Saturday, May 26, 2018

Advice for new teachers

Hello, colleagues!

Graduation is upon us! I love this time of year because the weather is (usually) pleasant, people are all nostalgic, and teachers are reflecting on the end of the year. Last weekend I was perusing Buzzfeed when I came across an article with advice, for new teachers, from experienced teachers. That really inspired me to share some information that I have for new teachers. Even though I don't know everything about teaching (I've only been teaching twelve years),  I have learned a lot over the years and can often anticipate what will go wrong ahead of time.

So here is what I think new teachers need to know about teaching.
  1. Expect to want to quit. Teaching is HARD. You don't realize how difficult education is until you have your own classroom. You have to be "on" as a teacher every moment of every day. It's exhausting. Compound that with learning new teaching strategies, with building curriculum, and with the massive amounts of grading that you have. You will have days where you're at school until six, and you find yourself falling asleep as you drive home, and then you wake up on the couch with a full glass of wine that you forgot to drink. It will wear you out and will eventually make you want to quit. But if teaching is what you want to do, and you know you still love, don't leave. Know that the longer that you teach, the better your arsenal or strategies and lessons will get. You won't have to prep as much. And if you combine that with effective grading policies, it will get easier. 
  2. Find a healthy work-life balance. This is something that every teacher struggles with, myself included. But it is achievable. I'm someone who separates my professional and personal lives quite a bit, so I try to keep school work at school. I realized over time that I couldn't grade at home for both struggling to work at home and because I needed the separation. But it's not healthy to stay at school incredibly late either. I made a rule for myself that I would work, at school, every day until 4. I would leave school at 4, and whatever wasn't done, wasn't done. This also helped me learn to prioritize what work was essential. I also visited new and charming coffee shops in town on Saturdays where I would also do school work and get caught up from the previous week. This schedule allowed me to have my weeknights for reading or watching tv, it promised me Friday and Saturday nights for going out to eat and spending time with my husband and friends, and gave me a full Sunday for grocery shopping, watching football, and meal prep for the week. 
  3. Reach out to your PLN. PLN stands for personal learning network. This network is where you learn everything that you can about teaching. My PLN consists of my very close colleague friends, in-building colleagues that I admire, other teachers that I've met through trainings and classes, and teachers that I follow on Twitter. I insist on being around other teachers that are like-minded but push me to think and work outside my bubble. A new teacher will probably struggle with finding a PLN to start, but a new teacher should find a mentor in-building. This mentor should guide them through what they need to know about the school but also about being a new teacher. A new teacher may want to find more than ONE mentor. I've been lucky enough to mentor new (and not new teachers) because they believed I had the information that they were looking for. A new teacher should also sign up for Twitter ASAP. It's a perfect (and relatively safe) way to ask any and every question!
  4. Build relationships with your students. This is something that I still struggle with (it's easily my biggest weakness as a teacher). Get to know your kids. Find out what they like. Try to build real-world "stuff" into your curriculum as much as possible. Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids. Give them your time and your attention. Be a parent, a counselor, a friend, and an adult. Give them advice. Sometimes repeat that advice over and over. Stick up for them. Tell them when they're wrong but admit when you're wrong too. Forgive and forget. Remember that every day is a new day. Believe that every student can succeed (even if they fail your class). 
  5. Don't be afraid of making mistakes and don't be fearful of jumping into the deep end. I make mistakes EVERY day! I've told students to "tap that" (when talking about iPads), I've said some unsavory things to students in anger, and I've gotten defensive to parents when they have simple questions. I've also learned how to incorporate iPads into classrooms, I've built curriculums from scratch (twice!), and I've presented at local and national conferences. As a teacher, you must take risks to grow and mature. As you do so, you will make mistakes, and some of them will be terrible. But you have to evolve and change. Being a stagnant teacher isn't great. In your class, students will stop engaging and will start being compliant. 
  6. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Sometimes you have to start small to get big. This was probably one of the most frustrating things for me to learn. I wanted to be an excellent teacher right away. I wanted everything to be perfect (and easy). That's just not how teaching is. I think I realized this when doing flipped learning. I was never trained in flipped learning, and sort of stumbled and bumbled my way through. It was when I was explaining to another teacher about the process when she said, "It's just so easy for you." I told her that I needed five years to really grasp flipped learning in my classroom, and I realized it took me FIVE YEARS. Even now, with broadcasting, I've designed a great base that I can use for the remaining years to come, but there's still more to do. As I see new students and realize what skills they're lacking, I then have to design new lessons and create new quizzes. I want to self-pace a lot of my curriculum. I need to differentiate my curriculum for new special needs students. I want to change my work into Hyperdocs so that it's all located in one place. But I can't do all that this summer. I can do bits and pieces so that my curriculum evolves over time. 
Other advice that I have for teachers? 
  • Learn about different DOK (depth of knowledge) levels and don't be afraid to challenge your students. 
  • Understand what differentiation is. You will have students at all levels, and you need to meet them where they are. That includes ELD and SPED students. 
  • Sometimes you just need to throw your lesson plans out the window.  
  • Be the adult in the room.
  • Watch other teachers teach. 
Thanks for reading! I hope that you all have a lovely summer! I'll see you next school year :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website