Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
How many new teachers will you have at your school this year? Two? Five? More? One year I worked at a school where 17 of the 35 classroom teachers were new to the school – and many of those teachers were new to the teaching profession. That’s certainly an extreme situation, but most schools have at least a few new teachers each year. Some of those teachers have never had their own classrooms before; perhaps they’re recent college graduates. Other “new” teachers may have years of experience, but they are new to your school, your district, or your state. And of course, every school – whether across the country or down the block – does things a little bit differently.
If you’re a teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to welcome your new colleagues to your school, and perhaps to the teaching profession. In this TeacherScope blogpost, I’ll list my suggestions for welcoming new teachers to your school.
Helping with Supplies
Experienced teachers will probably arrive at your school with tools of the trade: a stapler, a three-hole punch, dry erase markers, etc. However, teachers new to the field may have none of these essentials. You can help the new teachers by providing them with office supplies to start the new year. Most teachers make a Wal-mart or Target run in August, when school supplies are ridiculously cheap. Pick up a few packs of pens, some markers, and a couple of reams of colored paper for your new-teacher neighbor. Your PTO or grade-level/department could even have a teacher shower (like a wedding shower or baby shower) to help the new teacher. What a great tradition to start at your school!
Maybe your school already provides a “welcome” box of supplies for new teachers. In that case, you can help with posters and room decorations. That extra filing cabinet in your room and the reading group carpet in your closet could also make great gifts. Whatever your contribution, realize that new teachers may be several weeks away from their first paycheck, and they’ve recently had new household expenses (utility deposits, apartment security deposits, etc.) What may seem like a small token to you could be a big boost for a new teacher.
And I hate to write this, but I know it happens: resist the urge to pilfer items from a retiring teacher’s classroom. On more than one occasion I have begun at a new school where teachers had removed items from my classroom – file cabinets, computer speakers, and desks. At one school a teacher had unscrewed the pencil sharpener from the wall! Principals, you can make sure that this looting mentality is replaced with a spirit of helpfulness and generosity.
Helping with First Day Preparations
As a veteran teacher, there are many ways you can help your new colleague get ready for the first day of school. These tasks can include helping with room set-up, making photocopies, and demonstrating classroom technology (projector, interactive whiteboard, etc.) Simple tasks like making take-home folders, hanging posters, or demonstrating the use of classroom iPads can make a contribution to the new teacher’s early success.
Be a Lesson Plan Buddy
As far as I know, there’s no law that says lesson plans have to be original or unique. Casually ask the new teacher on your grade level, or in your department what they’re teaching during the first week. They may confidently tell you about their first unit of study, complete with formative and summative evaluations and a culminating project. Or they make break-down in tears and confess that they have no idea what they’re going to do once the kids arrive. (Teacher internships never begin on the first day of school, do they? Student teachers typically begin with a fully-functional classroom.)
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing your lesson plans for the first few weeks of school. You’ll be doing the new teacher – and her students – a huge favor. As the days turn into weeks, you can expect the new teacher to reduce dependence on your plans, and begin to create her own.
And I can speak from experience on this topic. Many years ago I was hired to teach a popular elective at a brand new high school. Because enrollment shifted daily, I was assigned to teach an additional class of 11th grade American Literature less than a week before school began. To make matters worse, an ordering snafu meant no teachers in the school had literature textbooks or class novels. I’ll always remember the kind, experienced teacher next door who was also teaching American Lit. She said, “Follow me.” And I did. I stayed one day behind her, and followed her lesson plans for the first three weeks. Then the textbooks came in, and I planned my own units of study.
Become a Mentor
Does your school have a formal mentoring program for new teachers? Teacher mentoring programs can be critical to the development of new teachers. New teachers can learn curriculum requirements, teaching strategies, and professional practices from their more experienced colleagues.
Here are a few suggestions I would make about a mentoring program. Number one – the more similar the teaching assignments of the mentor and new teacher, the better. Ideally, the mentor should teach on the same grade level and/or department as the new teacher (and definitely in the same school.) Secondly, make sure the mentoring is specific and relevant. Resist the urge to introduce generic skills and techniques that may not be relevant to the new teachers’ needs. Finally, I would suggest scheduled mentoring sessions of 30 minutes each month. Bring a snack and keep it casual, but provide the opportunity for the new teacher to learn from your experience. Don’t wait for the new teacher to cry out for help. By then, it may be too late.
Be a Lifeboat Buddy
Even if you’ve been teaching only a year or two and you don’t feel qualified to serve as a mentor, you still have a lot of useful information to share with the new teacher. You can be their “lifeboat buddy.” The next-door neighbor is in the best position to do this.
“When we have a fire drill, follow my class down the hall – we’ll take a left and go out the double doors.”
