Tips for Teaching at a New School as a Department of One!

Tips for Teaching at a New School as a Department of One!

These tips are for teachers who will be the only teacher in your subject such as:

  • Veteran teachers who are new to a school

  • Teachers who are going into their first year of teaching

If you are starting at a new school with 2 or more teachers that teach your subject, then check out my blog post on Tips for Teaching at a New School as a Department of 2+ Teachers.

Tips for Teaching at a New School as a Department of One!

Tips for teaching as a department of one: Read on for How to Prioritize, How to Stay Organized, How to Create Curriculum, How to Get Help from other Teachers!

  1. Prioritize building a good relationship with all students on Day 1. 

    1. I’ve been the “new” teacher for a district 3 times. There will always be comparisons to whoever was the teacher before you. 

    2. Even though getting to know every student in Grade 6-12 (for example) can be daunting, it can be done! 

      1. TIP: Print those rosters with their faces, and study them each night! 

      2. TIP: Use name tags for the first week!

      3. TIP: Play a name game in Spanish the first day or two!

      4. TIP: Hand out an “All About Me” worksheet on the first day, to get to know students’ likes, interests, etc. 

        1. Collect them and read through them over the course of the first week to get to know them! 

        2. And then make comments to them, like “Hey Josh, I see you’re into theater, did you try out for the fall play?”

      5. TIP: Be observant! Are there a bunch of students wearing jerseys? Wearing a concert t-shirt?

        1. Ask what position they play!

        2. Ask if they went to that concert recently, or if that artist is their absolute fave!

  1. Don’t worry so much about what they learned from the previous teacher. 

    1. I took over for the lady I student taught with. I knew exactly what she taught the year prior, and it really didn’t matter. 

    2. I took on a position where the teacher left absolutely nothing, and the other teacher in the department also had no idea what was taught (that’s a huge red flag by the way, if a department of 2 has no idea what the other teacher has been teaching).

      1. TIP: Kids will forget stuff over the course of the summer, and you should be doing some sort of review unit anyways! 

      2. TIP: Doing a review will help you identify where their gaps are. Just because students are in Spanish 2 or 3, does not mean the previous teacher had the same “path to proficiency” in mind as you do!

  1. Focus on building your curriculum from the first level.

    1. The majority of your students are probably in the lower levels. 

    2. TIP: If you're having to create a curriculum from scratch, then I really recommend that you work on creating the level 1 curriculum to be your best curriculum. 

      1. TIP: Not only is it going to be the curriculum that affects the majority of your students, but if you make it good this year there won't be much curriculum creation you need to worry about for next year besides just making tweaks to make it even better.

      2. TIP: If you create a really good and engaging curriculum for your level 1 class, then students are way more likely to sign up and take level 2 and beyond. 

  1. Don’t worry as much about a “perfect curriculum” for levels 2 and beyond:

    1. With level 2 and beyond, you don't know exactly what these students learned the years prior. 

      1. No matter what your curriculum looks like this year for Level 2+, it’s likely going to be different than next year.

      2. This is because you know exactly what you’re teaching current level 1 students this year, and you’ll know right where they left off when they’re in your Level 2 class.

        1. Your curriculum for next year’s level 2 should be a continuation of what you taught them in level 1, whereas this year’s Level 2, 3, 4, etc. curriculum, is going to be you figuring out what students already know, and haven’t learned yet. 

  1. Have a lesson plan template

    1. TIP: Create a lesson plan template that makes sense to you.

      1. Yes, your admin might require you to turn in lesson plans weekly, because essentially…they don’t trust you as a professional, BUT

      2. You still should be creating lesson plans for yourself to stay organized regardless!

      3. You’ll get the hang of what works best for you by trial and error, but my suggestion is:

        1. TIP: To organize lesson plans by unit, not by “First week of School” “Second Week of School”, because next year when you’re looking back at your plans, those dates won’t line up exactly as they did your first year.

