Words of Wisdom from a Formerly “New Teacher”

NewTeacherTheme-450x337By Joel O’Brien –– Last week, I had the opportunity to take a one week vacation back to Iowa and reunite with old friends and teaching colleagues.

When trying to contact former teaching colleagues, I found myself surprised at the amount of time it took them to respond until I received a text a few hours later saying, “In-service started today.” While school does not begin until after Labor Day for most Wisconsin schools, hearing these words took me back to my first days as a secondary social studies teacher, and stepping into my empty, freshly painted classroom for the first time.

Looking beyond the nostalgia, I began to remember the excitement and nervousness that I simultaneously experienced during the one week that I had to prepare my classroom for the first day of school. While my situation was a bit unique in that I was hired during the second day of teacher in-service, here a five pieces of advice that can benefit all new teachers.

1)      Introduce yourself to new colleagues- While this process may seem intimidating at first, it can go a long ways when it comes to learning about the new environment, rules, procedures, etc.  Additionally, colleagues within your department can be great resources when it comes to sharing teaching materials and advice. While some may be more open to sharing than others, it is important to remember that all faculty members were “new teachers” at some point in time.

2)      Ask questions- Do not be afraid to ask for clarification, if there is a piece of information or procedure that you do not understand, make sure to ask.  Do not let pride get in the way, asking questions is a great way to be proactive and learn from colleagues while developing as a new professional.

3)      Befriend support staff- As a new teacher, the secretary, custodian, and print shop staff can be the most important people to know in the building. Things are often times quite unpredictable in a school setting and when you get in a pinch, these individuals can help you out. Whether it is a student getting sick or running a couple copies short, never underestimate the value and importance of these individuals.

4)      Stay organized- While the first year can be quite chaotic, it is crucial to establish an effective filing system. While extra time can be hard to come by at the beginning of the year, it will be time well spent during year two when you are able to find materials from the previous year and build upon them rather than start from scratch.

5)      Know your limits and find time for self-care- Like many others, I found myself wanting to do everything possible such as coaching and volunteering within the district. While I enjoyed coaching, I did not take into account the amount of time that it would take. For instance, on some game days the bus would leave right after school and not return until 11PM. When I had to be at school before 7AM the next morning and correct assignments somewhere in between, it did not leave much time for sleep. With the help of much needed caffeine, the work eventually got done, but it made for some unnecessary short nights and long days.  The next year, I found it to be much easier, but if I could rewind the clock I would have taken the first year to get adjusted to my new role as a teacher before taking on additional responsibilities.

Hopefully his advice comes in handy, as you begin your first year as a full-time teacher.  If you are still job searching and interviewing for positions, do not give up as last-minute positions often times become open due to unique circumstances… I know from experience!

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