s a fork in the road.

Prepare to make mistakes

Things are not going to go exactly as planned. For Type-A folks, as many teachers are, those words are like a bucket of cold water on the head. But in a field like teaching, there’s just no getting around it: you are going to make mistakes. Your job is to brace yourself for the discomfort and disappointment of those moments, learn from them, and do better next time. Adopt a growth mindset and hold yourself to high standards, but don’t beat yourself down. Like your students, you’re learning (and, as an educator, you always will be). This first year might have the most mistakes — ones that you may shudder at years from now — but learning, growing, discovering, and adapting will be an ongoing process for the rest of your career. So prepare yourself to manage that process with grace and positivity: it will be a habit that takes practice, but will make you a more motivated, engaged, and effective educator in the long run.

Make time for yourself

Even though this is your first year, and you may feel like you have a lot to prove, don’t neglect your own emotional and physical health. Designate time throughout the week (preferably once every day!) to do something for yourself — whether it’s reading a book, going to the gym, or just watching TV. If you find that time spent not in the classroom or doing schoolwork only gives you anxiety, try filling that space with a new, calming hobby that keeps you occupied. When you can, spend time with loved ones who are particular experts at lifting your spirits and offering you support. It’s important to take a step back and re-charge your batteries: both for you and for your students. They need a teacher that comes in (most) mornings ready for the day, and you need to be at least *partially* sane (most of the time) to teach an effective lesson. So while avoiding the stress completely is impossible, and striking a balance between work and play is tricky, making a conscious effort to do so will go a long way.

Physical Steps:

Make an A+ syllabus

Depending on your subject area, grade level, and individual teaching role, the manifestation of this project is going to vary widely. At its core, it’s really about making you feel organized and prepared, which will give you the extra boost of confidence you need to walk through those doors on the first day. If you’re a high school or middle school teacher, consider giving your students a slightly amended version of the formal syllabi your professors handed out in college. It will prepare your kids for classes in higher education, and let them know that you’re serious about their learning. If you have little ones, get creative: add a fun theme or artwork and play around with formats. Obviously, for younger grades, it’s going to be much more of a general overview than a detailed outline — that’s okay. Just giving your kids and their parents a sense of the year’s lessons and big activities will send the message that you’re organized and goal-oriented. Don’t panic if your syllabus makes major changes throughout the year: just do what works best for you and your students, and keep them updated on the new plan.

Establish a parent communication method

While you’ve probably sat through entire lectures on this in your education classes, parent-teacher communication can never be overemphasized. It’s a tricky subject: we all know it’s critical, since so much learning and emotional development happens outside of the classroom. Functioning as a united front with caregivers will produce higher outcomes for your students. But where to even start? First, it’s important to establish a method, and be up-front with parents about this method ASAP. For some teachers, this might be something to introduce at a meet-the-teacher night. If your school doesn’t have one, or if parent attendance is low, then chose the method that enables you to reach the most parents, whether it’s an email or a letter sent home that outlines how communication will function from here on out. When thinking about your plan, consider color-coding documents according to topic, creating a newsletter, or even using social media to supplement more traditional communication. Your plan might change for next year, and that’s okay. Reflection and adaptability are crucial for routines like these.

Make your room both yours and theirs

Classroom decor is one of the most exciting parts of your first year teaching — it’s sort of like moving into a new house when you’re a child. A whole room to deck from wall to wall, just for you! Without getting totally overwhelmed or breaking the bank, add personal touches to your room. It will be a place of many emotions over the course of the next year: some of your best moments will happen here, and so may some of your worst. Take the time to make sure that you incorporate elements into your room that will help you manage stress and feel prepared. This could simply mean hanging inspirational quotes, using calming colors, or bringing in chairs, photos, or other personal elements from home to have at your desk. You will also want to consider all of the practical items you may need outside of the obvious office supplies, like snacks, toiletries, chargers, and jackets. Once the room is yours, you can think about how to make it theirs — and by “them”, we mean the most important people that will ever come in your room: your students! Think about how you can incorporate your academic content into inspirational decor, and how items like rules and expectations can be displayed in both an engaging and practical way. As the school year goes on, don’t be afraid to make adjustments to elements like desk arrangements: keep experimenting until you find what enables you and your students to be productively comfortable.

Above all, remember to enjoy every moment of your first year teaching: reflect on your experiences, find your bearings, and really get to know your kids. Good luck with this year, new teachers. We can’t wait to see the influence and inspiration you create for the next generation of learners.

For more tips and inspiration just for new teachers, check out our New Teacher Pinterest Board. To get excited about entering the teaching profession or to simply remember why your work is so very important, check out our collection of educator perspectives at:

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.


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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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