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The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Teaching Job Mid-Year

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Middle-of-School-Year2


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First things first: Congratulations on your new teaching job. This is a big deal, an opportunity to make a significant difference for students whose year has been a bit unstable up to this point.

And yet…

A panic has probably set in. You won’t have the time other teachers normally get to prepare their classrooms, set up procedures, and plan good lessons. You’re jumping onto a fast-moving train, and it won’t stop until the year is over.

I started my first teaching job in January of 1996. The previous teacher – a first-timer herself – had decided teaching was not for her. And when I learned more about my schedule, I could see she had her reasons: Three periods of sixth graders and one period of eighth graders, each one held in a different teacher’s room during their planning period. I didn’t have my own classroom; just a cart I wheeled from room to room and a small desk in the corner of a supply room.

I have definitely been where you are. So here’s my advice to help you navigate the rest of the year with your sanity – and your desire to teach – fully intact.

Step 1: Start with the right mindset.

As you rush through these first few months, having a healthy mindset will help you prioritize, work effectively, and deal with the inevitable setbacks that will come with this position.

Set the bar low.

Trust me, the people in your building are thrilled to have a living, breathing human filling the vacancy left by your predecessor. The fact that you’re here means administrators don’t have to spend more time interviewing, other teachers don’t have to cover your class, and students don’t have to suffer the unpredictability of a long series of subs. Unless you’re a complete train wreck or the school is staffed with exceptionally unreasonable people, your administrators and colleagues will be happy with you as long as you do two things: (1) maintain reasonable order in your classroom, and (2) cover the basic curriculum.

So cut yourself a lot of slack. Remind yourself every single day that what you’re shooting for is good enough. Expect things to go wrong, and when they do, address them with those two basic goals in mind: reasonable order, basic curriculum. This is not the year to master differentiation. This is not the year to excel with technology. This is NOT the year to design a gorgeous classroom. Teach your students something worthwhile every day and make sure they don’t hurt each other, and that will be enough for now.

But pay attention to the ways you can improve. Right away, set up a “next year” file, where you can deposit notes and ideas on the things you want to do next year. These ideas can range from small decorative things you notice in other teacher’s classrooms to instructional strategies you want to try. You won’t have time to implement most of them this year, but keep track of them for later.

Ask for help.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new teacher is to pretend you’ve got everything under control. Your colleagues are a rich source of information and they want to help you, but most won’t give you more than a quick “Let me know if you need anything.” They’re busy. Or they’re shy. Or they don’t want to make you feel incompetent by being overly hand-holdy. It’s up to you to seek out the help, to ask lots of questions, and tell someone when you’re struggling.

So when the teacher across the hall pops her head into your room and asks how things are going, do NOT say fine. It’s not fine, and you know it. This doesn’t make you defective. It makes you normal. So ask the questions. Keep a sheet of paper on your desk or folded inside your pocket, and all day long be writing down the questions you need answers to.

Then ask them. And if the answer doesn’t make sense or the person you ask isn’t particularly helpful, ask someone else and avoid that person from now on. Don’t worry about being annoying. You’re new. You’re supposed to be a little needy right now.

Expect surprises.

Because you’re showing up mid-year, people will forget to tell you things that would normally be included when orienting new staff, so just when you think you’ve got things under control, something will change.

Like this: On your third day of teaching, someone may show up at your door to pull a student for special services. Apparently, this happens every Thursday, but no one told you.

Or this: Right when you’ve gotten your students started on a great new activity, you hear a commotion in the hall — everyone’s on their way to the monthly pep rally! Except you had no idea there was a pep rally, because no one told you.

Don’t take these oversights personally or get overly rattled by the unexpected disruption. It’s impossible for everyone to remember to tell you everything, and you can’t ask about something if you’re not even aware of its existence. Get into the habit of shrugging stuff like this off. Without that ability, you’ll find yourself looking for a new job before the year is over.

Step 2: Do some reconnaissance.

You have a LOT to learn in a short period of time about your school and what your students have accomplished already this year. Here’s a list of the things you’ll need to learn in the first few days. [For a more complete list that you can cover at a more leisurely pace, download our New Teacher Checklist.]

Your School

Your Curriculum

Step 3: Do a bare-minimum classroom setup.

