Being new to ANY profession can be incredibly frightening, especially when there's a guaranteed audience. New teachers have exactly that. My first day in the classroom was the first time I had been in a public school classroom in years. I had 56 eyes staring at me wondering what my next move was going to be. They had no idea. The problem was that I really didn't either. Being an alternative cert candidate (before ACPs really had there stuff together) I had VERY little preparation for day one. That said, here are some non-negotiables I've picked up over the past nine years:
GET CONNECTED - This one is at the top of the list for good reason. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has been more instrumental in my growth over the past four years than my connections on Twitter. "I don't have time to mess with Twitter," you say? I would counter with, "You don't have time NOT to mess with Twitter." It's been the single best investment of my time and effort to build a community of support, encouragement, shoulders to cry on, and fellow edus who push me to new limits. Not convinced? Many of my "connections" started out as little more than faces on my Twitter feed and since, have become great friends. Here are a (very) few of my biggest influencers in alpha order. Click on their name to see their Twitter profile and follow them.
RELATIONSHIPS OVER RULES - Some may tell you, "Bring the hammer on day one! Don't smile until Christmas. Shove all of your rules and expectations down their throats out of the gates!" I believe there's a better way. Get to know your students. Make day one fun. Bring in some technology (maybe something as simple as a Google Form to do an "all about me" survey). Ask them questions (and listen to their answers). Allow yourself to be known. Talk about your family or your hobbies too.
Do we need to share our rules and set firm expectations for our students? Yes, absolutely we do. A game of football would be zero fun if there weren't rules. The question is, is day one the time to do it? I don't believe so. Start with relationships, then set your expectations sometime later in the first week. I wanted my students to leave my classroom on day one filled with wonder and excitement for day two. That's hard to do when all I'm talking about is what they CAN'T do in my class.
INVOLVE PARENTS/GUARDIANS - Our students' parents or guardians should be our number one partners in the educational process. In order to make this a reality, communication is a must. I recommend sending out some sort of weekly communication that includes the calendar for the week (especially if there are any assessments that week). Along with that, include some info and pictures of what's been going on inside the four walls. Be transparent. Welcome them into your classroom through what you're sharing with them. Make POSITIVE phone calls home. Typically, when parents see the oh-so-dreaded district phone number pop up on their caller ID it's exactly that...dreaded. Be the one who changes that. Be the teacher who calls parents because a student did something outstanding (or just something simple but awesome)! Build positive equity with parents. As a dad myself, this is something that I appreciate. In addition to this just being a nice thing to do, it will also help for those times you have to make the hard, but necessary phone calls.
TAKE YOURSELF OUT OF THE CENTER - Your classroom should be about your students, not you. For the first few years I was in the classroom, I spent most of my time being the center of attention. It was all about me. I lectured, and I lectured, and I lectured. B-O-R-I-N-G!! I introduced a topic, lectured with notes, we did a lab, we took a quiz, and finished with a multiple-choice test. Then I hit repeat. Thinking about this makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. No Project-Based Learning. No authenticity. Zero student autonomy. No real world application. I owe my first (and probably my second, third and fourth) year students a big, fat apology. My good friend, Todd Nesloney, was the first person to expose me to the idea of student voice and choice; to the idea of transforming your classroom into an EXPERIENCE for your students to learn. Your students will never remember the killer, still-warm-from-the-copier worksheets you handed out to them. They will remember how you treated them, the voice they had, and the experiences you gave them. Give them your best!
STAY POSITIVE - Just to keep it real here, the first year in the classroom can (and probably will) be very difficult. It will be easy to beat yourself up for what you aren't that great at YET. Honing a craft takes time and that's exactly what teaching is...a craft. None of us are perfect and we never will be. My good friend, Aaron Hogan, just wrote a book called Shatter the Perfect Teacher Myth where he dives into this exact topic. I highly recommend this as a "must read" for any new teacher. Well, really any teacher. You can click here to order it from Amazon. All of us are works in progress and there will always be room for improvement. Focus on the positives, don't be afraid to fail, and grow where you are able. If you find yourself getting down and you're feeling beat up, go back to Tip #1 and find some other great educators to lean on. We were not meant to do this alone.
I hope these few tips help you to get on your feet and that your first year is amazing. Feel free to reach out to me (or any other connected educators) for more tips, advice, coaching, or encouragement. Best of luck to all of our new teachers out there and welcome to the best, most rewarding profession on the planet. Go get 'em!
This post was co-written between myself and Todd Nesloney.
Sometimes even the smallest moments can make the biggest impact.
