By Teachers, For Teachers
We all remember our first years in the teaching profession. We remember those feelings of excitement and nervousness. We remember all of the trials and errors. We remember the days we’d like to take back. We remember the victories and “Aha!” moments that made us a better teacher. I fondly look back on my first years in the teaching profession, though at the same time am glad I don’t have to relive them. I remember the stress. I remember bringing home countless hours of work, trying to craft the perfect lesson plans for the next day. I remember feeling crushed when those perfect lesson plans weren’t so perfect, when I let students get out of hand, and when I mishandled that responsibility my colleagues trusted me with. Now that I think of it, if I didn’t have such positive and encouraging people around me, I don’t know how long I would have lasted in the teaching profession. Thankfully, I was surrounded by veterans who helped me reflect on my teaching and made me more comfortable day by day.
How did you fare your first years as a teacher? Do your new teachers have someone in their lives like I did? If you’re working with new teachers who are undergoing all the stresses and challenges of their first year, here are some encouraging words you might want to share with them.
Your personal story doesn’t have to sound condescending – you shouldn’t tell new teachers that you’ve been there and you made it, so they need to suck it up. Instead, help empathize with your new teachers by sharing your experiences and struggles from your early years. When new teachers see their imperfect experiences aren’t out of the ordinary, they’ll feel a little less pressured to make things perfect. Instead, reassure them that they’re not alone, you know how they feel, and you’re there to help.
Along with sharing your experiences and empathizing with your new teachers, encourage them with the fact that as they stick with it, they’ll get better. Great teachers are made, not born. The experiences new teachers undergo help them learn and grow as professionals. If they make mistakes, have flaws in their plans, or feel like they let their students down, these are all learning experiences. Remind your new teachers that they get better as they go, and the things that are difficult today are the things that will become easier tomorrow. The disappointing experiences decline while the rewarding experiences increase.
We should be good listeners first. But after listening to a new teacher’s struggles, it might help to offer some simple advice about how to handle the situation. Our veteran experiences have taught us a variety of simple techniques for dealing with challenges, but new teachers might not be aware of these solutions yet. Offering them one or two ideas for handling their challenge next time it comes up and will equip them with both some practical advice and some hope that their struggles can indeed be resolved.
It’s a wide world of education out there, but new teachers might not have had an opportunity yet to open their eyes to the variety of resources available. You don’t have to come off preachy or pull out your personal stories, tips, or materials. Instead, you can kindly offer them a relevant resource that helps your new teacher in whatever area they may need. Perhaps you have an article you can share, a set of materials or lessons they can peruse, or another person worth talking to. What resources do you have that you could connect your new teachers to?
Our new teachers can read and hear all they want to about teaching and still feel like they’re struggling. Sometimes just seeing something for themselves helps volumes. Invite new teachers to come and watch you teach. Even if you don’t have the perfect showcase lesson, it’s helpful for new teachers just to observe you interacting with students, managing your classroom, rolling with the punches, and reflecting on your teaching. Open up your classroom doors and offer new teachers a seat; afterwards, have a conversation about what they witnessed.
You can reverse this, too. If your new teachers are comfortable, have them host you in their classrooms. You can watch them as they encounter the challenges of day-to-day teaching, and afterward you’ll be in a good position to offer advice and encouragement.
Many new teachers can burn themselves out trying to keep up with every responsibility and challenge they encounter. If you notice a new teacher struggling to keep up, working around the clock, or taking on unnecessary tasks, give them this classic advice. New teachers may not necessarily know how to prioritize different tasks, or they may be unintentionally creating more work for themselves. Help them focus on what’s important and timely.
We don’t have to be the ones with the answers all the time. Instead, help your new teachers reflect by asking them this simple question. If they have encountered a particular challenge, ask them to think through what they could do better if that challenge were to come up again. This helps them process their thinking and understand how to make improvements in themselves. This additionally helps new teachers see that solutions don’t always have to come from a veteran teacher, but rather can be generated from within.
Teaching is no doubt a rewarding though challenging profession. While all teachers have lots of opportunity to learn year after year, our newest teachers are the ones who face many of the most intense pressures. As veterans, let’s not leave our new teachers to sink or swim on their own. We’re all in this together.
What advice would you share with a new teacher? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.