Are you a new teacher? Do you know a new teacher, or do you have new teachers on your staff this year?
If so, I think you’ll find this valuable. It is my list of the top 10 things I believe every new teacher should know before they start their first day of teaching.
The list is based on research on teacher attrition, input from respected colleagues and my own personal experience.
Don’t believe everything you’ve been told. Some university courses promote popular teaching theories that have little grounding in evidence at all. That doesn’t mean that everything you know is wrong but be very aware that you do not know it all. Instead, you should be open to new ideas, including those from senior colleagues. At the same time, you should base your decisions on what works – not what is popular.
Teaching is hard work. It can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. However, if you are going to complain about long days, longer meetings or working for large chunks of your holidays, then teaching isn’t for you. Accepting this upfront will lead to a far more contented career.
Every child can learn. Of course, some students are easier to teach than others. Their different abilities, motivations and home lives can help or hinder learning. Yet, every student can learn and you should aim for each student to achieve at least one year’s progress for one year’s work.
Be kind to yourself. Yes, you are in for some hard work and some serious challenges. The fact that every child can learn does not mean that every child will learn. Never give up on a child, but don’t beat yourself up or blame yourself every time a child struggles to succeed at something. Problem solve, try new approaches and seek the advice of credible colleagues.
You need to know your stuff. Specifically, you need to know the content for your year level/s and subjects backwards. Don’t rely on your school or your school system to provide you with everything on a platter. Show some professional responsibility and look things up for yourself. A good place to start is the ACARA Achievement Standards for your year level/s and subjects.
You need to teach students facts about the world. Of course you want your students to have a deep and genuine understanding of the material you are teaching. However, many universities fail to explain that such deep learning depends upon a foundational bank of knowledge. Deep learning can only occur after the relevant surface knowledge has been shared. (Hence Point 5).
Discipline is not a dirty word. While it is true that good teaching nurtures good behaviour, teaching alone is not enough. You need to have a well thought out Behaviour Management Plan for your classroom. Setting classroom rules is a given; however, establishing routines is equally important – and this takes explanation, practice and feedback. Token rewards work well too, especially at a group level. From day one, you also need to have a bank of strategies for managing small misbehaviours quickly and quietly so your lessons are not disrupted. For more ideas check out my earlier article the Top 10 Behaviour Management Strategies.
Limit group work, at least until you have your class behaving exactly as you want them to. Don’t get me wrong, cooperative learning can be a wonderful thing. However, when establishing expectations with a new class, you need to be aware of every little thing that is going on in your classroom. This allows you to nip small problems in the bud and prevent bigger problems later on.
Prioritise student learning. There will always be more demands on your time than you can cope with in a single day. If you can go to bed with your day plan done and resources prepared, you can sleep easy. There is nothing worse than rushing around early in the morning trying to prepare for the day.
Be present. This little pearl of wisdom came to me from one of my staff who I admire greatly. It is both simple and potent. When you talk to your students (both during and outside of class time), take the time to be fully present with them. Cast aside the hundreds of other things running through your mind and give your full attention to what the student is saying. Then, with all this in mind, actively seek out conversations with your students.
What wisdom would you offer new teachers?