Can you imagine if the 2021-2022 school year was your first year in the classroom?

Given the challenges of the last year and the staggering number of teachers leaving this profession, I wanted to talk with two of my previous graduate students who were wrapping up their first year of teaching. I wanted to hear about their experience…challenges, successes, and lessons learned.


“Every day there are a new set of challenges which keeps this profession exciting.” Joe

Procedural KnowledgeLearning how to take attendance and navigate a new campus.
Classroom ManagementCreating a classroom environment where students are engaged but also following class agreements and norms.
DifferentiationMeeting the wide range of needs, skills, and abilities in a classroom to ensure all students have the support they need to make progress.
GradingSetting realistic expectations about what gets graded and balancing teacher assessment with routines where students self-assess.
Pressure to Make Every Lesson ExcitingUnderstanding the difference between engagement and entertainment and keeping expectations about lessons realistic.


“I am so shocked and surprised at how forgiving the students are…If I try something and it fails, they are forgiving and will power through. They almost put in more effort if they know it’s not going well because they want you to do well. So that has been just the best kind of surprise.” Joe

Realize You Don’t Need to Be PerfectKeep in mind that students are forgiving and want you to do well. They will understand if a lesson doesn’t go well. Taking risks and failing makes it less scary for students to take risks and fail.
Collect Feedback from Students Use feedback forms helps you to better understand what students are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. The responses can be surprising and validating.
Ask Students to Create Norms for a TaskEngage students in the process of articulating what they think will make a particular activity successful (e.g., student presentations, small group discussions, collaborative tasks).
Embracing Routines Maintain routines beyond the classroom (e.g., working out, journaling) can keep you feeling balanced, healthy, and energized.
Being Strategic About How You Use TimeLeave work at work. Designate days to stay after school late and work in your classroom and days when you leave after school to engage in activities that help you to relax and re-energize.

Lessons Learned

“We so badly want these lessons to just land and for the students to get the most out of them that it can be frustrating when we feel like it didn’t work.” Carina

Capture Quick ReflectionsMake notes on lesson plans at the end of each day, noting what went well and what needs to be reworked or reimagined to avoid repeating lessons that didn’t engage students.
Start Every Class with a Check-inBegin every class with a community-building check-in question or icebreaker for students to discuss or respond to in writing at the beginning of class.
Repeat Expectations and Norms Choose two or three non-negotiables (instead of compiling a long list of class rules), publish them on the wall, revisit them weekly, and follow them to a tee.
Advocate for Your Needs If you’re overwhelmed by the workload, ask for help from a colleague and talk to leadership to avoid burning out.
Know That It’s Okay to Say “No”Set realistic expectations for yourself. If you are asked to do something that will lead to an unhealthy work-life balance, feel confident saying, “no, I cannot take that on right now.”

To retain high-quality teachers in education, it is critical to ask about their experiences to understand what is working for them and what is not. That is the only way to make changes on a campus or in a district that are likely to have a positive impact on teacher engagement and the job satisfaction experienced by a staff.

You can check out other episodes of The Balance on Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and Spotify!

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