Think back to your first year of teaching. For some of you, it’s an easy request as it wasn’t long ago. For others, you may have to dig in the memory a bit. I don’t remember my first day of teaching, probably because it was a nerve-wracking blur. I do remember highlights, though, and that will suffice for now.
As I write this, I’m taking a break from planning a new teacher induction program. My job is to take brand new baby teachers and help them have a successful first year (and hopefully come back for a second). I’m calling on a lot of my own knowledge of things that were good and not so good from my own first year (perhaps it’s fortunate my first year wasn’t that great, so I have lots of ideas for what NOT to do), but I’m also consulting outside sources.
One such book is called Your First Year: How to Survive and Thrive as a New Teacher, written by Todd Whitaker along with his two teacher daughters (Whitaker is also the author of books like What Connected Educators Do Differently, School Culture Rewired, and a handful of books talking about what great teachers, principals and others do differently). The book is a quick read (a must for me) and gives some pretty solid advice for newbies to the profession about how to not only survive but even thrive in the first year of this crazy job.
The authors give a great deal of emphasis to relationship building and classroom management for the new teacher and spend very little time talking about curriculum and instruction. While some might see this as odd, I think it’s brilliant. Not that teachers don’t need to plan great lessons (actually, they do), but if you don’t have the respect and cooperation of your students, you can’t expect much magic to happen in that classroom.
Behavior management is one of the most difficult things for first year teachers, though I actually like to think of it as behavior prevention instead. If I invest time up front with structure, procedures, and respect (not necessarily in that order), I will have very little behavior to “manage.” There was a running joke between my behavior para and I when I was in the classroom that if I ever sent a student to the office, they must have really screwed up in class! There were many years I could count the number of students I removed from class on my two hands. And that was teaching 400 kids each week.
Why? Because I had routines in place for students to follow so they knew what to do most of the time. I had lessons planned that kept my students moving and engaged to keep them from having down time (what’s the saying about idle hands….?). My students knew if they messed up in class, I wasn’t going to tolerate it but I would let them try again when they had pulled themselves back together.
I know the time I have with these new teachers is invaluable. I also know their minds will be spinning a hundred miles an hour with excitement, anticipation, and honest to goodness fear as they think about everything that is coming their way. What do I leave them with that is a good use of their time and helps start the year off on the right foot?
What do they need to hear in August and what can wait until later in the year? How do we give them as much information as possible while not making their brains explode (in a bad way)? But how do we make their brains explode in a good way because of all of the mind-blowing discussion or ideas?
I’ll be tackling some of those questions and others over the next few weeks. In the mean time, what would have been the most helpful for you in that first week as a new teacher?
Note: Clicking on any of the links in this blog post will take you to Amazon.com for purchase.