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!
I'm guilty of being a bad teacher. I have worked very hard in my profession of teaching for the past five years. I've put in hours on end to ensure that my students learned what they were required to learn according to the state of Texas. I made huge efforts to ensure that they had fun. I have taken time to touch on every aspect of the tests that my students were going to be taking. I reviewed test material, played review games, made review sheets. For the first four years of my teaching career, I was played by my students. I fell right into their trap. They tricked me into letting them get off easy; giving them information so they could temporarily store it in their brilliant minds and regurgitate it onto an answer document. Then...
...BAM! Just like that, it's forgotten. As if they never learned it. Never heard a word about it. No clue what the function of the excretory system is (I'll let you figure that one our for yourself). No, forget that...no clue what the word "function" even means. Yes, I'm serious and I swear to you I don't own a neuralyzer (pictured above). If I did, I would use it on you to erase from your memory what I've just confessed to you. I've been a bad teacher. I have allowed my students to skate by in school without a developing a love for learning.
Not anymore. From this point forward I commit to engaging my students with real world, authentic, eye-opening activities. My plan is to use a flipped class/Project-Based Learning (PBL) model. Yes, I realize this will be a huge undertaking. But it will be worth it! It will require reaching into the depths of my creativity (which is not very deep, mind you). But it will be worth it! It will require long hours and the wisdom to know that I can't do this on my own. But it will be worth it! By helping my students develop a passion for learning, they will be able to take information learned in my class and actually apply it. Imagine that!
To help accomplish this, I've blown up my Professional Learning Network (PLN). Who does it include? The entire world. Literally. Educational technology guru Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) puts it this way: "I'm only as smart as the people I surround myself with and I'm surrounding myself with the smartest people in the world." Smartest in the WORLD. That's what Twitter has done for me and thousands of other passionate educators. I have access to the world's largest PLN. Prior to this discovery, I was stuck leaning on teachers that I knew face-to-face. Don't misread this...I've worked with some brilliant minds. However, Thanks to Todd, and many others like him, I am learning ways in which I can truly encourage a love for learning in my students.
This coming school year I encourage you to do the same. I don't have this all figured out but neither does anyone else. Rest in the fact that we are all learning together. To help you get started (or just grow your Twitter arsenal) TeachThought (@TeachThought) has a great list of hastags and how to use them here.
A lot can happen 140 characters at a time. Now, get out there and learn with your students!
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.