My (Un)official Advice to a New Teacher
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the hiring of many new teachers, and I’ve learned plenty from their success or failure. If you’re like most teachers, you’ll need at least two things when you are just starting out:
Consider this post an unofficial new teacher survival guide.
Savvy tips from a seasoned veteran
These are some things new teachers simply must do, based on my two decades as a teacher, principal and superintendent:
Work really hard
OK, this one may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve seen new teachers appear to quantify the average amount of work their colleagues do — then assume that’s how much they need to do. Not hardly. If you’re new to the profession, your lack of experience and knowledge will require you to work harder than the veteran teacher. You can’t fake hard work, and any quality administrator will take notice.
Find a great mentor
Soon after you start, you’ll be sure to figure out who the best teachers in school are. You’ll find them by their positive outlook, can-do attitude and clear dedication to children. They will also appear to work extremely hard. Hitch your wagon to one of them. Ask to spend time in their classroom watching them work with kids. Pick their brains from time to time, and show your appreciation for their time and attention by bringing them the occasional coffee or tea.
Watch your ‘seven closest’
Experience shows we’re not as individualistic as we think, but rather that we are basically the average of our seven closest personal contacts. This applies to your work, so I strongly suggest that you associate with staff members who are positive, student-centered and hard-working. Every organization has people who personify doom-and-gloom and who always have axes to grind against the administration, parents and colleagues (tip: They also tend to rain down upon people in their personal lives, too). Avoid them at all costs. They would like nothing more than to have you become a partner to their negativity, as it only serves to reinforce their beliefs.
Know secretaries and custodians by name
Simply put, it’s the support staff of the school who keep things running smoothly. Be certain to know and greet all the secretaries and custodians by name. Always treat them with respect and consideration and don’t hesitate to recognize their role in your success. This sends a strong message to your students about how you treat people.
Ask a lot of questions
Successful new teachers don’t hesitate to reach out for questions and guidance in advance of any issues that may arise. If you’re not sure how to respond to a parent or to a colleague, an informal conversation with a trusted advisor or administrator will go a long way to address any issues. Nobody will think you’re unable to meet your job responsibilities if you do not know exactly what to do.
Always remember you teach children — not subjects
The teachers best remembered by their students are those who worked hard to connect with and care for them. The teachers who are forgotten (or worse, loathed) by their students are those who see their students not as individuals, but simply as occupants of their classroom. How do you want to be remembered?
Pour yourself into the job
If your personal life allows it, I recommend that you completely invest your time, energy and effort into your teaching. This allows you to grow as a professional, enables you to leave an indelible mark upon your students and sets you on the path to a great career.
Four things they did not teach you in school
If you’re a new teacher freshly graduated from a college teacher-preparation program, you have a lot more to learn.
For starters, consider these four things about teaching that you weren’t taught in school. Knowing them going into your interview process and remembering them during your first year will help you become the teacher you want to be.
High expectations and caring make a winning combination
Teachers shouldn’t be academic drill sergeants and they also shouldn’t be summer fun camp counselors. You need to be a combination of both.
If you can walk into a job interview showing a track record of both rigor and caring, you’ll do a great job impressing the committee. Be sure to have examples from your student teaching that exemplify this.
Lesson plans must be specific
This is not a glamorous piece of advice, but it should be helpful. A lot of new teachers write grandiose lesson plans listing all the standards and activities, but they never actually touch upon the specific goals and objectives that go with the curriculum.
You need to be as clear and concise as possible in what you hope to accomplish every day, week and month. Yes, you will have to deviate when something new pops up, but being as on-target as possible will help to keep your student performance at a high level.
What you do in your free time matters
Most teacher candidates’ resumes and teacher training experiences look very similar. More often than not, they have a combination of undergraduate work, teacher observation hours and student teaching. This, combined with a monster portfolio and a swath of recommendation letters, tends to round out the application packet.
The one thing that can set you apart is how you use your non-school time. A great way to improve your hiring potential is to take advantage of summer volunteer opportunities that are child-oriented. Not only does this show a dedication to children, but it also provides a great conversation starter during your interview.
When you are hired, the learning is just beginning
It’s wonderful that you’re a college graduate and that you have your teaching degree, but please know that your desire to grow into being a master teacher is just beginning. Don’t lose that mindset and you’ll become a strong member of your school community.
The best way to continue growing is to find excellent veteran teachers in your school and observe their work (and bring them coffee from time to time), volunteer to serve on school-based committees, and work hard to continue to connect with children.