Words of Wisdom for New Teachers
If you feel a few butterflies when you think about entering the classroom for the first time next fall, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Whether you are a recent university graduate or have just completed an alternative certification program, here are a few tips to get you started on the right path.
Take Time Upfront to Build Relationships
Developing relationships and building a line of trust is crucial for new teachers. Building positive relationships with your students and their families is essential in setting up a productive learning environment. It’s all about relationships—if you can’t connect with them, then you can’t teach them!
During the first nine weeks of the school year, I take time after school each day and call a few students’ families to tell them something positive their child has done at school. Most of the time, the parents are shocked or think something is wrong when I call. The time I take on my end to go through my list of students and call (not email—there is something special about talking to a person) their parents accomplishes three things: It (1) sets up positive communication, (2) establishes lines of trust with the families, and (3) builds proactive classroom structures that assist me when I do need to call home when a problem arises.
Don’t be the teacher who only calls home when something bad happens at school; call early on in the year and set up the relationship.
Sarah K. McMahan is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction and the co-director of the Texas Woman’s University New Teacher Academy. In fall 2017, Dr. McMahan returned to the K-12 classroom setting serving as a long-term substitute teacher during her faculty development leave (sabbatical).
Communication, Connection, and Care
Student teaching was great, but it was someone else’s classroom and, ultimately, someone else’s responsibility. Now it is your turn! Here are a few ways that you can make it a little easier on yourself as a first-year teacher.
• Reach out to all of your students’ parents in the first two weeks. You can do this through email, snail mail, or even a phone call. It is always easier to get parental assistance if you have already established a positive relationship. Make sure that you can say something special about their child.
• Find a good mentor teacher. Sometimes schools assign mentor teachers, and sometimes they do not. You will need a mentor to assist you with policies, procedures, teacher tricks, classroom management, etc.
• Take care of yourself. This is one that always gets left out. We get so busy with our work and our personal lives that we forget to take care of ourselves. Make time for exercise, quiet time, personal reflection, or fun reading. You cannot invest in your students if you do not invest in yourself.
Remember, teaching is fun! Teachers literally change our world. Go, and have a great start to your year!
Rebecca Fredrickson is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Texas Woman’s University. Her research interests include accountability, mentoring, and teacher induction.
Take Time to Reflect
I know your mindset is to come in and be the best teacher there ever was, but that takes time and experience. It will take time to figure it all out, and experience to do all the things you want to do to make your students successful. Do not expect to do it right the first time.
Slow down and think before throwing a new twist into your lesson plans; start small and add something new each week or two. Your professors and mentors have given you a treasure trove of information, strategies, curriculum, accommodations, modifications, extracurricular activities, and more. Take those notes, figure out what is working for you, and do not overanalyze your performance as a teacher (or your students’ performance on assignments and activities).
It is always a learning curve, and you’ll be climbing a thousand-step staircase to get to where you want to be as an educator. Take it all in, reflect on your lessons, and rely on your fellow educators. We are all in this profession together: learning, changing, and improving as we go.
Carl Garner, Jr., is ATPE’s state president for 2017-18. He is a sixth-grade math and science teacher in Mesquite ISD with 17 years of experience in education.