Dear New Teacher,
Congratulations on your new job and commitment to the future of the world…a bit dramatic, but whatever. I want to give you a list of advice for your first year at the helm of your classroom. This isn’t your usual list…its purpose is to be completely honest; from one educator to another. I have no agenda other than to hopefully give you some pointers to keep you out of deep waters this first year.
So, who am I? Why am I qualified to give this advice? Well, I’ve recently completed my 10th year in the classroom. For the first five years, I taught Civics to 7th graders in a school with a poverty rate of over 90%. Many students were members of gangs, many were the adult in their home, and for many, school offered them a few hours of safety from the streets. That is not to say I didn’t teach some amazing students and work with some extremely committed teachers. I enjoyed five wonderful years with those people. For the most recent five years, I’ve taught Advanced Placement Psychology to 10th-12th graders in a school where over 90% of kids have a smartphone. The school is in a suburb of a very tech savvy city and most of my student’s parents either work in government contracting, an engineering firm, or NASA. Again, I work with some fantastic educators and brilliant students…in fact, the most recent Jeopardy Teen Champion was in my class last year.
I tell you a bit about my past tenures to let you know I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum, as far as economic well-being goes. I can empathize with the good and bad of both situations. Honestly, I feel as though I am in the prime of my career. I don’t believe I’ve ever been as honed in on my curriculum and as confident with my teaching as I am right now. Although I’ve been in the business for a decade, I’m still super inspired and fired up for this next year of teaching. I love my job. It is one of my few passions and I take it quite seriously.
Now, enough of an introduction…to the list. Again, this isn’t going to be your normal list. Kind of think of it as a behind-the-scenes sort of look at teaching.
- Keep the main things the main things.
I believe I heard this saying during a workshop with Stephen Covey. In my adaptation to teaching, it means to figure out what are the most important aspects of teaching to your principal. I would ask to have a meeting with your principal and ask him/her just that. Most principals would enjoy a new employee wanting to better themselves while really looking for advice on making the most positive impact on their students. Find out what your principal deems to be the most important aspects, make a sticky note at your desk of them, and then work to keep those factors at the forefront of your interactions and planning.
- Ask questions.
One common error I see in new teachers is a timidness when it comes to asking others for help. It’s as if they believe the more tenured teachers just expect you to just get it all, know it all, and never need any assistance. That can become a real problem. No one knows everything. Everyone needs help; especially a new employee with about a hundred different things running through their head. Find another kind teacher, tell them you need someone to bounce all of your questions off of, and then actually do it.
I often tell new teachers that you’d rather have another teacher a little irritated with you for asking a question than not asking the question, doing something wrong, and having your administrator upset with you.
- Keep these people happy.
Throughout my decade of teaching, I’ve found that you need to keep these people happy:
-The principal’s secretary – This person probably knows more of what’s going on in the school than the principal. They often times control and see the principal’s email, knows the principal’s schedule, and has the ear of the principal.
-The janitor – Want your room cleaned more consistently than your neighbor’s room? Keep the janitor happy.
-The cafeteria workers – Want an extra chicken tender? Want some empathy when you’ve forgotten your lunch and don’t have any money? Keep the cafeteria workers happy.
-Your content lead or head of department – Keeping this person happy could mean having fewer preps per year and more desirable classes.
- Play the game.
This will be my most controversial bit of information, but I stand behind it. Play the game. Be known as the new teacher who’s always helping out. Someone needs help covering their before or after school duty? Be the person to step up. Someone needs to give up their prep or off period and cover another class? Be that person. We need an extra prom sponsor…again, be that person to step up. Do you really want to do it? Probably not. Will it be an inconvenience? Probably. Play. The. Game. Believe me when I say that word will get around of your selflessness and it can mean keeping your job at the end of term. A lot of principals I’ve been around agree that you can become a better teacher, but it’s tough to become a better person. In other words, principals will invest in good people and give them time to mature into their job over the teacher stingy with their time and resources. Play the game.
Well, that’s it. Hopefully the above tips aren’t the same four you’ve seen everywhere else. I’m sure I’ve got more tips for you…maybe I’ll add more in the comments section here. If you’ve got a question for me, I’m all ears. Just ask below with a comment.
Have you got a great tip for new teachers? Please add a comment.