It’s been more than a few years since my first day of school as a teacher but I do remember being more than a little nervous and a lot overwhelmed. I was put in a class in the upstairs corner of the gymnasium and told to go teach math to tomorrow’s future. I rarely talked to any other teacher, much less another math teacher. I learned a lot that year and have learned a lot more since. Now, when we get a new teacher I try to remember all the things that I wish people would have told me before my first day. I feel that most new teachers need to learn some things on their own, but I do try to give them some tips as they go through their first year.
1.) Smart person doesn’t equal good teacher
This tip applies to the new teacher as well as other teachers. All teachers need to have the desire to learn more, but especially new teachers. Content knowledge is very important, but knowing how to teach the content is more important. Don’t assume the best teachers are the smartest ones. I have found often times the smartest teachers aren’t the best teachers. Sometimes the smartest teachers have difficulty explaining the content in a way that students understand. The best teachers are the ones that can relate to their students and teach the content in a way that every student can be successful.
2.) Be a continual learner
It won’t take a new teacher long to figure out that education is a constantly changing profession. In order to keep up with the change, you have to be a continual learner and constantly try to find better ways to teach your students. That includes observing teachers, reading educational books, going to workshops, searching the internet for different sources, or just sitting down with another respected educator and picking their brain. You will probably find out early that while your education courses in college were helpful they aren’t always applicable. You will have to learn a lot of things on your own, but if you want to be the most effective teacher you have to constantly try to find ways to become better at your craft.
3.) Surround yourself with positive and supportive people
The first thing that new teachers need to learn is that you can’t do this job alone. Like the good book says “It takes a whole village to raise a child “. You will encounter some negative people that want to bring you down to their level to make themselves feel better, but you have to do your best to stay away from or ignore those people. Ideally, the support system are the teachers and administrators next to you but that isn’t always the case. Teaching is a stressful career so find a good support system at school and away from school that you can rely on for help and advise.
4.) Keep reminding yourself why you became a teacher
When you decided that you wanted to make education your profession you made a commitment to help children reach their goals. You didn’t get into education wanting to make a lot of money or have the summers and holidays off, you did it because you enjoy helping children and you feel you can make a difference in your student’s lives. The problem comes when teachers forget that. When you forget why you chose your profession it turns into a job instead of a career and when you feel like it is a job, it’s time to find something else to do.
5.) You are going to make a difference in all of your students’ lives, try to make it a positive one
I heard a motivational speaker say “As a teacher, you are a role model whether you want to be one, so do your best to be a positive one”. He had coached high school basketball for over 20 years and had a few NBA players play for him, but he said the ones that come back to him and say “thank you” are his students not his players. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care and when you let them see that you care about them as an individual and not just a student in a seat, they will run through a brick wall for you. So many of our students nowadays are looking for a positive adult figure in their lives and that can be you if you allow yourself to be. If you teach for 30 years you will probably have taught over 3000 students. That is a tremendous opportunity to help not just those students, but those students families for generations.
6.) Observe teachers outside your subject/grade level
Most school systems require their new teachers to have observation hour. Most teachers choose to observe other teachers that are in their grade level or subject area. I think that is a good place to start, but I would challenge you to go to other teachers outside you subject area or grade level and try to learn from them as well. While content knowledge is obviously vital, you teach students not a subject and the same teaching techniques that work for 3rd graders will probably work for 6th graders too. In high school, most students have the same classes together so go observe how certain teachers keep their students engaged or handle classroom management and go apply it to your classroom. Be a sponge and soak up all of the knowledge you can. You won’t be able to do it all, but pick the ones you feel fit your teaching style, tweak it a little, and make it yours.
7.) Expect to be more than a school teacher
All those college classes you took are very helpful, but they can’t prepare you for a lot of what teaching is about. As a teacher, you will be asked to wear many hats. You will be part motivational speaker, part guidance counsellor, part psychologist, part parental figure, part disciplinarian, part baby sitter, and occasionally part school teacher. I have always said we should be getting paid for doing five jobs. If teaching is all we had to do there would be a lot more people becoming school teachers. It is much more than just standing in front of a class and talking about math and science. All of the hats that you wear are a part of being a true teacher to your students not just a school teacher. It is a big responsibility, but it has great rewards.
8.) Most students care about their grades
Contrary to popular belief among some of the older and bitter teachers, most students do care about their grades. Now, a lot of them don’t care enough and that’s where my students and I have a disagreement. If a child attempts a test, there is a part of them that cares how they do on that test. There will be days where certain students will act like they don’t care, but if you find out more about your students there could be a valid reason why. I have only had two students out of the over a thousand that I feel has truly not cared about their grades and both were involved in drugs which obviously was a factor. Most students are concerned about their grades and want to graduate, but sometimes you have to push them to care a little more.
9.) Don’t hesitate to offer new ideas to older teachers
All of you new teachers, especially the ones straight out of college, are full of great ideas. The hard part is getting someone to listen to your great ideas. How you offer the idea is as important as the idea you offer. If you come off as a “know it all” rookie then your idea will be tossed before you can finish your first sentence. Sometimes, even if you have a great idea and present it in a positive way with the best intentions you will still be shot down, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your ideas. Often times it just takes one other teacher to listen to your idea for it to be heard. You can learn a lot from the older teachers, but they can also learn a lot from you.
10.) Don’t believe everything you hear
Schools are one of the worst places for gossip and social media hasn’t helped. I made a rule for myself to never completely believe something I didn’t personally see or hear. Last week, when I had a substitute teacher, there was a fight in my 4th period class. When I got back to school I heard 12 different stories on what happened and 3 different stories from my 4th period students that were in the room when it happened. I always take what teachers and students say with a grain of salt because half of it is probably not true. When you get your class rosters you will have some teachers that want to tell you all about the students you are about to have. Understand that they are trying to help, but don’t believe everything they say . Go into the year with a clean slate for everybody and don’t have any preconceived thoughts about any student. Some students respond to certain teachers better than others.
If you have more tips for new teachers please share them