“It’s 8 o’clock – you turned-in your lunch count, right?”
“The principal expects us to walk our kids to music class in a straight line, and we stay to the right.”
“Hey, let me show you how to work the copy machine.”
“We’ve got bus duty this week – you knew that, right?”
To be a good lifeboat buddy, you have to think like a new teacher. That’s why teachers with only one or two years of experience make great lifeboat buddies. Those procedural tasks are second-nature to teachers who have been at the school for several years.
Invite Them to Lunch (and Pay)
Being the new teacher can be lonely. Make sure to invite the new teacher to lunch during pre-planning days. And if that new teacher is a recent college graduate, insist on paying. Take-up a collection if you need to. A ten dollar lunch at Applebees may not seem like much to you, but it’s pretty expensive for a recent college grad. In other words, treat your new colleague like you’d expect your students to treat the new kid in your classroom.
New Teachers – Accept and Pay it Forward
If you’re a new teacher, you might feel hesitant to “take” so much from your new colleagues. After all, you’re new to the profession. How could you possibly pay them back?
The answer: you can’t. Instead, pay it forward. Graciously accept all of your experienced colleagues’ assistance. Next year become a “lifeboat buddy” for a new teacher at your school, and become a mentor when you feel qualified. Pay it forward, and contribute to the profession.
Suggestions for Administrators
Before I end this blog posting, I’d like to offer some suggestions for administrators to help make your new teachers’ first weeks of school pleasant and productive.
Keep pre-planning commitments to a minimum. If you think about it, meetings that involve every teacher on your faculty are pretty general in nature, and new teachers need specific guidance. They also need time to build their classrooms, plan lessons, and familiarize themselves with the school’s technology. All of those tasks take time. Some districts have flexible pre-planning schedules that allow new teachers to work before the school year begins. Other districts host useful district-wide orientation sessions for new teachers, where important procedural tasks are covered.
Stick to procedural basics. When you’re making a list of procedural tasks to explain to your new teachers, ask yourself this question: Do they need to know this during the first month of school, or can it wait? You can always schedule another meeting later in the school year, when your new teachers will have questions to ask.
Make a set of cheat sheets for web-based services. Back in the old days, we used to “call-in” sick. Now, of course, there’s a web-site for that. School districts also use web-based services for reporting maintenance issues, requesting tech support, and updating teacher web-pages and wikis. Make a one-page “cheat sheet” for each of these web-sites, with step-by-step instructions and a place for the teacher to write their username and password. Duplicate the sheets on color-coded paper, and put them in a file folder for quick reference. So, if you’re sick, pull-out your green sheet and follow the instructions. If you’re computer breaks, pull out the yellow sheet. Also, e-mail a PDF version of all cheat sheets to the teachers, so that they can save them to their smart phones.
Avoid difficult classroom assignments and extreme duties for your new teachers. Assuming that an equitable duty system is in place, the new teacher should assume the classroom and the duties of the teacher they replace. Unfortunately, sometimes schools have a pecking order, and the new teacher gets the worst classroom and the worst duties, as everyone else “moves up.” In secondary schools with more teachers than classrooms, new teachers often “float” from room to room during the day. While this may be unavoidable, steps can be taken to minimize the distance. Several years ago – in my first year at a large school – my classrooms were so far apart that I actually had to drive my car around the block to make it to my next class in time! At my first year at another school I had bus duty every day of the school year. Realistically, that shouldn’t happen. If everyone does their part, the work gets done.
Finally, realize that helping your school’s new teachers is a reward in itself. Teaching isn’t a zero-sum equation. If a new teacher is confident and proficient, that certainly doesn’t make the veteran teachers any worse. In fact, this veteran teacher can tell you that the school day is much more enjoyable when all teachers – regardless of their levels of experience – are highly skilled in the profession.
Teachers are the life blood of the educational system. New teachers represent the infusion required to keep the system alive. Good schools encourage, support, and nurture their new teachers. Review my suggestions above, add your own, and create a welcoming, supportive environment for your new teachers.
...and if you stole my pencil sharpener 34 years ago from room 105, I forgive you. Just make sure to give it back when you're done.
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Authors note: this posting is dedicated to Mrs. Anita Ryall, my internship supervising teacher, mentor, and friend.
Keith Kyker (M.Ed)
is a career educator with 36 years of teaching experience. He has worked with every age group from Pre-K to college. Keith's experience includes stints at suburban mega-high schools, neighborhood elementary and middle schools, and a tiny K-12 school in a Yupik village on the Bering Sea.
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Important note: the ideas and opinions expressed on this blog are the those of the author, Keith Kyker, and in no way reflect the opinions, policies, or practices of any of Keith's current or former employing school districts.
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