I work in four elementary schools as a literacy/instructional coach, and every year we have new teachers (or new to the district). This year we have more new teachers than I can ever remember. Some come with years of experience from other districts, some from other careers, and some right out of college. Supporting them will require differentiation and that can only happen when we get to know them. In the first few weeks I am already able to appreciate the unique gifts each will bring to our schools.
New teachers get lots of advice, not all of it is relevant to their situation, but I won’t let that stop me from sharing what I have found to be helpful in working with new teachers the past ten years. Here is what I would offer at this time to new teachers. And to those veteran teachers who work with them-think about how we can help in the “care and feeding” of our novice colleagues if/when they take this advice.
- Get a mentor. This could be the one assigned by your school (if your school does this), but you can also find mentors you feel a personal connection with. Having someone you can trust to go to with concerns will alleviate so much anxiety and help you to focus on what really matters more effectively. It also provides that colleague with opportunities for growth and reflection so it is truly a mutually beneficial arrangement.
- Ask for help. Don’t try to figure out everything on your own-it’s just too hard. Your mentor, your colleagues, your administrator can answer questions that could consume too much of your time trying to solve-and even then you aren’t often sure if your assumptions or expectations are aligned with the school’s. You won’t look ignorant to others, you’ll look assertive and determined to do a good job.
- Build a PLN. A Personal (or professional) Learning Network can be a group of colleagues locally or globally who collaborate to increase our knowledge and agency in teaching more effectively. Book study groups, grade level teams, or writing groups at your school are examples, but I’ve expanded my PLN with social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to follow and connect with passionate educators, authors, and school leaders. It has been a game changer. Check out this list of Education Twitter Chats to connect with other educators and get tons of ideas and support. https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-calendar
- Don’t get sucked into Pinterest or TpT. It’s easy to get lost browsing all of the amazing ideas, lessons, and classroom designs on Pinterest- and they can be inspiring. Just be careful that it doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or always searching for that perfect idea-you need time to discover who YOU are as a teacher. Take some ideas and play with them, let your own pedagogy emerge through trial and error and reflection. Your school probably has a curriculum you need to become familiar with before you start buying lessons from TpT (Teachers Pay Teachers). Just because it’s cute, standards based, or on sale doesn’t mean it aligns with your school’s expectations.
- Build Relationships. You might feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do this year and feel like you don’t have time to socialize or make phone calls. Success as a teacher is built upon the relationships we make with our students, their parents, and our colleagues. Make those phone calls, send those texts, write those notes to parents before there is an issue. Let them know you are enjoying having their child in class. Mention something you notice about them, ask them what some of their favorite books, activities, or interests are. You and the parents can become a team. Get to know your students as children who have hopes and fears, and not just learners. One of my favorite sayings is “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”-Teddy Roosevelt. I have found this to be a truism and there is an incredible amount of research to show the importance of relationships for success in school. Remember, those students who are hardest to love need love the most. Genuine relationships are an investment that pays huge dividends.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will! We all do. Everyday. Some are small and no one else notices, and some are doozies. Mistakes do not equal failure, they are opportunities to learn and grow. Think about taking a test when you were in school-did you give a second thought to any of your right answers? If you are like me, you zoned in on the mistakes and did some deeper thinking to see where you went wrong. Life is like that-mistakes offer us the chance to reflect and grow. If you haven’t made any mistakes yet, you probably aren’t moving out of your comfort zone-and that’s no way to learn. “Don’t waste a good mistake, learn from it.”-Robert Kiyosaki.
- Seek joy. If you aren’t enjoying what you do, your students won’t either. Now I realize teaching isn’t a laugh-a-minute, but if you are stressed to the point of unhappiness you aren’t helping anyone. We often get so busy doing things that we may miss noticing things. Kids are amusing; they say and do quirky things. Take time to appreciate that. Laugh at ourselves-hey, as I said before, we’ll make mistakes. I’ll bet some of them are pretty amusing if you think about it. You don’t have to plan “Fun Fridays” to incorporate more joy into your classroom. If you are looking for ideas, Google “joy in the classroom” and you’ll find tons of inspiration. Learning should not be drudgery. We don’t want compliance from our students, we want engagement. If you find yourself saying/implying “We have to do this.” there is probably not much joy in it. And then make sure you have time outside of the classroom to pursue your passions, play with your family, feed your soul. We only get one go around in this life-don’t waste it. When you find harmony between work and play teaching can become a way of life-not a job to deal with.
+1 BONUS TIP- Write about it! -Again, I can appreciate that you are time strapped this year so I am not talking about writing a novel about your first year. What I am talking about is keeping a journal to capture snippets from this year. You think you will remember everything—you won’t. Unfortunately what many teachers remember are the hard times, the mistakes, and the kids who got under their skin. There is bountiful research to show that keeping a gratitude or joy journal boosts mental as well as physical health. Writing down questions, concerns, or thoughts frees up mental bandwidth so that you aren’t carrying it around 24/7. I’ll be sharing more about teachers as writers, but for now I invite you to take less than 5 minutes a day to jot down remembrances, wonderings, and joys from your day. Your 2nd year teacher self will thank you!
What’s On My Book Radar?
Read! Read! Read! by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater illus by Ryan O’Rourke
I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for this book and I can’t tell you how much I love, love, love it!
Amy has penned a collection of poems to celebrate, inspire, and capture the joys and wonders of reading. I wanted to dive in and devour them all, and now I want to share them with students and give them time to savor each and every one. Invite them to reflect on their own reading lives through the words of each poem. I definitely think this is a MUST HAVE for every elementary classroom. It is just that good!!