I'm so excited about my new job. I'll be teaching
sixth grade in an urban school. There is
a new, energetic principal, and even though
almost all of the school's students are eligible
for our free-lunch program and we lack many
resources, I know there is the hope and expectation
that I can make good things happen in
our classroom. I learned a little about being
successful in an urban classroom in my teacher-education
program, but as the first day gets
closer, I'm getting nervous. What can I do to
ensure a good start this fall?
Dear Ms. Newbie,
The fact that you referred to "our classroom" is a great
start. You and your students should spend those opening
weeks building a strong learning community.
Engage your students in activities that
help you get to know them well. Use
those first days to ask important questions
that set the tone for the year:
"What rules will help us create a safe
and strong environment for learning?"
"What are our hopes and dreams for
our year?" "How will we stay motivated
when we face challenges?"
We know how important it is to
reach out to families right away, sharing
your hopes and expectations for
the class with those closest to your
students. Invite participation in an
introductory letter and make phone
calls to welcome parents as part of the
learning community you oversee. The more you reach
out now to work with your students and their families,
the easier it will be to make calls later in the year. You
might even consider home visits to get a better sense of
the community your students live in.
Take some time to get familiar with the standards
and curriculum for your grade level, then lay out the
goals for each quarter's work. When the students come,
you will want to consider their needs and interests, but
having a road map of expectations will help you pick
the right strategies to support your students' learning.
After building a learning community and unpacking
the curriculum, you are certain to have questions.
Make sure you have found a support structure for yourself.
More schools and school districts are committing
to mentoring programs, because they know new teachers
require support in those first years to develop the
repertoire, confidence, and knowledge they need to be
Find someone with whom you can build a trusting
relationship, one in which you can ask questions,
reflect on your teaching, and find support for focusing
on student learning.
If your school has not connected you with a mentor,
reach out to veteran colleagues yourself. Your
grade-level or content team is a good starting place,
but also connect with the school sage, someone who
seems to know everyone and can help navigate the
site's politics. Find the math and literacy specialists
who might coach you, the friendly secretary and custodian
who can help you with logistics and connections
to the community. The principal is another key
resource. Because you are both new to the school, you
can learn together about the school and community. Each of these valuable adults can make your life just a little easier --
and, most of the time, all you truly
have to do is ask!
You bring a wonderful sense of
anticipation and hope to your teaching,
typical of our best new teachers.
Such a perspective will serve you
well, especially as you gain more
understanding about what challenges
you're facing. Remain unbowed and
unbroken in your commitment to
students. Our work is too important
for us to accept the status quo.
Credit: Bart Nagel
Finally, to all of us who teach with
a Ms. (or Mr.) Newbie this fall, a special
note: I'm encouraging you to do something special
for her. There is so much we can do to support our
new teachers, even if we are not in the same grade level
or subject area, to make our
buildings a friendly environment
for children and adults.
Here's to a great year!
Ellen Moir is a veteran bilingual teacher who is focused on the challenges faced by new teachers as well as on the needs of those with long careers in education. She is also the executive director of the New Teacher Center, at the University of California at Santa Cruz, a resource for educator-induction research, policy, and practice.
Bewitched? Bothered? Bewildered? Ellen Moir is here to help. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and please include your name, affiliation, and contact information.