What Do You Wish You Had Known In Your First Year of Teaching?

What do you wish you had known in your first year of teaching?

Reflection is a powerful tool. The following entries are from seasoned educators and their reflection upon their first year.

Dr. Kimberly Rhodes –

As I reflect back upon my first year of teaching in 1986 at a private residential treatment facility, I really wish that I would not have thought of assessment as a four letter word (use your imagination, but t-e-s-t and q-u-i-z come to mind)!  I was lucky in that I was able to build rich, meaningful relationships with my students and was able to engage them by doing some really fun projects and activities; however, I did not move them forward in their learning journey as I should have.  I attribute that mostly to my lack of understanding, and quite frankly, my fear of assessment.

Looking back to that first year, assessment truly was that four letter word: giving quizzes or tests on a Friday, not knowing what to do with them other than putting grades in the grade book, sticking cute little stars on the corners of the papers (and yes, at times, little, not-so-smiley faces) , or filing them into a folder never to be seen again! In addition to these weekly events (notice, at the time, I considered these to be events rather than a process of and for learning!), I had to administer, under the supervision of the facility’s educational diagnostician, whatever standardized assessment was the buzz at the time – and these really scared me – I had not a clue as to what I was supposed to do with the results of these!

Fast-forward 30 years later: though late in the game and while serving in the central office for a regional public school consortium, assessment has become my passion!  Encouraged by Carol Ann Tomlinson’s fine work and assurance that assessment isn’t really a scary thing and indeed is more than a four letter word, I have embraced it as a tool for assessing and monitoring growth, at both the student and teacher levels.  And might I say, that I am having a ball with assessment right now!  In fact, a snow ball!

Yes, that’s right a snow ball.  I was in a self-contained classroom yesterday, the last day before the December holiday break, and was delighted to see a young teacher using “snow balls” as a way to assess whether her students were really getting “PEMDAS” in math.  While holiday music blared in the background, the students were engaging in a playful, though competitive snowball fight.  When the music stopped, the kids ran back to their desks with one snowball in hand, grabbed their whiteboards, un-balled their snowballs, and began working excitedly on the problems found on the now-flat pieces of paper.  It was amazing to watch!

So this young teacher has taught me a lesson, one that I wish I would have had as a first year teacher: she is truly using assessment as a means to move students forward in their learning.  Having worked with her over the course of this school year and listening to her share how she is using assessment in her daily practice, I am thrilled that assessment is no longer a four letter word!

Adam Brown –

As I reflect back upon my first year of teaching, I wish I could go back in time and do it all over. In my eighth year as an educator, I can now laugh about how much I stressed over certain factors in my first year. At the time, these factors consumed my life. I felt so overwhelmed that I was brought to tears on a couple of occasions. What is so frustrating now is that these factors could have been easily overcome with the most powerful tool a new teacher can use…mindset.

Your mindset will determine how successful (or stressful) your school year will turn out. As a new teacher, there are a host of factors that impact you without even stepping foot in your classroom. These include the following:

  • Lesson Plans – Committees
  • Deadlines – Teacher Lounge
  • Policies – Judgement from Veterans
  • Interims and Grading – Informal and Formal Observations

These factors can consumer and overwhelm you. They can bring you to question your ability as a teacher. It can even have you questioning your choice of profession. I found myself facing these challenges and asking these questions throughout my first year. Eight years later, I wish I could go back and tell myself how foolish I was being.

As mentioned earlier, the mindset you possess in your first year is extremely powerful in determining how effective you will be as an educator. If you have not done so, read Mindset by Carol Dweck. An quick and easy read that can be completed over a weekend can change your outlook for the rest of the school year. In this book, Dweck talks about how the common traits the most successful individuals embody.

How might a first-year teacher with a growth mindset attack the factors listed earlier? Take a look.

  • Lesson Plans (Seek consistent feedback from a supervisor)
  • Deadlines (Seek out organization strategies from seasoned veterans necessary to meet due dates)
  • Policies (Take time to review and understand practices of your division. Ask questions!)
  • Interims and Grading (Seek out guidance from experienced educators on effective grading practices)
  • Committees (Only commit to what you can give 100% attention and effort. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’)
  • Teacher Lounge (Have the confidence to stay away from the mindset you do not wish to embody)
  • Judgement from Veterans (Only put value into the feedback provided by trusted mentors and supervisors)
  • Informal and Formal Observations (Treat these as learning opportunities)

The first year is always going to be a difficult year. The challenges, emotions, and trials that you will face will be challenging no matter what mindset you possess. However, the difference that sends a first year soaring into a successful career or walking out the door is the type of mindset they display every day.

How will you tackle the rest of the school year?


Kimberly Rhodes is the Project Coordinator for Instruction and Program Improvement for Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs (SECEP).  Dr. Rhodes completed her undergraduate work at Longwood College; received her M.S. Ed. from Old Dominion University; and completed her doctoral work at The University of Virginia. She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. 

Adam Brown is a K–12 principal in Virginia. He is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, an ASCD Influence Leader, and member of the Educational Leadership Reading Advisory Board. Brown is also a 2014 AERA Emerging Scholar. Connect with him on Twitter @AdamBrownEDU or his on blog at https://medium.com/@AdamBrownEDU.