15 things I learned as a first year teacher

I’m so excited to post my second guest post, also from a former student turned teacher.  Elizabeth Kueng has sage advice from a first year teacher’s perspective.  These are great reminders for novice and veteran teachers and everyone in between.  

I didn’t always think I wanted to be a teacher. I actually was opposed to the idea for quite some time because I didn’t want to feel like I was merely copying my mom (who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten for 25 years — God bless her!), but in seventh grade, I realized for the first time how much I loved language arts and decided my dream career of marine biology probably wasn’t going to work out given my lack of enthusiasm for science. My love for English continued to grow as I learned from phenomenal creative writing and Advanced Placement (AP) English teachers in high school, and I began college as an English major pursuing certification in secondary education.

I began to doubt myself as I imagined becoming a teacher. Would I be able to stand in front of high school students and teach? How could I ever compare to the amazing educators I learned from in middle school, high school, and now college? Was I organized, driven, and intelligent enough to take on such an important role?

    After switching my major to elementary education and figuring out it was absolutely not for me (those of you who teach elementary school, I give you major props), I switched back to majoring in English and dropped the secondary education certification, unsure if I wanted to teach at all. After interning for four different organizations outside of the education world, I realized upon graduation that I had a strong desire to go into a career where I could help children and be a positive influence in their lives, so I decided to give teaching a try despite not having a teaching license and never student teaching. I had no idea what to expect as a first year eighth grade language arts teacher, but here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Teachers spend a lot of money buying supplies for their classrooms, rewards for their students, materials for lesson planning, etc.
  2. Veteran teachers love to share their resources with you. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
  3. Even teachers who teach a different grade level, but the same subject, can be a big help in sharing ideas and materials.
  4. It is so easy to complain with other teachers about your students, your pay, the demands of your job, other employees, and a hundred other things. We’re all guilty of doing this (myself included), but it’s not fair to you or the other teacher(s) to constantly add negativity to your already challenging job. Be an encourager and an uplifter.
  5. Snow days are even more exciting as a teacher than they were as a student.
  6. Don’t listen to anyone’s opinion of a student; get to know them yourself. You will be surprised how different teacher/student relationships can be depending on the dynamics of the class.
  7. Your students will somehow know words you have never seen before and will correct you when you butcher the pronunciation. Thank them and laugh with them. You are not in competition with your students.
  8. Go to your students’ football games, basketball games, theatre shows, dance recitals, etc. They will never forget that you showed up to support them.
  9. Do not yell. Do not be sarcastic. Do not purposely embarrass students in the name of discipline. I know this may be a widely unpopular opinion and can seem impossible to avoid, but when you allow yourself to show your students that you’re angry or annoyed because of them, it’s showing them they have the power to make you lose your composure. You can discipline effectively without letting your emotions rule your reactions.
  10. Schedule computer labs for mandatory testing months in advance. Chances of snagging a spot last minute are as good as winning the lottery.
  11. Being a teacher has a lot of similarities to being a celebrity. You will be recognized everywhere you go (even out of town), you will be searched on Google (make sure your social media accounts are private, and even then, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your students and their parents seeing), and everyone likes to give you their input on your outfit/hairstyle/new glasses/how you live your life.
  12. Many people will tell you to “be mean” when you start teaching — don’t listen to them. Be kind, be understanding, give second chances, and let your students know you deeply care about them. How are we supposed to teach them to respect one another if they don’t see it exemplified in us?
  13. You may possibly be in love with teaching first semester, wonder why in the world you ever liked teaching after Christmas break, and then love teaching again after spring break once you realize how soon your students will be leaving you. I’m not speaking from personal experience, of course. 😉
  14. Burnout is a real thing. Set a goal that you won’t stay at school past 5 o’clock pm on a regular workday. It’s mid-April and I still struggle with this, but I promise your career will not go up in flames if you take some time for yourself. In fact, you will be doing yourself and your students a favor.
  15. Finally, serve your students. You may think I’ve lost my mind on this one, but we constantly expect our students to give, give, give. We want them to never miss a homework assignment, remember every answer on the test, come into class ready to learn and completely forget about their problems at home, not peep a word to their best friend sitting beside them, stay awake although the lights are off while the projector is on, never accidentally grab the wrong binder for class…the list goes on and on. Are all of these things important to some degree in enriching their education? Well, yes. But if you are only expecting your students to serve you and feel that you should never serve them, you’re going to be disappointed every single day. Teaching is not one size fits all; some students are going to need extra attention and extra patience. Chances are, they may not deserve those things from you, but when you’re focused on what you can give instead of what you can get, you may just make a difference in a life or two.

I truly admire anyone who takes on the profession of teaching, and I hope that every teacher (and future teacher) who reads this blog post understands that this is simply what worked for me and my specific classes this year; it is not meant to address the way anyone else chooses to run his or her classroom. We are ultimately all in this together with the common goal to prepare and equip our future leaders to be the best they can be. To every teacher, future teacher, and non-teacher reading who simply cares about bettering education — thank you. It takes a village, and every member is important.


Bio: Elizabeth Kueng teaches eighth grade language arts in Chatham, Virginia, and smiles all the time, according to her students. When she’s not hanging out with 68 middle schoolers, she enjoys running, reading, writing, traveling to Haiti, and worshiping Jesus through singing in her church’s praise band and choir. She gets mistaken for a 13-year-old daily, and often dreams she can still hit a growth spurt at age 22.

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3 thoughts on “15 things I learned as a first year teacher

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  1. it saddens me a lot how a majority of kids nowadays often make fun of teachers or just have a negative attitude towards teachers in general. coming from a family full of teachers and people who work in educational fields, i know so well how incredibly hard yet fulfilling it is to be an educator. wish students knew how much logistics needed to be done behind each lesson!

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  2. After being the child of a teacher and having experienced amazing teachers and not so amazing teachers, I see so many of these things in the teachers that have made wonderful impacts in my life – Mrs. Nester being one of them!! I give such major props to all teachers. This is not an easy job and there are no words to describe the impact teachers have on students lives. So glad you love teaching and have the positive mindset you do about teaching!

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  3. These are great lessons you have learned in just the first year of teaching. I can’t imagine how much more you will learn in the years of head. The world needs more teachers like you.

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