Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Advice for First-Year Teachers

August 12, 2021

2019 Fresno Katie McQuone hug 1000w

Students and staff around the country are returning to school, with 18 months of COVID-19 behind and uncertainty about the pandemic’s effects ahead. We asked Milken Educators to share advice for the first-year teachers starting their careers at this remarkable moment in history.


First, invest in comfortable footwear. You spend a lot of time on your feet and it’s money well spent. Second, if you find yourself having issues with a particular student, observe them in another classroom. If they’re thriving there, you may be the problem, not them. And third, seek out mentors in the profession that push you to be better, not complacent.—Nathan Gibbs-Bowling (WA ’13)


Remember that the students are not responsible for the ongoing calamities of our time—they are young folks who are inheriting a troubled world. As a teacher, nothing is more important than our duty to support the growth and wellbeing of our students. Humanity always comes before academic content, so take the time to listen to your students, give them space to be themselves, and remember that many of them look to you for guidance through these uncertain times.—Manuel Rustin (CA ’11)


Be excited that you get the chance everyday to make the difference in the life of every child. Listen, ask questions, and be ready to impact your corner of the world!—Meghan LeFevers (NC ’17)


As you embark on this journey, take a breath, smile, and enjoy the school year. Be sure to build relationships with students and colleagues to ensure a successful year. Congratulations and best wishes!—Amara Alexander (AL ’16)


Practice protocols. And practice more.—Matt Walsh (IN ’03)


Your lessons will mean nothing if you don’t take the time to build relationships with your students.—Katie McQuone Botello (CA ’19)


Spend your time wisely and structure your week to allow for personal breaks. It’s ok not to say “yes” to everything. Make sure you are investing resources, time and energy into activities, initiatives and lessons that will give a return on your investment. Have a great idea for a lesson? Great! Do it, but in a way that will benefit you moving forward (e.g., saving yourself time when you teach the same content again in the future). Your “teacher toolbox” is empty at the beginning of your career, so make sure you build it in a strategic and useful manner. And find your school family and mentors. They are essential. You’ll have support and won’t have to do everything on your own.—Brian Allman (WV ’19)


Read UCLA coach John Wooden’s book, “They Call Me Coach.” Seriously the best, most inspirational, most practical book I’ve ever read on coaching and teaching. Go Bruins!—Margo Sorenson (CA ’91)


Don’t forget to prioritize your mental health. As a first year teacher it’s easy to find yourself constantly creating or working, since everything is new and exciting. Set boundaries for yourself in your first year so for years to come, you’ve already respected your work/personal life balance. Our stability and longevity are crucial for the future of education, and it starts with us taking care of ourselves first!—Carly Bowden (KS ’19)


A good sense of humor is essential!—Joseph Malloy, Jr. (TN ’96)


First off, congratulations on what will be a full-spectrum, rewarding experience! My advice is to lead with the “kids first always” mindset. Take advantage of each and every opportunity to connect professionally with your students. Strive to create an environment that will serve as a second home to your students, and to you too! Most importantly, have fun, smile always, and understand the opportunity you have to positively impact lives each day.—Robert O’Donnell, Jr. (NJ ’13)


Please be sure to give yourself grace, especially in this crazy and unprecedented time. Take care of yourself and each other. Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher! Si, se puede!—Madeline Hanington (MD ’11)


One quote I picked up a few years ago (not sure of the source): “In this room we are all students, and in this room we are all teachers.” I really love this quote, and it has been prominent in expanding my mindset. As a beginning teacher, I always felt the need to know every answer. But it took me a lot of time in the classroom to realize that it’s okay to say “I don't know.” No matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, you have the very important ability to learn and grow from your students.—Mark Kaercher (NH ’01)

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