First Year Teachers: Welcome to Our Exciting and Challenging World!
Congratulations on becoming one of our first year teachers!
When I arrived in the classroom over 30 years ago to begin my career, I thought I was adequately prepared.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I was armed to the hilt with my knowledge of Bloom's Taxonomy and Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development, but I was unable to distinguish an IEP from an IPDP.
I had no idea what bordette was.
I didn't know that the absence of classroom rituals and routines sends a clear signal to kids that this guy is a first year teacher.
Teachers' colleges in those days didn't seem to teach you some of the essential things that you would need to know in order to be effective in the classroom. Then again, some things you cannot learn until you are actually IN the classroom dealing with real live kids.
There are several basic things that you CAN do when you arrive in the classroom that will make you a more effective first year teacher. These will not insure your success, but they are a great starting point.
Above all else, be genuine with kids. Kids know when you are insincere--especially with first year teachers, and when they sense that, they will circle like sharks and then move in for the kill.
In that same vein, never let them see you sweat. If you are unsure of yourself, if you hesitate, or if you in some way appear to be ill-prepared, they will know that. You'll have to fight for the rest of the school year to regain their respect-- if you ever do at all.
Beginning with the very
first day of school
, resolve yourself to respectfully establish your credibility and authority.
Always make kids aware of why something is relevant to their lives. Whatever you're teaching, take great pains to connect it to something that they can relate to.
If they don't understand that what you're teaching will add value to their lives, they will do nothing more than pass the time while you go on and on.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Always, always, over-plan.
If your class is scheduled to last 50 minutes, make sure that you have enough material to fill up at least 70 minutes.
If you run out of stuff to say, or if you run out of things for them to do, they will find something to do themselves.
And what they will find to do for themselves will ALWAYS be something that you don't want them to do.
As part of your classroom management technique, establish clear-cut classroom routines. This is often difficult to do on the very first day of school--you have so many things to do anyway: checking the roll, learning to pronounce names, dealing with students who arrive late, and distributing administrative paperwork.
But, be prepared to teach classroom routines to all of your kids no later than the second day of school.
Use teacher bulletin board ideas to help you with your classroom management. Yes, all of those bulletin boards that you have to fill up each year can be worked to your advantage as the teacher.
Keep Your Sense of Humor Sharp
One thing that has served me well throughout the years is my sense of humor. I am certainly no Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, but I try to take advantage of opportunities to get the kids to chuckle a bit.
It can be something just as simple as asking the class, "What is a synonym?"
If I don't get an immediate response, I probe a bit more by saying, "Is that something you put on your breakfast toast?" Guaranteed to get a chuckle or two--every time.
Here's another opportunity that occasionally pops up.
A student raises her hand and says, "I'm confused." I reply, "And I'm Mr. Manis. It's nice to meet you." After a few chuckles, I proceed to identify her source of confusion.
However you manage it, kids respond well to a good sense of humor. Good advice for first year teachers and veteran teachers as well!
Use Lots of Positive Reinforcement
Seize every opportunity to praise students for their efforts and responses. There are all kinds of ways to use positive reinforcement--some simple and others more elaborate. It's just human nature to strive for the approval of others, and kids are no different.
Also, make it a special point to spread that positive reinforcement around. If only a handful of kids receive regular positive reinforcement, the others will feel disconnected and undervalued.
Find a Mentor
If the administration has not assigned a mentor to work with you, perhaps someone on your academic team can help you to "learn the ropes." And by all means, steal good ideas from as many teachers as you can, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
First year teachers in my county are required to complete a beginning teachers' program. The program is tedious, time-consuming, and stressful. Lots of in-classroom observations, record keeping, and various hoops to jump through.
If you are required to complete such a program, hang in there. In most cases, it won't last more than one academic school year.
You can do it.
First year teachers only stay that way for 10 months!
Make Connections with Stakeholders
Yes, the kids are the central focus. But behind every kid, there is a parent or caretaker who can be a deal maker or breaker--especially if that kid is a knucklehead.
Every minute first year teachers spend cultivating a meaningful connection with a parent will pay for itself over and over again. Parent communication is absolutely essential to achieving success as a teacher.
Just as important is your working relationship with the members of your academic team. After all, they are dealing with the same kids that you are. If Johnny is not doing so well in your class, but he's excelling at math, his math teacher may have discovered the secret weapon.
If Johnny is having problems in all of his classes, your academic team can convene to brainstorm solutions.
Maintaining a positive working relationship with the administration and everyone you work with is pretty much a no-brainer, but it's especially important for first year teachers.
Take some time to nurture a relationship with the principal's secretary--she's the one that you have to file paperwork with when you have been absent. In many cases, she's also the one who will provide classroom keys and health insurance forms.
The secretary also has the boss's ear and appointment schedule.
Cozy up with your media center specialist. She's in a position to issue technology for your classroom--and, she is often quite adept at utilizing that technology. Depending on the way your school is structured, she may also issue textbooks, dictionaries, and reference materials for your classroom.
In addition, you will probably be seeing her on a regular basis when you bring your kids to the library. You will have to follow her rules pertaining to how many kids you can send to the library from your classroom, for what duration, and for what purpose.
For all of these reasons, the media center specialist is a vital resource for first year teachers.
The bookkeeper is usually the person who issues classroom supplies. First year teachers have not yet had a chance to accumulate supplies, so she's also an important resource.
In addition, should you find yourself in the position of participating in a school fund raiser, the bookkeeper is the one that you'll have to deal with when you obtain receipt books or turn in money you've collected.
Finally, the school custodians can get rid of classroom furniture that you DON'T need or move in other stuff that you DO need. When one of your kids barfs all over his desk and onto your classroom floor, the custodian will, most assuredly, come promptly to your rescue.
For now, that pretty well wraps it up.
I am willing to bet that the vast majority of first year teachers will be better off than I was . . .
My first year was 1975-1976 in Blackshear, Georgia. The only technology I had in my classroom was an intercom speaker and two floor fans. On the first day of pre-planning, my principal issued me a grade book and a wooden paddle. I gave the paddle back to him and asked where the textbooks were.
He said they didn't have any for my subject area.
I spent the rest of the year writing my own textbook and developing my own materials. And, it wasn't more than two weeks before I went back to him to get that paddle . . .
Hang in there. You will persevere and prosper, as I did, all of those 33 years. Sure, you'll have a year or two that will be really difficult. But you'll have far more that will be successful and memorable.
My best wishes to you for a great career!
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