You could drive yourself crazy trying to get your classroom perfect for your first day. Baby, it’s just not going to happen. You have more important things to do right now. So just make sure you have these things in place:

Step 4: Establish classroom rules, consequences, and procedures.

In the first few days, it’s essential that you establish rules, consequences, and procedures. Because time is scarce, your goal right now should be to get something in place that works, even if it’s not perfect.

If the former teacher already has a system in place that you can live with, go with that. Ideally, learn these procedures from the teacher personally. Or have the students show you. Even if you think you’d probably do it differently, if the system in place works okay, just go with it for now.

If the former teacher’s plan is not an option, your second choice would be to find another teacher in the building whose system you like well enough and just copy what they do. Be transparent about this with the teacher and your students: Just tell them you’re going to use Ms. ______’s system for now and maybe you’ll adjust it later on.

If no other teacher’s plan is available or you’re being thrust into the classroom at the last minute, use this as a basic structure:

Rules
(some of these are adapted from Whole Brain Teaching):

Consequences
(this is pretty old-school, but it worked for me)

Daily Procedures

Step 5: Build relationships.

Although this is listed as the last step, it’s one of the most important. Building relationships with students, co-workers, and parents is the key to making your work more satisfying.

Students

Make building relationships with your students a top priority. Getting to know your students is the foundation for more effective classroom management, more personalized instruction, and greater student achievement.

Inventory-ThumbnailOne way to build relationships quickly is to give students a “getting to know you” survey or questionnaire. If you don’t already have one, take a look at my Student Inventories. And once you’ve collected information on student interests, home life, learning preferences, and other facts, keep track of it all using something like my Deep Data at a Glance chart, so you can access the information quickly and determine which students you need to spend more time with.

If your administrator isn’t on board with this priority and wants you to devote most of your time covering the curriculum, you might share this list of Influences and their Effect Size on Student Achievement, from John Hattie’s 2008 meta-study Visible Learning. Out of 138 different factors influencing student achievement, the teacher-student relationship was near the top, showing a greater impact than time on task, cooperative learning, and socioeconomic status. A strong relationship with your students will pay off over the course of the year, so invest some time now in getting to know them, and helping them get to know you.

Faculty and Staff

While you’re at it, spend some time getting to know your colleagues as well. Start by finding one or two positive, supportive teachers who seem to really love their jobs (around here, we call these people Marigolds), and spend most of your time with them.

Other key staff members to get friendly with are the school secretary, the librarian, the cafeteria staff, the technology coordinator, the guidance counselors, and the custodial staff. You’re going to have lots of questions for all of these people, so be sure to get off on the right foot by introducing yourself before problems arise.

Meanwhile, be friendly with everyone else. Your new position is kind of an extended job interview, and if you prove yourself to be competent in the remainder of this year, your chances of getting re-hired the following fall are much greater.

Here’s a little trick to make all of this easier: Borrow a copy of last year’s yearbook, and make sure you can keep it for a couple of months. This will be an invaluable resource for matching faces to names — for faculty and staff and for students, if they attended your school last year.

Parents

Parents are going to be curious about you, and most will be concerned about the disruption to their child’s education that this change has created. As soon as possible, send home a detailed letter, including:

Before you send the letter home, ask your administrator to approve it. Do this for two reasons: One, it will ensure that your letter doesn’t contain anything your administrator wouldn’t want you sending out; as a new teacher, you may not know exactly where the line is. And two, the initiative will really impress your administrator; since your future in this school may not be secure, you need to shine a spotlight on the good things you’re doing.

Once you’ve been teaching for about a month, send home another letter to let parents know how things are going, what changes you have made, and what’s coming up.

Two Final Tips

Don’t engage in negative conversations about your predecessor. If students or co-workers want to share information, go ahead and listen, but it’s unprofessional to position yourself as the new and improved one in contrast to the one who left. It’s not great karma. Just think about how you would want people to talk about you after you left a job, regardless of the situation.

If your students are just hog wild and you can’t get them under control, take a look at my video on using a notebook to tame an out-of-control class. Setting up a consistent system of rules, consequences and procedures is much better and longer-lasting than doing this, but in an emergency, the notebook strategy works pretty well.

Have You Been There?

