Tips for new teachers
My first-year teaching was an unforgettable experience. I left my home state of New Jersey and moved to the rural south in North Carolina to teach High School Spanish with Teach for America. There were many lows, but many more highs. I learned invaluable lessons about myself and teaching through this experience, and the whole experience was unforgettable. Here is a short guide for first year teachers with some simple things to keep in mind as you navigate your own experience during year one.
1. Ask for help
The “fake it 'til you make it” mentality will only get you so far, and kids are smarter than you may think - they can see right through this. I found that modeling vulnerability, making mistakes, admitting when I was wrong, and being honest benefited the class more. In doing this, students realized making mistakes was not only inevitable, but crucial for growth.
When it comes to coworkers, use them as the powerful resources they are. Ask veteran teachers in your building for advice during your first year, for they will be your greatest asset and ally. Ask them for help in planning lessons and explaining concepts. Ask about your students too! Chances are, your colleagues have taught many of your current students, and they will give you incredibly profound advice about learning styles, personalities, what sets students off, as well as what will calm them down. In addition, share your ideas with coworkers; sometimes your newness will be the much-needed catalyst for age-old lesson plans that need tweaking.
2. Take the time to set expectations and build a strong classroom community
The first two weeks of school are crucial. This is a time when both you and your students will gauge one another and set the tone for the year. Do not let the pressure of jumping directly into content distract you from using this time to create a strong learning environment and foundation for the year. Use this time to establish classroom expectations, implement routines, make use of ice-breakers, promote team-building, and foster a classroom culture that is built upon being supportive, driven, and growth-mindset oriented.
3. Build solid relationships
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” — Often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt.
Use the first two weeks to really get to know your student’s (but don’t stop there!). This can manifest in many different forms; personalized handshakes at the door, ice-breaker activities, or even joining them during lunch and recess. Showing that you are not just a disciplinarian who runs a strict classroom, but also a person with feelings, who enjoys playing at recess and sitting down at lunch will be a great way to build individual relationships with students. This non-instructional time is the perfect neutral place to check-in with students, especially those who you may have noticed are having a rough day.
Every year I would hand out a questionnaire for students to complete so I could get to know them, and I seriously read every, single, one. Knowing each student's favorite song, movie, what they wanted to be when they got older, and what they enjoyed really made the difference in our interactions. Also, I was then able to relate our learning to their personal goal of wanting to become a psychologist, a nurse, a mechanic; this is great leverage when explaining why this learning is important.
Relationships should not stop with your students. Building a positive community means building relationships with faculty, staff, administration, cafeteria workers, and janitors. If you can exemplify community, kindness, and care with all your interactions, your students will be more inclined to do the same and treat their school-space accordingly.
4. Arrive early, leave late
Teaching is never perfect, it is emotionally draining, and it can leave you wondering where the day has gone. However, make a commitment to come in 30 minutes early and leave 30 minutes late, at least. This allows you to prep for the day, host students in your classroom who arrive early, and hang out with students and staff after hours. If you can keep this consistent, showing your presence in the building will demonstrate your dedication to your students and staff.
5.Don't take it personally
Understand that you are the adult and your students are children who are still developing, even at the high school level. Do not take the things your students say or do to you personally. In fact, when a student verbally or physically lashes out, this can be the most important time to show that you care. Ask them to go outside to have a 1-on-1 and see what is going on. Apologize and take ownership by asking them, “I am deeply sorry if I did or said something to offend you, did I?” If this is not the case, ask them what is going on, and reassure them that they can come to you anytime if they want to talk about it, because you care.
6. Power of an exit ticket
A simple exit ticket is a powerful tool for you to use at the end of your class before students are dismissed. Limit this brief assessment to no more than 4 questions, and feel free to scaffold from easier to harder questions. During your planning time or at home, review these mini-assessments; they will inform you on how well the students understood that day’s lesson. They can also be used to inform your instruction moving forward. Maybe you need to spend another day on the topic or fine-tune how you present the material. Either way, an exit ticket a day is a great way to check your effectiveness as well as checking the students’ understanding.
7. Make time for yourself
Whether it is relaxing in bed or going to a sports or music event, do the things you enjoy.
Take advantage of day trips and the weekends to delve into the culture of the place you're teaching in and visit historical sites. Don't forget to take lots of pictures. This will be a life changing experience, and decompressing on your days off is a great way to feel energized when entering the classroom for the following week.
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