I was a new teacher once. Fresh out of college, heart and mind full of dreams and good intentions, unjaded by the educational system, confident in my leaders, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed.
Then reality hit. And boy, did it hit. These were the days before TTAS, STAAR, and EXCETs. I managed to survive my first few weeks; heck, even my first few years and emerge as a pretty good teacher, according to my evaluations and feedback from my former students.
Maybe you can benefit from some of the things I learned, whether you are a brand new teacher, a teacher in a new school district, or just trying to have a fresh start.
First, guard your joy at being in the classroom. Don’t let naysayers and doomsdayers spread their gloom. Focus on the positives. You may need to remind yourself of this daily, but do it anyway.
Along the same lines, don’t listen to what others may say about the students you are getting. I’ve had teachers in the past ask to see my class roster so they can comment on a few of my students. This is more difficult now with everything being online, but occasionally you may have someone ask you if you will have “so and so” in your class, and then proceed to tell you what a troublemaker/lazy bum/etc. he or she is. Refuse to form opinions about students (or other personnel, for that matter) until you have met them yourself. Many times I have found the problem with that student and teacher lies in the teacher’s attitude, not the student’s.
Observe and absorb all you can from the teachers and staff but be very slow in offering up your own opinion. This will allow you to get a feel for the school climate and how the teachers/staff interact with each other and with students. Don’t be too quick to choose friends. Allow time to get to know others so you can make smart choices about who to spend your time with.
Avoid gossip. Even if you don’t contribute, listening makes you a willing participant and aligns you with the person saying unkind things. You don’t need that kind of reputation. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt until you know them better.
Dress conservatively until you are familiar with what is accepted attire on your campus. Some campuses are less formal than others, but you don’t want to start out too casual. You’ll also carry more authority in your classroom if you are dressed better at first. Dress like the professional you are. If you expect others to treat you like a professional, dress and act like one, especially if you are young. You need to establish boundaries with your students, especially high school students. Save the capri pants and slide sandals for later.
Along those same lines, speak like a professional. Leave the slang and desire to be “cool” at the door. You’re there to teach and be a role model.
Make your classroom a happy place to be. Decorate with bright colors and include personal items (not too valuable!) so that students can relate to you as a real person as well as their teacher. I liked to post motivational posters around my room (you can order online or visit a teacher supply store such as Mardel’s), and I included a table lamp, knick-knacks, and framed photos around my desk. The table lamp came in handy when the lights had to go out for slides or film clips. Students liked seeing pictures of my family as well. Don’t let your room be referred to as “cell block 101” like one teacher I worked with!
Establish your rules and procedures the first day of school and keep practicing and reinforcing them until they become habits for your students. I strongly recommend The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong. You can order it here. Dr. Wong provides proven strategies for classroom management and discipline. Also don’t be afraid to ask experienced teachers what works for them.
Prepare your first week of lessons. Make a cheat sheet, especially for your first day, so you don’t forget anything or get anything out of sequence. Get a good night’s sleep if you can, eat breakfast if you can, and walk into your first day with all the confidence of a superhero. You’ve got this!
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What about you experienced teachers out there? Is there anything you would add?
Please post your comments! We’d love to hear from you!