Written by Liz Weder. Media by Michael Trieb.
I can clearly recall my first day of teaching at Highland Middle School, 12 years ago. Students walked hurriedly down the hallway with wide eyes and smiles on their faces. A unique mixture of excitement and anxiety filled the air and settled in my heart. Everyone was hopeful to see their friends, but felt nervous about the experience of being in a new school. I hoped and prayed that the day would go well. Students approached my classroom door timidly with questioning looks. Each person was greeted by my smiling face and heard the comforting words, “Good morning! Welcome to my classroom. I will be your teacher this year.” The tension evaporated at the start of the new year. For me, my new career had just begun.
For many new teachers, the first year of teaching can be a very exciting yet challenging time. The transition from being a student to becoming in charge of one’s own classroom can be filled with countless frustrations and stresses that can be difficult for new teachers to overcome. In a time when education is changing drastically with the adoption of the new Common Core Standards, changes in teacher evaluation, and many districts facing financial challenges due to lack of funding at the state level, the profession of education has challenged new teachers to excel quickly and take on many responsibilities. Here are some survival tips that new teachers can follow in order to make their first year of teaching a time filled with success.
Be Prepared and Organized— Organization and preparation are key characteristics that describe excellent teachers. One of the biggest mistakes that new teachers make is the failure to establish consistent procedures and practices that help with classroom management and overall communication. Take time to organize and plan out how your classroom is going to function prior to the school year. During the first few weeks of school, discuss and practice these routines with your students. As the year progresses, make sure to be consistent with your practices. When your students and parents see a break in consistency, this is when problems can arise. Seek out other teachers for ideas that can improve procedures and don’t hesitate to change them if needed.
Seek Support—In many districts, mentoring programs are provided to prevent new teachers from feeling isolated and alone. Mentors are there to help bounce off ideas and help answer questions that come with learning the procedures of the building. If your new school does not provide this support, seek it out! Find someone you have connected with and never hesitate to ask for help. The teaching profession is all about collaboration. Do not think you can do it alone.
Keep Kids Engaged—The best advice that I ever received regarding lesson planning and student engagement was to “focus on what the kids are doing, not what you are doing when planning a lesson.” This completely flipped my perspective on teaching. I found that if I was working harder than the kids, then I alone was engaged in the teaching process while many of my students were not engaged in the learning process. Learning to focus planning around student led discovery of knowledge and problem-solving will stimulate higher level critical thinking skills and student engagement.
Reflect in Writing Daily—At then end of each day, reflect on how your day went through journaling. What went well with your lesson? What issues did you face with students? What would you change about the lesson? Record your answers. Finally, what evidence of learning took place with your students? This practice will give you a detailed account of your teaching and will help you recognize patterns in instruction that can more easily be addressed and changed if necessary. Self-reflection helps to turn new teachers into excellent teachers.
Have Fun—Remember that you are working with kids! Take the time to have fun and make connections. Respect each child as an individual and help kids discover their talents. You have such a special role in each child’s life. Value and honor this role, because your words and actions have lasting affects.