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Paying it Forward: How to Help New Teachers


Teaching careers do not always have longevity. Unfortunately, a large number of new educators move on somewhere between three to five years after starting in the field, if not before that. This coming year, a great many teachers are entering the profession. Just as those who are now considered teaching veterans appreciated a helping hand in that rookie year, first-year teachers will welcome the support and attention of more experienced colleagues. While checking in with newcomers periodically or talking shop over lunch is a great starting point for building meaningful relationships, a more targeted approach to lending a hand has a greater impact in demonstrating how to sustain the work-life balance that makes teaching a career rather than just a brief stint. To be mindful of paying experience forward without being too overbearing, here are some supportive steps to take. 

Focus on the Journey

If the perceived standard of performance with classroom instruction is perfection, new teachers will hold themselves to expectations that cannot possibly be met. Normalizing mistakes as an integral part of the journey to becoming effective teachers is so important, particularly in the early stages of a career when every little error seems like a catastrophe. When lessons fall flat (or worse, fully crash and burn), pointing out that tomorrow is another day is one of the most important aspects of moving forward. Students also appreciate teachers who admit their mistakes and visibly learn from them, rather than those who attempt to keep up a pretense of being impermeable. When a new teacher gets upset about a minor mishap, do them a favor and remind them that nobody ever grew in their work by playing it safe all the time. Academic risk-taking is a key part of any teaching journey, and so is the ability to fall down and get right back up again. 


When new teachers share their anxieties or challenges, it can be difficult to hold back. Opinions are strong in this profession, and experienced folks want to share useful ideas with the goal of making the job easier on others. However, sometimes the best thing someone can do to be collaborative rather than prescriptive is to listen more and talk less. Bear in mind that when newer colleagues talk about problems, they are not necessarily asking anyone to fix anything. Rather, they want a sympathetic ear. If every conversation does not devolve into endless venting, being an ear so that someone can release frustration in a safe space can make a positive impact on their well-being. 

If too many conversations devolve into consistently negative complaints, continuing to listen while asking some questions that inspire thinking along a different direction provides perspective without coming across as criticism. For example, after listening to a newer teacher bemoan a lack of student engagement, consider asking a thought-provoking question like, “What have students told you about the approaches or activities that help them learn?” That might help to redirect struggles toward a solutions-oriented approach.

Solicited Advice Only 

In the pursuit of being helpful, seasoned teachers tend to give a lot of advice. Unfortunately, some of the guidance or suggestions they provide are not actually as welcome as one might suppose. In my early years of teaching, a group of well-meaning teachers would often hold me hostage with stories about how they did things, and they made it clear I was expected to learn from their wisdom. While I usually appreciated what they had to share, there were other times I was overwhelmed with work and needed the time to grade or plan lessons. A good rule of thumb for any mentor is to give help when someone asks for it, and to think twice before offering it otherwise. That is not to say that veteran teachers should stay silent when a newer teacher is making an overt mistake, but be judicious about speaking up. In this case, less can be more. 

Provide Tips for Balance

The idea of work-life balance often seems disconnected from reality, and for good reason. Being a new teacher is all-consuming, and it’s so hard to know when to stop working. Again, unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, but direct requests for help provide the opportunity to share tips for success. For example, when a new teacher complains about too much grading (a common affliction for anyone in the profession, alas), make useful suggestions. For example, they might assign less and be able to learn just as much about what students know, or perhaps grading times need to be set into a particular hour of the day so that nobody winds up marking papers at red traffic lights. Going a step further, a veteran teacher might sit down and look at how the new teacher is allocating time and then offer specific tweaks to lighten the load.

Regardless of years in the profession, good teachers know that nobody ever has it all figured out, but the experiences under our belts are far from meaningless. When a new influx of teachers begins the school year, they will appreciate the wisdom and ideas of their more seasoned colleagues, provided they are also listened to and respected for their own valuable contributions to the profession. That way, the help teachers give one another is not a one-way street. Rather, it is a shared experience that everyone can benefit from mutually.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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