Did you start your teaching career mid-year? If you have other advice to add, please contribute in the comments below. With our collective wisdom, we can help this new batch of teachers turn a less-than-ideal situation into a fantastic career opportunity. ♦

 

The New Teacher Checklist
Although you won’t have time to get to all of it in these first few weeks, my New Teacher Checklist will provide a structure to follow as you progress through the rest of the school year. To download a free copy, just sign up for my mailing list. Then you’ll get weekly e-mails with tips, tools, and inspiration to help you make your teaching better every day.

 

 

34 Comments

  1. thames3 says:

    Jennifer,
    Thank you, Jennifer! I appreciate this post, as I have done just that – started teaching two weeks ago, which feels like trying to run in heavy rubber boots next to those sprinting along in their Adidas Supernovas. The “notebook” strategy does work; I used it this past week. I got a very supportive response from my parent letter, and found my marigold just next door (how lucky is that?). I would suggest making friends with the librarians; they see and know every student and faculty member, and can offer much more than help finding materials.

    • That is an excellent suggestion — thanks for adding that. I really appreciate you taking the time to write and let me know these ideas have worked for you. Such an awesome analogy, the rubber boots thing. It’s so true, isn’t it? Just wait until next fall — all that heavy weight will be off your feet and you’ll feel light as air. Stay in touch and let us know what else is working for you as the term progresses!

  2. thames3 says:

    Thank you, Jennifer; I will do that!

  3. That was me last year. I started the last week of September, and they had had different subs for weeks at a time. Not to mention that for this particular class a group of boys with behavior problems since Kinder managed to all be in the same class together. The “not telling me things” was the one that got me, because I was able to get my classroom management under control, and even push through several IEPs that needed to be done since Kinder for these kiddos, and I even managed to get better scores than when I was student teaching–but nobody bothered to tell me important things nearly everyday.

    In hindsight the thing that got me through was trying to be consistent with them everyday. Without that, I couldn’t get any relationships started-they felt so abandoned by their teacher, subs, everybody. And, I got to know my parents REALLY well. I sent home newsletters, notes, invitations for field trips, volunteering. I opened my room to them so when I need to make phone calls about behavior it got taken care of right away. Or when I needed to make referrals for counseling and IEPs they were open to what I had to say.

  4. Ashley says:

    This is SO helpful!! I started a month into the school year..it’s been a few weeks now and I’m slowly finding my way, but the amount of things to learn (while teaching every day) is overwhelming. This list really helped me prioritize!
    I’m actually thinking of decorating, though. I’m teaching second, and I feel like it would really help them settle in and take ownership of our classroom. I want them to see this year as special – not just that year we ‘got through.’
    It will definitely be a weekend project, but I think it will be worth it.

  5. susana p. says:

    This article was perfect. Just what I was looking for. I start tomorrow and I am super anxious, but your article broke it down simply for me. Before that I was kind of all over the place. Thank you so much Jennifer for taking the time to put worthwhile material out there.

  6. Rebecca B says:

    Wow! Thank you! I was hired yesterday and I start there next week. Fortunately my principal wants me to take at least a week to study curriculum, prepare, plan, acclimate, and learn as much as poossible before starting with the kids the week after.
    Everything you said is SO true! I stepped in for a teacher’s emergency medical leave last April. She was physically unable to talk to me so I wasn’t really a sub following instructions. I was the full on teacher for the last 6 weeks of school.
    Your list is a God-send. I’ve been trying to reflect on what I learned through that experience but I think my panic was getting in the way of clear list making. Your list of tips will be my rubric for the next few months. Thank you for putting it all into precise and accurate words. And reminding me, once again, that teachers are the most generous people in the world who thrive on sharing knowledge and experience. I will be a loyal follower of your site from now on!
    God Bless You and Yours!

    • Rebecca! I’m so glad you found this and that it’s helpful! Good luck over the next couple of weeks, and BIG congratulations on the new job–your students are so lucky to have you coming in!

  7. Caroline says:

    Thank you so much, Jennifer! I found out on Tuesday that I would start teaching tomorrow, and I feel super nervous! I definitely appreciate reading your article and the comments below it; they show that other teachers have done the exact same thing and made a successful year out of it!

    Now to go Marigold hunting . . .

