Time for a career switch? There comes a time in everyone’s career when we feel the itch to mix things up. For some, this can be a small change (like transitioning from being a biology teacher to a health science teacher) but for others, it may involve pursuing an entirely new career path. Whether you’ve already worked in the education field or you’re coming from alternative jobs, here are a few tips for new science teachers coming from other careers:
Start with routines and expectations.
Yes, the curriculum is important, but I’ll be honest with you, you can have the best curriculum resources available and it won’t amount to much in a poorly managed classroom. Classroom management is often a steep learning curve for most new teachers. Learning how to create a classroom setting and environment that maintains a culture of order and respect while meeting individual students’ needs often goes beyond what most teachers have learned in their teacher training programs.
Here’s the good news: there are resources available to make learning the art of effective classroom management a little easier. In my Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management, I’ve offered 118 pages of practical and actionable advice for managing a middle school science classroom. This guide will give you an easy-to-follow plan for facilitating a well-managed classroom so that you (and your students) can truly enjoy your first year of teaching.
Don’t worry about “Pinterest Perfect” classroom decor.
I know. The allure of a beautifully decorated and exceptionally organized classroom is strong. After all, there are so many beautiful Pinterest photos for comparison and inspiration! But can I be honest with you about something? The quality of your decorating skills won’t be the key difference in your teaching career. (Shocker, I know!) As it turns out, the relationships you build with your students and the time you spend lesson planning will have a greater impact on the young people in your classroom than any beautifully designed bulletin board ever could.
Trying to create the “Pinterest Perfect” classroom truly isn’t worth the extra work.
Be intentional with your wall space.
Wall space is valuable real estate in a classroom and should be used intentionally. Each of the items you choose to hang on your walls should serve an instructional purpose. One of my favorite ways to “decorate” my classroom walls is by hanging student work or anchor charts we’ve created in class. These items serve as reminders of important concepts we’ve covered and give students a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Other helpful items could be:
- Classroom rules (5-6 max)
- Lab safety guidelines
- Sentence stems
- A few motivating or inspiring quotes
- Vocabulary unit word wall
Find a mentor teacher.
I truly cannot stress this one enough. You will have questions throughout your first year of teaching. There will be situations that your teacher preparation programs didn’t prepare you for. Having another teacher whom you can use as a resource and sounding board can be so helpful throughout your teaching experience.
Some school districts provide mentor teachers to all new teachers. If this applies to you, congratulations! Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. If your district doesn’t provide a mentor, I highly encourage you to seek one out on your own. It could be another teacher in your grade level or someone teaching the same subject area. Most teachers remember the struggle of the first few years and are happy to lend a hand to help new teachers get on their feet. All you have to do is ask!
Learn your science standards.
Each particular subject has its own set of standards that aim to focus your instruction throughout the school year. Science education standards can vary a bit depending on location or the type of school in which you teach (ex: private schools, public schools, charter schools, etc.) Before the school year begins, take some time to truly learn the standards outlined for your grade level and science subject area. These standards will be the guiding framework for your instructional planning throughout the year.
Get familiar with your curriculum.
Every school district has its own approach to curriculum. Some have specific textbooks and resources they’d like to be used. Others allow more space for teacher-created resources and creativity. Most schools utilize a blend of both. Take some time to connect with your department head, school program director, or administrator and ask about district curriculum resources. (This can also be a great time to call on that mentor teacher we talked about and ask what curriculum resources they use.)
For those teaching life science, I’ve created a full-year life science curriculum designed to free up your time, wow your school administrators, and give you the space to focus on classroom management. Check it out:
Create a supply wishlist.
It’s no secret that there are a lot of supplies every teacher needs when they first start out in the classroom. You’ll obviously need the basic office supplies (ex: pens, highlighters staplers, etc.). Depending upon the specific subject you teach, you may need additional supplies for labs and science demonstrations. Things like lab chemicals, beakers, safety equipment, and animals for biology dissections…just to name a few.
Some school districts will order at least some supplies for you. Others provide a stipend or offer reimbursements for new teacher supplies. I recommend asking what (if any) supplies will be purchased or provided for you. Even for those lucky enough to work for schools that provide supplies, most teachers will inevitably have additional needs that won’t be covered by the school district.
In this case, putting together a school supply wishlist that can be shared with friends or family or even emailed out to parents of students is a good idea. You’d be surprised how many people are willing and excited to support new teachers with the purchase of an electric pencil sharpener or young adult novels for a classroom library. Not sure what to include on your wishlist? Check out these ideas!
Professional development comes in many packages. Sure, you could take classes toward a higher education degree or pursue an additional teaching certificate…but to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend doing those things in your first year of teaching. Trust me, you’ll have enough on your plate! Instead, I recommend finding smaller, bite-size nuggets of science teacher inspiration. I’m talking about resources with lots of value and no strings attached. It could be a blog relating to your subject matter, books you can read as you unwind in the evenings, or podcasts you can listen to on your drives to and from work.
One of my personal favorite resources is the Teaching Science in 3D podcast. Listening to this podcast is a great way to hear stories and ideas from others in the teaching profession. This high-quality additional training comes in the highly accessible package of 30-minute episodes. Who doesn’t have time for that?
Plan to your strengths.
Whether you are coming to science teaching from a different classroom teacher position or this job truly is your second career, I guarantee you have transferable skills that can support your classroom instruction. Use those skills to your advantage as your plan out your instruction! Do you have a knack for organizational skills? Great! Those will come in handy while planning science labs. Did you previously work in another science-related field? Awesome! What stories do you have that you can share?
Keep in mind: just because you are new to science teaching does not mean that you lack any experience to share with your students. You already have plenty you can offer.
Keep a daily journal.
Think of a journal as a record of your first year of teaching. It doesn’t need to be extremely detailed or complicated. It could even be just a few bullet points. The point of this exercise is to give yourself five minutes at the end of each day to reflect on the day’s activities and write a few notes about it. This will be a helpful resource to use in years to come. This written record will serve as a reminder of the activities and strategies you used that worked well, and those you never want to use again. (Trust me – you aren’t likely to remember everything without some notes.)
Here’s an example layout you could use:
- Date: 9/30/22
- Activity: Weather tools guided reading
- Reflection: Students worked in pairs to read the passage and answer the questions. Some partner groups worked well but this passage was too hard for some readers. They were confused and off task. A whole class reading or small groups to model close reading strategies might be better for next year.
Prep hands-on science activities.
Hands-on science experiments and activities can provide a meaningful and memorable learning experience for our students. Not to mention, they can be a lot of fun! However, these activities typically are not something that can be pulled together last minute. They must be prepared and planned for ahead of time. As you look ahead to your year, I recommend choosing 1-2 hands-on activities or science labs for each of your science units.
Activity Items to Prepare Ahead of Time:
- A copy of teaching guides and/or lesson plans
- A copy of student worksheets (to be copied later)
- A written supply list for each lab or activity
I recommend keeping these resources in a binder or digital folder labeled “Science Activities.”
Science teaching is a rewarding and meaningful career. With some hard work, preparation, and planning, I think you’ll find your new teaching job to be an enjoyable one!
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR NEW SCIENCE TEACHERS:
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