Teaching can be an extremely rewarding career, but it’s also a challenging one. This is especially true for new teachers, who may find their enthusiasm for the job offset by a few early difficulties. There’s no reason to lose heart, though, as most new teachers are well trained, highly knowledgeable in their subject area, and have a strong determination to do well. With these qualities, and with the extra help of a few simple tips and strategies, any new teacher can enjoy a positive start to their chosen profession.
Get a mentor
Most of the problems that rookies have to deal with are not too different from those faced by experienced staff members. They know how to act and how to feel in these situations because, chances are, they’ve been through it before. Use their advice and guidance to sort through difficulties, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Many schools have a policy of assigning mentors who will also act as observers during a new teacher’s classes. This shouldn’t be seen as confrontational or embarrassing, however, as they are only there to help and are just as likely to point out strengths as well as possible areas for improvement.
Be a learner as well as a teacher
Think about what skills and habits are expected of students, and then copy them. Make notes that can be reflected on at a later time, ask for help when necessary, and do homework. The first few days in a new teaching role means having a lot to learn about the school, the students, and the job itself. Read carefully through any school policy manuals that have been made available, and try to learn the students’ names as quickly as possible.
This may be the single most important step for any new teacher, as knowing all the names will make classroom management easier and will help to develop an atmosphere of caring. Take home school pictures of the students so their faces become familiar, and organise a seating plan so that it’s easier to match names to desks. A good teacher should know most, if not all, of their students’ names by the end of their first week.
Introduce rules for the classroom
What problems are likely to be encountered in the first few weeks? Too much talking? Students leaving their desks? Gum chewing or phone use in class? There certainly are plenty of things that could be worried about, and it is up to each teacher to develop rules – that are supported by school policy – that will govern the classroom. The number of rules and levels of punishments should be agreed on by all students following open discussion.
It is important to recognize that these rules are in place to help the teacher as well as the students. They are guidelines, first and foremost, that are in place to help everyone work to the best of their ability. Note also that it may not pay to have too many rules as this can lead to frustration and confusion, but those that are agreed on need to be enforced rigorously and consistently.
What a teacher says is often less important to a student than how it is said, so watch body language carefully in the initial weeks of teaching. If necessary, ask an observing mentor to comment on this, and take time to watch other teachers in action. This also extends to students: do they look as though they are engaged and interested in what is being taught?
The important thing is to maintain a positive attitude. Speak confidently, without rushing, and don’t forget to smile. Students need to know that their teacher is happy in their company. If a mistake is made – and it’s likely in those heady, early days in front of a class – don’t panic, and don’t be afraid to apologize. After all, this is what would be expected of students.
Be honest in all things, from offering praise and criticism to enforcing class rules fairly. If things are being done honestly, it is a lot easier for a teacher to believe in what they are doing, and to stay positive even when things get troublesome.
Make sure that each lesson is well planned. Nothing is more terrifying for a new teacher than to suddenly realise that they don’t know what they’re doing. That being said, don’t over-prepare as things rarely go as intended and it is highly likely that early lessons won’t precisely fill up the allotted time. It pays to have some degree of flexibility in early teaching plans.
If a lesson isn’t going well, don’t panic, and try to have a back-up plan. This could be an alternate teaching strategy, a slightly different topic, or a discussion based on how the content might relate directly to the students. It doesn’t really matter what the lesson’s new direction might be, so long as the students understand that it still part of their learning.
New teachers will also quickly learn that not everything is within their control. Equipment breaks down, special rooms are double-booked, and students are called away unexpectedly. Once again, be prepared for these eventualities and have a workable back-up plan.
Although new teachers are likely to find their classroom duties stressful and time-consuming, it is well worth getting involved in other aspects of school life. Students will see this as confirmation that their teacher is interested in them as people, and that they are happy to be a part of a shared community. Sometimes, there will also be opportunities to discover things about students that may not present themselves in class.
Whenever possible, patrol the schoolyard or recreation areas. If this is done with an experienced teacher, the time can also be used for additional mentoring. Offer to be an assistant coach for a sporting team, or volunteer to help organise school debates. Be there as part of a breakfast programme, or be on hand as students catch their buses. Try to always support an existing school activity rather than take on a new one independently, as there will be times when teaching responsibilities are all there is time for.
Finally, look after the body and spirit. Teaching can be an all-consuming line of work, so it important to eat properly, to sleep well, and to set aside time for relaxation and fun. If it begins to feel as though stress might be taking its toll, seek advice from a mentor and, if necessary, organize a day’s leave. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get back on top of things.
The tips discussed here are based on commonsense and are well within the compass of all beginning teachers. They are the methods used by countless experienced educators who were once rookies too, and who still love their job. By following the advice listed above, there’s no reason why any new teacher shouldn’t enjoy a fruitful start to a long career in this demanding, but rewarding, profession.