The first year is the toughest. Pretty much every teacher will tell you that. It is when the students will try you. The first year is often when colleagues are the most unsupportive. You don’t know everybody’s names. You aren’t aware of their agendas, so sometimes you step into a problem without realizing it.
The biggest problem about the first year? There’s an enormous gap between what you learned about teaching and what teaching is really like. Having a great administrator that first year can be a lifeline.
1. Help New Teachers Find a Good Mentor
My mom and sister were my mentors my first year. They were veteran teachers and knew what they were doing. Their words could save me hours of headache and heartbreak. They helped me organize my classroom and gave me feedback as I struggled.
2. Balance the New Teacher’s Workload
When my sister started teaching middle school, they gave her six classes and one planning period. She also had a homeroom and a tennis team. This happens all too often to new teachers.
New teachers are given hard jobs that no one wants. When you get a new teacher too much or too difficult the task you’re setting them up for failure.
3. Let New Teachers See Your Face
From day one, Betty Shiver, our curriculum director put her head in my doorway and said hello. Lots of times I said hello back, but if I had a problem — that was when I brought it up.
As a new teacher, I didn’t want to set an appointment with the principal. That why the best conversations with a new teacher happen when the office comes to the classroom. Ken Blanchard’s Book, The One Minute Manager, rings true. Take one minute and say hello.
4. Be Supportive of Disciplinary Issues
I had more disciplinary issues in my first year of teaching than in the fourteen years since. In some ways, it was a nightmare. In other ways it was a dream — because I fell in love with teaching.
A few students who saw my inexperience as a way to do less work. Class clowns wanted to make me the butt of their jokes. These few pupils in each class almost made my life miserable. My administrators were supportive when I needed them. They also pointed me to resources to help me improve.
I know a teacher, however, who felt unsafe her first year. Another friend was told not to send kids to the office and was given no support. So, they did what they could: they suffered through that first year and left.
5. Be Supportive when Parent Problems Happen
The most crushing moment of my first year happened three weeks into school. I thought the students knew spreadsheet skills. They did not, but it was on the curriculum. So, I gave an assignment that they could not do. It would have been simple if they knew anything about spreadsheets. But they didn’t.
So instead of going to me, a parent immediately went to the principal. She said I was too hard on the students. And not only did she go to the principal, but she also went to all the other parents complaining about me.
By the time I was called to the front office, it had become a serious situation. But it didn’t need to be. I was happy to adjust the assignment. The parents didn’t know me yet and felt more comfortable going to the principal than to me. It wounded me deeply.
The best principals I have worked for always ask parents,
“Have you talked to the teacher yet?”
6. Make New Teachers Part of Your Team
But new teachers also have great things that happen too. These teachers are going to be some of the fastest learners on your campus— they have to be. Celebrate what they learn and not just how much they have to learn.
Encourage educators on your campus break the routine of their day. Don’t let the new teachers feel alone.
New Teachers Are Your Lifetime Legacy
There are few things more challenging or more worthwhile than teaching a new teacher. Challenging because they might think they know how to teach. Worthwhile because they are your legacy.
New teachers never forget those who help and encourage them. It was easy for me to name the names of my mentors and helpers in this crucial time for me.
Struggle and learning go together. They go together when students are learning and when teachers learn too. Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first. And while not all new teachers start off poorly, some (like me) make lots of mistakes.
There are many things new teachers need: time, attention, support, and good advice are just a few. Help new teachers start well. Our whole profession will benefit.
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