7 Tips or Transitioning From Student Teacher to Classroom Teacher

By Katina Thomas
Dr. Thomas is a former Director of Student Teaching and is currently Assistant Professor of Literacy at Prairie View A&M University.

First-Year Teachers
Signing a contract and securing a teaching position is a significant milestone in the career of a teacher. This venture can foster a wide range of mixed emotions that can leave you feeling overwhelmed if you are unsure of what to do next.

With the global issue of teacher retention hovering over the education profession, student teachers must adopt specific habits to reduce the risk of burning out within the first year. For nearly 20 years, I have witnessed many new teachers begin the year ecstatic and ready to change the world but, by winter break, begin to show signs of burnout. I encourage new teachers to adopt these seven practices for navigating a smooth transition into and through their first year of teaching to establish a strong foundation of professional habits to carry them throughout their career.

1. Knowing your content outweighs winning Best Decorated Classroom.
You may have a large collection of ideas from social media, veteran teachers, and your imagination of exactly how you want to decorate your classroom. Although having a vision of your color scheme, theme, and classroom layout are essential to creating a warm environment for your students, mastering the developmentally appropriate content for each lesson takes priority. Set aside time to study the specific learning objectives and content that belong in each lesson to prepare for your students. A color-coordinated classroom is more impactful alongside meaningful learning.

2. Communicate with your administrators—they don’t bite!
The administrators hired you because you share some of the same beliefs about teaching and learning. Because of these shared beliefs, your principals and instructional coaches serve as a resource and support system for when you face an obstacle, as well as a cheering section when you are successful. Openly communicate with them about your teaching experiences during the school year so that you have a source of support throughout the learning curves of your first year in the classroom.

3. Regularly schedule check-ins with your mentor.
It is not uncommon for beginning teachers to be assigned a more experienced teacher or instructional coach as your “go-to” person during this transitional year. Mentors can often respond faster than your administrators and are available to observe you teach, plan lessons with you, and maneuver through parent conferences. They are your sounding board for feedback, second opinions, and collaboration on activities in your classroom, and they offer nuggets of advice for successful teaching.

4. Build professional relationships with your teaching peers.
Consistently creating lessons and activities that are effective and meaningful can be overwhelming when added to a list of additional job responsibilities (parent conferences, grading, and committees, to name a few). Be open to collaborating with other teachers on your team or in your department to share and swap ideas that can be implemented throughout the entire school year.

5. Apply what you learn in professional development—immediately!
Whether it was a strategy that you learned at new teacher training, a staff meeting, or a conference, applying it as soon as you return to your classroom contributes to the development of your teaching style. It also demonstrates initiative and your willingness to grow as a teacher.

6. Open the lines of communication with parents before parent–teacher conferences.
Conferences can be a source of stress for a first-year teacher if this is the first mode of contact with a parent. Initiating contact with parents within the first 2 weeks of school allows a relationship to be established without discussing their child’s academic and behavior habits. Sending an introductory email or newsletter, creating a website, making a phone call, or giving a presentation during Open House sends the message to parents that you are invested in their child’s success and are willing to work together to meet their needs.

7. Join a professional organization and a union.
Professional organizations and unions have been established primarily to foster professional growth and educate members about their rights as a teacher. These organizations also serve in the interest of the educator and provide literature and legal representation (if needed) as you navigate your career.

Being an effective and successful first-year teacher requires time, patience, and a willingness to continue learning after you have signed your contract. Pedagogical knowledge requires an understanding of content, student characteristics, and instructional techniques. No matter how well prepared you are, new teachers face challenges that cannot be anticipated or resolved in the abstract (Fayne & Ortquist-Ahrens, 2006). Gathering the tools for a smooth transition from student teacher to classroom teacher begins with knowledge and practice in a teacher preparation program, and continues throughout that pivotal first year through professional study, collaboration, and the building of support systems to guide you from the beginning to the end of the school year and beyond.
Fayne, H. R., & Ortquist-Ahrens, L. (2006). Entry-year teachers inside and outside of the academy. College Teaching, 54(4), 320–323.