During the first week of school in 2014, I (Brent) passed one of my students between classes and simply said, “Hey, Kyle**.” He had been in my class for a few days so I didn’t have to dig deep to find a name. All I did was say “hey.” No effort required, right? Within 24 hours, I had the following email from his mom in my inbox:
Every day when we walk into the four walls of our schools we’re surrounded by others. By other students, parents, colleagues, and more. Many people look at education and feel that the sole purpose of it is to educate children. Those of us who are in this profession, however, know that our job is so much more. One of the most important aspects of an educator is that ability to connect. To build those relationships. To remind another student (or colleague) of their worth, genius, and potential.
As educators, even we sometimes lose sight. We get bogged down by the expectations and check-lists of things we have to complete. Testing season stresses us out. Parent conversations don’t always go as we hoped. Our students behave in ways unexpected. Other educators (or administrators) say or do things that make us feel inferior.
We get beaten down. And we forget. We forget that our words change lives. Our impact isn’t momentary, rather it can be felt for years to come.
Our students come to us with experiences that many times we have no knowledge of. Drugs, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, extreme expectations, and more. Yet they show up every day and are expected to put forth 100% into their education. As educators, our jobs as academic instructors are a waste of our time if we don’t also focus on the emotional side of our kiddos.
That simple act of greeting your students at the door by name and giving them a high-five, fist bump, or hand shake can help us connect to them. The quick walk through the hallways visiting with students between classes. The five minute visit to lunch when we know we have work to do. The ten seconds it takes to see a student in the hall and tell them “good morning, ______.” The ability to act like a child sometimes and play with them at recess or get on the floor and work.
There are even moments when a child, on occasion, acts out, and we have to take the time to realize that we don’t necessarily have to jump straight to consequences. Sometimes, all it takes is simple conversation about how much we care about them and then giving them the resources they may lack in understanding how to deal with the situation.
Now, let’s take this idea of knowing our students and flip it. It’s crucial that we not only know and acknowledge our students, but that we allow them to know us as well. We need to open our world to them. Talk about family. Share stories about things we enjoy doing.
I (Brent) place a lot of value on frequenting the businesses and restaurants that my students and their families do. Seeing students and their families outside of school gives me another connecting point for a short convo when I see them at school. “Hey! How was your Lupe Tortilla last night?” Because we Houstonians all know that Lupe Tortilla is where it’s at when it comes to Tex-Mex (even though Todd will argue that Chuy’s is still the best Tex-Mex)
I (Todd) have always tried to attend their extracurricular activities. It makes a world of difference to a kiddo when you show up at something of theirs outside of school hours. Plus it proves that you don’t actually spend every waking moment at the school.
The bottom line is this: children can tell immediately when you care about them. When you genuinely care. When we take time to know our students and allow ourselves to be known, we build healthy, authentic, meaningful relationships that can revolutionize our campus.
It only takes a single moment. That instant that will stick with someone for the rest of their life. We all leave a mark on our students. Sometimes good, sometimes not as great as we would have hoped. What mark are you leaving?
**The name in the story was changed for the purpose of protecting the identity of the student.
In my classroom I desire, more than anything, for my students to walk out the door a better person than when they walked in. Not just to FEEL better about themselves; but to truly BE a better person. This requires a lot of extra "work" but it's absolutely worth it. I have been in education for seven years and I think of this role in my students' lives often. Whether we like it or not (and for the record, I do) we have an opportunity to have a significant influence on who they become. That being said, there is much more to our job as educators than teaching the curriculum. Yes, teaching the TEKS (these are what guide education in TX for any "outsiders" who may read this) is what we are hired to do but that's only part of our responsibility.
The way we treat them.
The way we respect them.
The way we carry ourselves.
The manner in which we greet them at the door.
Do we ask them questions about their lives?
Do we allow them into ours?
Do we follow through?
Do we go that extra mile to attend their events and let them know we really do care...or is it all just hot air?
All of these things affect how our influence plays out in our students' lives. They are, oftentimes, more perceptive than we give them credit for. They know who the fakers are and they desire transparency/authenticity in everything, especially from those they trust.
This fact has caused me to reflect recently on the level of influence I have on my students. I think it boils down to this:
The best educators don't just know their students. They allow themselves to be known.
By allowing ourselves to be known, we're building trust. Our students see that we're real people. We have successes. We also have failures. We experience victories. We also experience struggles. We make good decisions. We also make poor ones. Through this authenticity, we are earning the right to influence. If we really want our students to learn from us and be influenced by us, we need to build trust. Here are a few ways that I've learned (mostly from educators better than me) to do that:
Attend their extracurricular events.
Share your life.
Talk about your family.
Hold them to high standards.
Do what you say you're going to do.
Give SPECIFIC praise (generic praise is as good as false praise).
How are you earning the right to influence? I'd love to learn from you! Follow and tweet me at @bclarksontx. Until next time...
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.