By Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)
You’ve been teaching for a while. You’re comfortable in your shoes as a teacher, and you understand how to develop a good management plan for your classroom. You can effectively pick out a teaching moment from a class discussion, and you can work well with the administration and families . . . the list goes on. You’ve heard that the new teacher hired over the summer is two doors away from you. You want to help, but there is so much a new teacher needs to know. How do you even begin?
There isn’t one important message that will help new teachers achieve a stress-free first year. However, there are three ways you can help get them moving in the right direction by the time the first bell rings.
New teachers typically don’t think about traffic, but it can be a real issue. When kids move around the classroom like a fleet of airplanes with no air traffic control, the year won’t start off smoothly. Make sure the classroom setup isn’t too complicated and that it isn’t filled with too many different center areas. Help create a room in which both the kids and the teacher can move around without bumping into each other.
Working with Families
No doubt new teachers are concerned about working with families. Will parents dislike them? Will family members call them at all hours of the day and night, relentlessly asking them questions and criticizing their work? Help demystify this problem quickly.
Encourage new teachers to write an introductory note and send it home to families. Introductions should stick to the basics: who the teachers are, their experiences as teachers, some out-of-school interests and hobbies, an email address that is for school use only, and a request for families to write back something about their children. What do their children like to do? What don’t they like? What have been their successes and struggles in school?
Tell the rookie to use this first contact with families to encourage communication. Asking families to talk about their experiences raising their children includes them in classroom life and validates their knowledge and experience as parents. Who knows the kid better than his or her family? This will set the tone that input and participation from parents is wanted and appreciated, and it sets in motion the first steps for parent participation. Also, not sending home a ton of paperwork on the first day of school will increase the likelihood that the note will be read. Spread out the needed paperwork over the first few weeks.
Routines, Not Curriculum (at least not yet)
You’ll watch new teachers begin to nervously labor through the curriculum books, fretting over what they must teach and wondering how they’ll do it. Gently close the books for them. Tell them that they will have plenty of time to work on curriculum, but right now it’s better to focus on routines. How will they get their students’ attention? How will the students get their attention? What is the routine to go to lunch, go to the bathroom, or check out a book from the classroom library? Encourage new teachers to think about the everyday routines that will be used over and over again. Get them to practice and practice those routines with students during the first few days. Otherwise, chaos will ensue, and new teachers will be trying to teach math before any kid knows where to find a pencil sharpener.
As a veteran, you’re a wealth of information. Don’t be shy and hide in your classroom. Walk down the hall, knock on that new teacher’s door, and simply offer your assistance. If he turns it down, I guarantee he will be back before the end of the first week. Remember that being available to the newbies will not only help them; doing so will also help make the school better as a whole. Admit it: You can spare a few prep periods and lunches to help out. You know you wish someone had done it for you!
Otis Kriegel is a 15-year veteran teacher, having taught in dual language (Spanish/English), monolingual, and integrated co-teaching (ICT) classrooms. He received his M.S.Ed. in bilingual education from the Bank Street College of Education and has taught at the Steinhardt School at New York University. Otis has also been a guest lecturer at the Bank Street College of Education, City College of New York, and Touro College. He created the workshop, “How to Survive Your First Years Teaching & Have a Life,” which was the impetus for his book. An experienced presenter, Otis has conducted this workshop with hundreds of preservice and new teachers and continues to present in universities and teacher education programs. Otis now resides with his family in Berlin, Germany, where he teaches at an American international school.
Otis Kriegel is the author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)
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