You've worked tirelessly for four (more or less) years, with countless late-night study sessions, microwave noodle dinners, and pages of homework and papers. Maybe you completed an internship or worked part-time to gain experience in your field of study. You've decided you want to teach (great choice!), and you're busy looking for jobs and interviewing with schools. Perhaps you've already landed a job at an amazing school with the help of your Placement Team.
As you enter this new working world, here are some things to remember.
1. Learning Doesn't Stop After Graduation
This is true in all fields, but especially in education. Even if you didn't study education formally in college, new technologies and emerging teaching theories mean that the landscape of education is always changing. Independent schools usually offer teachers outstanding opportunities for professional development, which you should definitely take advantage of. This could include on-campus faculty in-service days, regional or national conferences, or online learning. It's also important that you try to keep up with new trends in education or your subject area. There are some great resources online, like blogs, online communities, and Twitter chats, that will keep you up-to-date on the latest educational research and offer new ideas for you to use in your classroom. And have fun with it! If you love what you're doing and find it interesting, so will your students.
2. Build a Support Network
It's hard being the new kid on the block, especially when you're new not only to a school, but to the workforce in general. Finding a person or group of people at your new school to use as a resource and bounce questions and frustrations off of will help to ease the transition. Whether it's a co-teacher, department head, or another faculty member who also rides her bike to and from school like you do, try to find someone who you click with and who seems willing and open to talk. Independent schools, known for their supportive and close-knit communities, are great places to find mentors and professional resources. When you're feeling overwhelmed your first weeks at your new school, having a support system on campus will make all the difference.
3. Ask For Help and Learn From Your Mistakes
When you're new to the workforce (or new to any job, for that matter), it's easy to be afraid of failure. “I don't have nearly as much teaching experience as my colleagues. What am I doing here? What if I mess up?” You're definitely not alone in thinking this way, and it's ok to be nervous. But don't be afraid of making mistakes and asking for help. You will make mistakes! Expect the disappointments and the longing for vacations, and know that veteran teachers experience this too (just ask them). If you learn from your mistakes and use them to improve your practice, they seem way less scary. Your support network will also come in handy here when you're feeling a bit self-conscious and need some advice. Just ask for help–everyone was new at one point in their career.
On the contrary, don't be overly confident in your abilities. Teachers and administrators will be expecting you to ask questions while you're learning the ropes of the school and your classroom. Even teachers with long tenures look to their colleagues for new ideas and inspiration. Independent schools are collaborative communities where teachers and administrators are always working closely together to learn from one another.
4. Watch Other Teachers Teach
Use your new colleagues as an opportunity to do some research. Not only will they be flattered when you ask permission to sit in their classes for a bit, but you’ll have a baseline for measuring your own successes and screw-ups, plus a basket of field-tested techniques. Use a free period or lunchtime to observe a few teachers. Watch how they interact with students or assert themselves when students start to get rowdy. Your goal is to become an authentic teacher, so take what you see and put your own spin on it in your classroom. Try different approaches until you find one that works for you and your students. Bonus: Keep a professional journal. Write down your successes and struggles and by the end of the year, you'll be able to reflect on your practice and witness the tremendous personal growth you've gone through.
5. Always Remember Your Motivation
You're in the classroom because you are passionate about math, physics, Spanish, or art and you enjoy working with children and sharing that passion with them. There will be headaches along the way, but focus on the difference you're making in the lives of your students. Everyone remembers that one special teacher that changed the way they think about school or a subject when they were younger. Work to be that one teacher for your students. Fun tip: Write down the funny things that happen in your classroom. It's good to have a notebook or drawer full of those things when you're having a difficult day.
Do you have any other tips to share for first-year teachers? Add them in the comments below!
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