With the fall season rolling in and the school year in full swing, rookie teachers may be feeling the growing pains that come with mastering a new craft.
Steven Turner, a U.S. government and world history teacher in Charlottesville, Virginia, shares his experience as a new teacher at Albemarle High School. “It was August 1996. I showed up dressed better than I've ever dressed since, all planned out and ready to change the world. Of course, I couldn't show up on my first day unprepared, so I arrived at school with nothing to do but sit in the office and be nervous for nearly two hours.”
Steven recalls, “It was a good lesson and the students responded well. But nearing the end of what I'd prepared, I noticed the clock; it was still only 11:30. The class was scheduled to end at 12:40. Finally, around 11:45, I threw in the towel. ‘O.K., class. I'm really sorry, but that's all I've got.’ I didn't have enough skill or experience to wing it, and I didn't know the course well enough to move ahead. I tried to make small talk, engage them in conversation about their summer, sports, family, anything. Finally, I gave up on even that and no one said a word for the final forty-five minutes of class. Awkward silence and wasted time.”
Steven’s story probably sounds familiar and serves to prove that the first year of teaching will, no doubt, throw you a learning curve. And while it all feels like a not-so-balanced balancing act between student learning outcomes, classroom management, and designing lessons that hold students’ interests, the following tips will help you enjoy a successful period of growth.
Tip #1: Go, Team
Building relationships between faculty and administration are crucial to any teacher’s longevity, so go ahead and reach out to colleagues you are eager to work with in a positive manner. Give constructive feedback and be open to hearing it yourself. Go beyond what is required of you so that everyone knows you want to be an active member on campus. Find ways to volunteer your time at clubs or at various school activities throughout the year so that the staff can visibly measure your level of commitment. Both your presence and your attitude will be seen as dependable, lively, and, most importantly, an asset. Sharing resources like lesson plans, joining planning committees, and extending a collaborative attitude towards your colleagues will all do well to prove that you are a valuable member of the team.
Tip #2: Watch the Other Players
Even for the most prepared teacher, the first teaching experience is full of situations not covered during the years of preparation or graduate school. The first few months of the school year won’t be anything short of overwhelming, but it’s important to know that support is around you if you need it. Observe in other teachers’ classrooms, even at another school, for a half-hour. You’ll have ways to measure your own areas of success and weakness, plus a bag of field-tested techniques to spruce up your game plan. As English and social studies teacher Laurie Brandon says, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Veteran educators are always willing to share their experience and lesson plans with you if you ask for assistance. Don’t shut your door and expect to go it alone. Seek out help from those teachers who are respected by their students and their peers. And when you become one of those teachers, be willing to take others under your wing.” That’s the kind of expertise you can safely lean on.
Tip #3: Learn From Your Losses
Just as teachers ask their students to embrace failure, they must also welcome mistakes as a necessary component of any enriching learning experience. Professional mistakes are inevitable, and they carry immense value in terms of allowing teachers to reflect, course correct, and engage with their students through stronger curriculum design. “When students see teachers taking correction in stride, it sets a positive tone for everyone to accept correction with good grace and humor,” says Washington International School’s math teacher, Wendy Petti. Being as patient and gentle with your own process as you are with your students’ journeys will allow you to thrive in the classroom.
Tip #4: Practice Your Swing
At the same time, the school and parents will expect great things from you. Remind yourself of your school’s mission and ask yourself how it’s woven into your lesson plans. Maintain the passion for your subject and the effectiveness of your lessons by staying attuned to best practices and research and then implementing that into your daily teaching. Join your local association. Participate in conventions. Write blogs. Your school will support your quest for professional growth and your reputation as a credible educator will blossom.
Tip #5: Keep Your Eye on the Ball
When stress levels and paperwork piles rise, students are unruly, and everything just seems to be going wrong, you will doubt yourself as a teacher. In times like these, it’s imperative to remind yourself about why you chose this profession in the first place. Perhaps it’s a passion for serving others, or for helping to shape a better future. Maybe it was an amazing teacher you once had or a group of students who hang out with you after school on Friday afternoons because your class is their favorite. Whatever your reasons for teaching, remembering them will help to steer you through periods of discomfort.
As Steven Turner, the young teacher who shared his first-day story, says, “Thankfully, today I'm able to smile for an entire period and get mostly the same in return from my students until the bell rings and we have to interrupt what we're doing so they can switch classes…as hard as this job can be, with good colleagues and the right support and training, we get better every year on the job.”
Giving young people the opportunities to grow into responsible citizens requires effort, and teaching is an expertise that takes years to perfect. With colleagues on your side, a positive outlook on growth, and up-to-date research in your field, you, new teacher, are set for the challenging yet fulfilling world of education. Follow these five tips and you’ll knock it out of the park.