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Advice for New Teachers, Part 2

EducationWorld is pleased to present this professional development resource shared by Dr. Jane Bluestein, an expert in relationship-building, positive school climate and effective instruction.

Don't miss Part 1 of this article.

Here, Dr. Bluestein continues with helpful suggestions for teachers new to the classroom.

I Want to be Accepted as Part of the Staff

Your sense of feeling accepted in your school community plays a big part in your feelings about your work. Establish your sense of belonging by blending in without sacrificing your individuality. The transition from being a student to being a professional is, to a large degree, a function of how you see yourself. In relating to your principal, the parents of your students and your peers, the greater your sense of yourself as a professional, the more likely others will perceive and treat you as one.

Respect the existing relationships and dynamics, but at the same time be open and friendly. Initiate conversations, participate in school and social activities, and gradually get to know individuals. Be cautious in setting expectations, making demands or imposing your values and priorities on others. Pay attention to how much of your conversation is about you. Tune in to whether you are consistently complaining about students, school policy, other teachers or parents and how often you feel the need to share the details of your classroom experiences and accomplishments. Lack of confidence usually presents itself in the form of justifications that suggest that “everyone seems to know what they’re doing except me” or arrogance that may sound something like “no one around here cares, works or tries as much as I do.” Neither attitude is likely to enhance a professional image or your relationships with others. Likewise, neither is likely to be true.

Build a support system by identifying one or several members of your staff with whom you feel capable of developing a close working relationship. Approach people with a blend of confidence and openness. You may be new and willing to grow, but you are also a very capable person and you belong there as much as anyone.

I Want to be Great!

As a student, or a student teacher, you received feedback on a fairly regular basis. Suddenly as a teacher, you are much more on your own. While the autonomy can be wonderful, the relative isolation can also lead to a loss of perspective. Especially during the first year or two, you may tend to judge yourself by presumed expectations of others, by your students’ behavior or growth, or even by what other teachers are doing. You may also find that your expectations for yourself are higher than any that you’ve ever encountered previously from external sources. Watch these tendencies, as the feedback they offer may not only be inaccurate, but extremely discouraging as well.

The teaching profession has historically expected initiates to perform as competently (and independently) as veterans. Understandably, new teachers often feel a tremendous pressure to get everything going at once! Remember that running all of your different programs, especially if you’re in a self-contained classroom or working with a number of different preparations, demands familiarity with the content and management of each program, the development and preparation of materials and the establishment of the learning skills necessary to function successfully in each class. All of these take time. Ask more experienced teachers for reality checks or suggestions for pacing, prioritizing and implementing that will work for you.

If you need to take several weeks to build the independence your students will need to participate in small groups, hold off introducing complex logistics or programs until your kids are ready. If you haven’t already stockpiled a roomful of dinosaur “stuff,” decide whether you’ll feel comfortable starting your unit with what you have. Throughout your career, you will continue to amass resources and materials, as well as skills and confidence. You don’t need everything you will ever have on a topic to introduce it to your class.

Most of all, try to resist the temptation to measure yourself against other teachers. You may find yourself panicking at the realization that the other fourth grade is 15 pages ahead of your class in one subject area or another. Yet, this comparison is rarely fair, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the other teacher may simply be more familiar with the material after years of experience with it, and may have devised a more efficient set of lessons and activities. Or perhaps your students needed some preparation another teacher didn’t address, or your kids had more questions. You may have decided to explore the topic in greater depth or with more attention to individual needs. You are not in a race with anyone, and the speed with which you sail through the curriculum is by no means a measure of your competence or your students’ degree of learning.

In striving to become the best teacher you can be, be careful not to identify too closely with another teacher. Simply adopting someone else’s teaching behaviors can rob you of the chance to develop your own personal teaching style, a process that can span your entire teaching career. What works for one person can become a complete disaster if the behaviors don’t match the intentions, personality or teaching styles. Try new things that feel right to you, strategies that allow you to operate within the bounds of personal comfort and integrity.

Also avoid measuring your success by your students’ successes. When your students have a good day, it’s easy to walk away from work feeling quite the super-teacher. Yet when they just can’t seem to grasp a concept, are restless beyond belief or have made it painfully clear that school isn’t where they want to be, does that mean it’s time to consider dental school? Hardly.

There will be days when you come to work prepared to the teeth, organized, dynamic and in a wonderful mood, and something—or everything—still goes wrong. It’s never easy when this happens, but there are silver linings in every apparent failure. Instead of feeling guilty, resentful or inadequate, can you step out of the picture and rationally look at what worked and what didn’t? Consider a few different approaches for next time or think about what your kids may need to know first before the same lesson can go more smoothly. A bad day can be a great opportunity to learn what works, to stretch in new directions or consider an approach that might never have otherwise crossed your mind.

Use these opportunities to maximize your professional growth. Good day or bad, start making notes on your lesson plans, unit files or “to do” lists. Jot down the little things you can do to make your lessons—or teaching life in general—go better. Your notes might include “preview the film,” “make flashcards for the new vocabulary words,” “put the chart on darker paper,” or “next time, remember to have enough scissors for everybody.” This habit will not only help you develop your powers of planning and anticipation, it will also help you avoid similar mistakes the next time you teach that concept or unit.

Try keeping a journal to monitor your own growth, if only one line a day on a calendar or datebook. At the end of each day, write down at least one thing you felt good about, some concrete evidence of your growth and development. You can use some of the following examples taken from the journals of beginning teachers who recorded short messages about their growth on a weekly basis: “My self-control seems to be improving, I kept my cool through a tough situation.” “I’m remembering to get each child’s attention before talking.” “I’m smiling more.” “I am feeling comfortable with the faculty at my school. The teachers have become so supportive, and I am becoming more confident as a teacher.” “I don’t cry every day.”

And even if you get scared, frustrated, discouraged or overwhelmed, remember this: as time goes on you will become more organized, more efficient, better prepared and hopefully, more satisfied. Teaching, like any other set of skills you’ll ever tackle, is a developmental process. You’re not supposed to be perfect yet!

Look for small steps every day, record your growth and go back over your notes from time to time to see how far you’ve come. Build your support network and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And most important, make sure you take the time every day to pat yourself on the back for the risks you have dared to take and all the things you are learning to do well. Much success and happiness to you!

Read Part 1 of this article.

NOTE: The original version of this article appeared in a 1993 issue of Instructor Magazine.

Related resources

Also from Dr. Bluestein:
Is Your School Emotionally Safe?
Accommodating Student Sensory Differences
Tips for Positive Teacher-Parent Interaction
The Art of Setting Boundaries
The Beauty of Losing Control, Part 1
The Beauty of Losing Control, Part 2
Stressful Student Experiences: What Not to Do

About Dr. Bluestein

Dr. Jane Bluestein is a speaker, trainer and specialist in programs and resources related to relationship building, effective instruction and personal development.

She is an award-winning author whose books include Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, High School’s Not Forever, 21st Century Discipline, The Win-Win Classroom and many others. In addition, she has appeared on CNN, National Public Radio and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Dr. Bluestein, formerly a classroom teacher, crisis-intervention counselor and teacher training program coordinator, currently heads Instructional Support Services, Inc., a consulting and resource firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Visit her Web site to access free resources, order books, read her blog and more.

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