  8. Sandy Jameson says:

    My first year, I had done several long term sub positions, with the final one being in a new school from April-June. These 10th and 11th graders had been with day-to-day subs for the entire third marking period. And apparently their old teacher had left under some pretty crazy circumstances and hadn’t been doing much with them to begin with. So when I got there first day, the kids were remarking about (and mocking) all of the pictures of airplanes around the room (apparently she was an enthusiast and had them EVERYWHERE). That very afternoon I stayed after school until 6PM taking down every last plane picture (while trying to preserve them intact in case the teacher came back!). The students were amazed when they came in the next day and I said “No more planes. Now this is YOUR space to decorate. Bring in pictures of yourself or things you like to hang on these cabinets.” As a first year teacher, I’m not sure how I inherently understood that this was the most important thing, but somehow I did, and those kids were loyal to me from day two.

  9. I have been teaching for 14 years but recently move to a new state. I am starting a second semester sub position right after Christmas break. I have never subbed or started mid-year before so I randomly googled it and your post popped up! Thank you! I am super excited but nervous about establishing relationships and order/routine.

  10. Crystal says:

    I’m a teacher leaving the classroom midyear for a new position in Central Office. I’m excited, but also want to try to make the transition as easy as possible for my students and the new teacher coming in. Any tips?

    • Crystal, the first thing that comes to mind is that you should make sure to go beyond general offers of help. So many people in mentoring positions say things like, “Just let me know if you need anything,” or they will ask, “How is everything going?” Both of these prompts will often get minimal responses, because many new teachers don’t want to bother other teachers with their problems, and they don’t want to look weak or incompetent. So asking more pointed questions like, “What questions do you have about the computer system?” or “How was their behavior on the first day?” shows that you are genuinely interested in a more detailed response. Offering to go out for coffee after school can also set the tone for a longer conversation. One more thing: Although I’m guessing it may be too late for this, you might have the students prepare some materials for their new teacher: booklets or websites with advice, classroom procedures, etc., and introducing themselves to the new teacher. It would not only provide the new teacher with valuable information, but it would also help students recognize their responsibility in helping the new teacher feel welcome. Good luck in your new position!

  11. JoAnn says:

    Crystal, I am starting my first teaching position tomorrow as the school librarian. This is not my field. The retiring teacher did not leave anything for me. It would have helped to have a week or two of lesson plans. Even if it was just an outline of plans. It might be helpful to leave a teacher’s manual of your class describing key classroom procedures. Hope you enjoy your new position, good luck.

    • Gabrielle says:

      I wish someone would have replied to you! Do you have any tips? I am in your exact position. I just graduated in December in Elementary Ed.. I’ll have a sub for the first couple days while I get situated, but I’m overwhelmed and have no guidance.

  12. Sara says:

    I’m replacing a teacher who is retiring mid year. How do I address the situation in general with my classes?
    Do I come out and say I might be doing things a little differently or do I just make changes and have them go with it? I want to come off as helpful and understanding of a different type of situation and excited to be there yet firm and authoritative.

    • Judith Julian says:

      I sure wish your comment was answered! I have the same situation beginning Monday, and the same question you have. I really need to know how much is too much and so forth. I’ve already been told by administration that the teacher I’m replacing was not strong with management and discipline. The kids have been permitted to listen to music, use their phones, etc…. That’s not going to be OK with me, but I also don’t want to be the teacher they hate!!

    • Oh gosh, Judith and Sara! I’m so sorry I didn’t answer! I guess I stalled because I didn’t have a clear-cut answer. Here are my thoughts:

      1. I think it would be better to be too strict than not enough. It’s next to impossible to recover from being too lenient at the beginning, especially when you’re coming into an unstable situation. Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between being serious and being a jerk–avoid sarcasm, put-downs, or any behavior that embarrasses students. Take a look at my posts When a Student Hates You and Is Humiliation Part of Your Teaching Toolbox? for more on this.

      2. As for explaining your approach, I would say just avoid comparing yourself to the other teacher entirely. If students ask something along the lines of “Are you going to do things like Mrs. ____ did?” just say that every teacher is different, and we all need to use a system that works for our individual personality. If Mrs. _____ did something that worked well, you may keep it, but other things will probably change.

      3. If your administration permits it, don’t try to cover any content the first day. Just focus on spelling out what your expectations are, and getting to know students.

      If you have more specific questions, please let me know!

