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.
10 Things A New Teacher Must Know
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, as a new teacher, 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 on what is popular.
Teaching is hard work and can be even harder for a new teacher. 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, even as a new teacher, you should aim for each student to achieve at least one year’s progress for one year’s work.
Be kind to yourself. Yes, as a new teacher, 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. As a new teacher, you should 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. So, new teachers often don’t know that deep learning can only occur when the relevant surface knowledge has been shared.
Discipline is not a dirty word. While it is true that good teaching nurtures good behaviour, teaching alone is not enough. As a new teacher, 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, new teachers 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. Teachers always have more demands on your time than you can cope with in a single day. And, it’s even tougher for new teachers. 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.
SHAUN KILLIAN (MEd., MLead.)
Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.