        2. TIP: Embed links to worksheets/resources within your lessons. Don’t just say “Gustar Worksheet” because you might not remember what you were talking about, when you look at your lesson plans next year!

  1. Reflect daily on your lessons

    1. TIP: Each day, within your lesson plans, jot down 2-3 sentences of what went well/badly, being specific about:

      1. How you explained directions to the first class and it went badly, and how you did a better job the next class.

      2. If the activity took more/less time than you anticipated

      3. What you would do differently in the future

  1. You don’t need to do it all.

    1. TIP: If they ask you to continue the club the previous teacher led, and you’re feeling swamped, say “Maybe next year, but right now my focus is on student learning”. How can they argue with that?

    2. TIP: The previous teacher was also a coach?

      1. Again, NOPE! Especially if you have no interest in coaching that sport!

    3. TIP: Basically, don’t feel obligated to be any sort of advisor, committee leader, before/after school study hall supervisor, etc. if you don’t feel comfortable with it

  1. Don’t do it all alone. 

    1. I know you’re fully capable of creating a worksheet or a review game, but sometimes there’s just not enough time!

      1. TIP: Join a Facebook group where teachers are sharing resources (often free ones!) 

      2. TIP: Go to & browse for resources you need!

        1. Add resources to your Wishlist, and follow those stores so you get notified when their store is on sale!

        2. Get the resources on your Wishlist when there’s a site-wide sale! There’s usually 1 sale every 2-4 months, depending on the time of year!

    2. TIP: Collaborate with coworkers on what classroom management strategies they use in their classes!

      1.  Just because you’re a department of 1, doesn’t mean your coworkers won’t have ideas that could help you!

    3. TIP: Whether the school assigns you a mentor or not, become buddies with your next door coworkers. They can help you with:

      1. Sudden tech issues that might be a simple fix 

      2. Reminding you about upcoming meetings

      3. Keeping your sanity! Sometimes I’d go a whole day without talking to a real adult, because my room was in a basement and the other 2 teachers never came out of their classes. #lonely

  2. Set Boundaries 

    1. Set boundaries such as:

      1. Not answering emails from your phone

      2. Not looking at emails once you leave work - nothing like a parent email to cause restless sleep!

      3. Not working on Friday after school.

      4. Leaving work at contract time. (or at least within 30 minutes, if you need to print copies for the next day, and you don’t want to worry about printing copies in the morning)

        1. Trust me, you need a break. Go home, make dinner, workout, etc. and then come back to lesson planning later in the evening if you need to!

      5. Not allowing students to bother you during your lunch and your prep.

      6. Not allowing students to be messing around your desk, or wherever you keep your lunch, coat, etc.

      7. Not allowing coworkers to bother you during your prep. Have an exit strategy or a few prepared sentences to get them to leave, so you can work.

  1. Make Self-Care strategies a part of your routine

    1. Leave your room to prep if that helps you focus.

    2. When teachers invite you to eat lunch in their room, or the lounge (if there is one!), take them up on that! It will help keep you sane, to have a real conversation with adults, trust me!

    3. Get a special coffee once a week

    4. Have a drawer full of pick-me-up snacks and treats

    5. Have a work buddy to check-in on once a day (but maybe set a time limit so you don’t waste your whole prep talking/venting!)

    6. Schedule something fun to look forward to once and a while, like a hair cut, getting your nails done, pedicure, massage, appetizers after work with coworkers or friends, make plans with your friends/family for the weekend. 

      1. Doing this helps me prioritize using my prep time in school.

    7. Reflect on your highs and lows of each day. Aim for at least 3 things you’re proud of, are grateful for, or that made your day.

    8. Create a “feel good folder” either physically or digitally. 

      1. I have a digital one where I simply type up notes or emails from students and parents that remind me that I’m making a difference in their lives.

I hope you have a great first year at your new school!

I’d love to hear back from you on what tips you’re going to incorporate, and if you have any other ideas!

You may also be interested in reading Tips for Teaching at a New School as a Department of 2+ Teachers.

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