Novice classroom teachers offer a great deal to schools at all levels. They often bring creativity, a high level of energy, and new and effective ways to use technology. With that said, new teachers may experience stress and confusion as they take the reins in their new classroom.
As they wrapped up their first year, five beginning teachers shared reflections on experiences and lessons learned over the prior 10 months. They offer these tips for teachers beginning their first year in a classroom of their own.
1. Make time to talk. Set aside time to talk with your students. Getting to know them and building meaningful relationships will help improve academics, student behavior, and the overall quality of classroom experiences.
But don’t limit your talks to the classroom. Conversations with students in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the hallway, and in the bus lot have meaningful and lasting results.
Be purposeful with your conversations, but talk about more than school. You’ll be amazed by what you learn about your students from their laughter and their stories. Their smiles, personal connections, and humor will remind you why you wanted to be a teacher in the first place.
2. Don’t make comparisons. Do not compare yourself to veteran teachers, other new teachers, or someone working down the hall. Although beginning teachers always look for ways to become more effective, ways to be stronger communicators, and ways to manage students and their behaviors, it is unrealistic to compare yourself to others. Strive for excellence, model the best that you see, but be yourself.
Have confidence in who you are and know that the classroom is a place for you to set goals and create successes for you and your students. Welcome ideas and suggestions from teammates, but feel empowered to celebrate your individuality as a teacher, to try new things and make your classroom the place where everyone wants to be. One day, you’ll be the one impressing the new kids on the block!
3. Stay caught up. Beginning teachers face a flood of deadlines and due dates. Staying on top of it all can be a constant battle. Try to abide by the “touch it once” rule. If someone shows up at your door looking for a signature or requesting funds for a staff party, take that moment to complete the task.
This rule works with grading assignments as well. Assign meaningful tasks to students and score them quickly. A mountain of papers is the last thing a hardworking teacher wants to see when the final bell rings.
4. Never underestimate the power of an exit pass. At the end of a class, an exit pass allows you to quickly check for mastery. The exit pass gives you the opportunity to gather ideas and feedback from students to help you plan for the next day’s lesson.
5. Make friends fast. Smart teachers immediately befriend the custodians and the secretaries at their school—but don’t stop there. Branch out. Show administrators, lead teachers, parents, assistants, and volunteers that you are someone who values their hard work and a relationship with them. A kind word, a high five, a note, an e-mail, or a small token of appreciation can go a long way.
6. Get comfortable with data. Data is a word that educators associate with testing, but it’s so much more. Become a true expert on the data within your classroom. Create your own “data dig” and purposefully explore items such as student attendance, report card grades, quarterly assessments, and discipline referrals.
7. Fall in love. The subject or topic or unit that you like the least may be the one you struggle with the most. Fall in love with what you like the least. Make the specific subject or topic a priority. Do whatever it takes to convince yourself, and in turn, convince your students that you love the topic, the topic matters, and is relevant to daily life.
8. Devise a bag of tricks. As the year progresses, you’ll discover instructional strategies, bulletin board ideas, websites, or projects that you are interested in exploring. Throughout the year, write those ideas and thoughts on an index card, place them into a bag, and revisit the bag regularly before school, after school, or on teacher workdays. The bag allows you to gather great ideas in one location for use as needed.
9. Embrace the circumstances. One beginning teacher shared a comment made by a university professor: “When students come to your classroom, they need to leave all of their issues at the door and focus solely on academics.”
This is tolerable in theory and detrimental in practice. Embrace circumstances rather than denying them. Recognizing students’ home situations and socioeconomic statuses validates those in need and promotes their success.
10. Know the ins and outs. Early on, and throughout the year, know what is expected of you as a beginning teacher. Brainstorm your questions and ask them early: What is the process if a student gets sick? What are the resources I can offer to a troubled kid? What is the process for an early release day or severe weather? When in doubt, ask.
James Davis, Ph.D. is an associate professor and program coordinator at Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, South Carolina, where he works within the educational leadership department. He has been named both teacher of the year and principal of the year.
Published in AMLE Magazine, August 2015.