  13. Justin says:

    I’m replacing my mentor teacher with whom I did my student teaching with in a few weeks. I will be teaching the same students I taught during student teaching in the fall semester. Considering they viewed me as a student teacher for those few months, what are some tips you could give me to establish my role as the actual classroom teacher? I already plan on using the same procedures and routines, as well as the same rules and consequences as we did last semester. Knowing the students, I expect a few of them to try to take advantage of my lack of experience. I don’t want to come in and rock the boat, just want to keep it sailing.

  14. Dana says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this!! I started a long term sub job for a second grade class, and while the first few weeks have gone fairly smoothly, today I came home feeling overwhelmed (benchmarks are coming up, in the middle of various assessments, parent conferences, etc) and this helped me breathe a bit and helped me realize it’s okay not to be planning extensive lessons. THANK YOU!!!

  15. Cheril says:

    Thank you soooo much! I shared with my best friend who just started this past Monday. I start in one week, both in 1st grade! I was freaking out about behavior, reward systems, and decorating my classroom, but hearing this has made me accept that it’s okay to just survive right now. I loved all of your suggestions, and appreciate your links. 🙂

  16. Samantha says:

    I know this post is a tad bit old, but reading it gives me a sense of security! I will be starting my first teaching position EVER in November, fresh from college, in 4th grade when I’m so used to kindergarten (my internship). I’m so nervous! I have no idea what to expect, or how things work, and I’m racking my head around it! I know this year will be tough, not only because it’s my first year teaching, but I’m coming in the middle! D:

  17. Brandon says:

    Tomorrow will be my first day as a teacher and my first day in a new school. I’m taking over for a beloved teacher who passed away suddenly a few weeks ago. The school I’ll be teaching at is an alternative school and I fear that I will not tread the mine well enough in managing their behaviors and the shootings associated with the emotional rollercoaster that they’ve been on. Any advice moving forward? Thanks for the great article!

    • Hi Brandon,
      As I write this, you are probably well into your first day in this position. I hope it’s going well. My best advice would be for you to sit down with the school guidance counselor and anyone else in the building who has been working with these kids and get their advice. You have an opportunity to have a big impact on these students, whose sense of loss may be especially acute if they have had trouble building trusting relationships with adults in the past.
      Best of luck to you. Feel free to come back and tell us how things are going and what you’re learning about this unique situation.

  18. Katrina says:

    I’m feeling really grateful for this post and for all of the comments, it’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Since graduating from grad school I have been a long-term sub twice, and was laid off the second time. I am completely traumatized by being let go and haven’t taught since last fall. Finally I began applying for jobs and was shocked when I got hired last week to start this Wednesday (two days ago)! This week I have been observing the current teacher who will be leaving for maternity and returning in January. It’s a strange situation knowing that I am taking over for two months and then she will be back. She is loved by students and staff alike, and I am so scared of being the lame sub!!

    It’s really nice to know I’m not alone! I’ve written “Reasonable order, basic curriculum” on my planner to remind me to relax and breathe!

  19. Kirstin says:

    I will be starting my very first teaching position ever this coming Monday Nov 7! I was approved to get my alternative teaching license in elementary ed here in NC. The last teacher left after the first week of school in August and they have had a sub ever since. Thank you so much for this article! I have actually been a stay at home mom for the past 7 years and have some background in teaching from almost 10 years ago so this shall be interesting! I am very excited, I now know what I want to do when I grow up! So I have that drive especially after experiencing awesome teachers my sons have had!!! I will be learning everyday and I am very lucky I was picked! Good luck to everyone we will all be ok!

  20. Christine says:

    Thank you! I was hired to replace a teacher and begin this upcoming Monday. I am fortunate enough to be working side by side with the teacher I am replacing for a whole week, but I am still feeling overwhelmed (because really, a week flies by!) This article helped so much in getting it into my head to not expect to be able to do everything, as well, as gives me ideas of what I really need to be accomplishing over that first week.

  21. Erin M. says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I just graduated college in December, and I start as a replacement teacher next week! This has helped me organize my thoughts and make a little bit of a game plan for the first few days of class. I really can’t thank you enough!

  22. Melissa Myatt says:

    Jennifer, thank you so much for this article. I got hired on Monday as an elementary general music teacher. And although I have spent about two years substituting, the idea of having my own classroom is extremely daunting and exciting at the same time. However, the section in which you discuss the right mindset, and how to be practical, and not overshoot, gave me such relief. THANK YOU!

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