Math = Love: 50 Lessons Learned During My First Year as a Teacher

Saturday, June 8, 2013

50 Lessons Learned During My First Year as a Teacher

  1. Dry erase markers do not last long in the hands of teenagers.
  2. Always make your copies long before you will need them.  If you wait until the morning you need them, the copy machine will be in use, out of ink, or tell you that it has an F2-37 error, and you will have to wait until the office calls the copy repairman.(While there are many perks of working in a small school, having only one copy machine is not one of them.)
  3. The Internet will be down on the exact days that you plan on using it in your lesson.  The likelihood of the Internet being down increases when your principal is formally observing your lesson. 
  4. Cutting with scissors is hard for students.  And, it takes them way longer than you will intend.
  5. There is nothing more interesting to teenagers than your relationship status.
  6. Grants are great.
  7. The fact that you are a vegetarian will spark more questions than you could ever imagine.
  8. The youtube videos that make your students groan and complain in class will be shown to their friends outside of class.
  9. If you plan on showing your students a math rap, make sure you like how it sounds.  You will hear it for weeks.
  10. Make notes next to grades in the gradebook.  It's a lifesaver.  And, one parent will actually read them.
  11. Some students will need to keep their INBs in your classroom.  Let them.  It will save you both a ton of hassle.
  12. When the electric pencil sharpener no longer works, that is a sign that it's time to empty it. 
  13. If the handle to your manual pencil sharpener goes missing, look inside the pencil sharpener. 
  14. Colored paper makes everything more fun.
  15. Work out ALL of the problems on any worksheet you download from the Internet.  No matter how good it looks, there will always be that one problem that ends up giving your students more grief than necessary.
  16. Long days are inevitable.  A filing cabinet drawer full of snacks makes it better.
  17. Hand Sanitizer is your best friend.  Cold and flu season makes you aware of every door knob you touch. 
  18. Keep your pens and pencils separate from the ones you let your students borrow. They will not bring them back.
  19. Extra-curricular activities are a ton of work.  But, they allow you to meet a ton of great students you wouldn't normally get to work with.
  20. Some days, it's in your best interest to just leave your to-do list at work. 
  21. Chocolate. Ice Cream. TV Shows Involving Murder and Mysteries.  Find the things that help you recover from a bad day.
  22. Some of the best lessons come from trying a last-minute idea.  Some of these ideas lead to the worst lessons ever, too.  That's okay.  Nothing ventured.  Nothing gained.
  23. Meetings will take you out of your classroom more than you like.  Always have an emergency lesson plan ready just in case.
  24. Smile.  Even when you don't feel like it, smile. 
  25. Communicate with your principal.  It will save you a lot of problems later on down the road.
  26. Become best friends with the counselor.  She will save your life multiple times.   
  27. Find a support group within your school.  They will help you maintain your sanity.  The daily battle is easier to fight when you know you're not alone.
  28. Fill your desk with important things like bandaids, safety pins, bobby pins, and hair ties.
  29. Don't hang origami from your ceiling unless you want to hear incessant begging from your students until you teach them how to make said origami.
  30. 500 sheets of origami paper doesn't last very long. 
  31. If you're really and truly sick, it's okay to take a sick day.  Your health is important.  Go to the doctor.
  32. Always make more copies than you will need.  Then, make a few more copies just to be on the safe side.
  33. Make sure you don't forget to eat breakfast.  It's easier to do than you think.  It's even possible to be so busy that you forget to eat lunch.
  34. Always make sure you introduce yourself at an IEP meeting.  Especially if you regularly get mistaken for a 16 year old.  
  35. Your students may hide when they see you in Wal-Mart, but be prepared to answer lots of questions about what they see you putting in your shopping cart.  I never realized buying a can of black beans could be so controversial.  
  36. It's important to have a plan to manage all the papers that come across your desk.  I have always thought of myself as an organized person, but you couldn't tell that from the state of my desk.  
  37. An electric label maker will keep students captivated for a long time.
  38. Teenagers will complain about cutting, gluing, and coloring.  Don't believe them.  They secretly enjoy it even if they won't admit it.  
  39. Write down the funny things that students say.  If you don't, you will forget them.  And, there's nothing more fun than flipping through student quotes when you need a quick pick-me-up.  
  40. When a student writes you a nice note, keep it in a special place.  These are what I turn to when I feel like I'm not making a difference.
  41. Word about you and your teaching style will spread around the school.  Some will be good.  Some will be bad.  Be thankful for the good and forget the bad.  
  42. Invitations to an IEP meeting are blessings in disguise.  Yes, they take a lot of time.  But, I learned more than I could ever imagine. 
  43. Students will do almost anything to earn a cheesy "Super Star Student" Award.  
  44. You can never be too specific with your instructions.
  45. Classroom decorations matter.  You spend hours a day in your room.  Make sure your room makes you smile. 
  46. Students show that they care about you in different ways than you might expect.  
  47. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.  Sometimes it gets a lot worse.  In this case, seek out #27. 
  48. Progress is not always immediate.  Slow progress is still progress.  
  49. If you need help, ask.  Teachers love to help teachers.  But, sometimes asking for help is hard.  
  50. Never stop learning.  My students push me to know my subject area better.  Blogging pushes me to be a better teacher.  I'm continually inspired to become a better teacher, and I hope that desire never ceases. 


  1. LOVE this! Every single one is completely true. I am finishing up my 7th year teaching, and I'm just realizing some of these things.

  2. Great lessons learned! I think it's valuable even as I'm finishing my 6th year of teaching. I agree with so many of them and some, I still need to learn. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I don't think you missed a single one! Too funny:) Love that markers are on the top of the list! After 25 years of teaching, I can tell you that some will teachers never really learn some of those things. I love what you said about IEPs - so true! Preparing for them and attending them really do make you a better teacher. You are too wise for a first year teacher:)

    Middle School OCD

  4. Congratulations on completing your first year of teaching Sarah! Through your blog I feel I have come to know you (even though I probably don't comment too often) and I can tell you are a caring, thoughtful, and dedicated teacher. Your students appreciate you more that you realize (as is the nature of teens). I hope you have a fun and relaxing summer and reenergize yourself for year 2!

  5. Made me smile. Great observations.

  6. All of it is true. Congratulations on making it through your first year!

    Apparently we're both Sarahs that teach Algebra I in a small town; I completely understand the scrutiny of what's in the grocery cart! Thanks for sharing the list.

  7. You write this list like you're a 10 year veteran. Great observations!

    12. Ditch the electric pencil sharpener in favor of a vintage Bostitch manual sharpener.
    15. I need to follow this advice to work out all the problems on the worksheet first.
    29. It's a shame the same isn't true for hanging a quadratic equation from the ceiling.

  8. Awesome list! As a new teacher, I learned many of these the hard way...especially #2.

  9. This are great! In response to 5: I had two students planning my wedding once they realised I wasn't married. They even decided they would be my bridesmaids.