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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Credit: iStock

Baptism By Fire! That's what I call the first year of teaching. No matter how much preparation and mentoring you have received, you are building the plane as you fly it. To make sure you don't crash and/or burn (yes, pun intended!), I put together some hard-learned lessons from my experience as a new teacher. In addition, these are good recommendations and reminders for veteran teachers. When you get hunkered down in the day-to-day while the year presses on, you tend to forget what really works well, because you are working so hard. I hope you find these five tips useful!

1) Push Out Content in Different Ways

You know what's exhausting? Preparing PowerPoints, presentations and other lectures! Guess what? You don't have to do this all the time. Yes, there is a time and a place for a lecture or direct instruction, but there is also a place for a variety of strategies to have students take ownership of content learning. Use jigsaw techniques, games that teach, reciprocal teaching and other effective strategies that put students in the driver's seat of learning. Move from sage of the stage to guide on the side. While all lessons require preparation and planning, a variety of lesson types can not only keep your students interested, but also keep you energized to try new ways of teaching.

2) Go Home!

I mean it. Go home! There is always something more to do, I know it. But you know what? It can wait! Now obviously, you do need to stay late for events, meetings and tutoring with students, but you also need to set boundaries. It is easy to get sucked into the school building, so make sure you leave when appropriate. Go home to your family (or your cat, in my case). Let your students and peers know that you are taking care of your own self by attempting to have a life outside of school.

3) Establish Boundaries for Your Time

Of course this relates to the tip above, but it has more to do with the overall structures you have in place for your time during the school day. It's OK to keep your door closed. Yes, there are times to work with students, but there is also time to put on NPR with your cup of coffee, check you email and commence your morning ritual. Your lunch is sacred, so make sure you take that time for yourself, too. If professional development is scheduled, keep that sacred as well, because it is some rare time you have to work on your practice. Students, parents and others will respect the fact that you set time aside for them, but also for yourself.

4) Use Your PLN

In a previous blog here at Edutopia, Mary Beth Hertz wrote about the importance of the "connected educator," suggesting that we all make sure to network with fellow educators. Great teachers steal (and you'd be a liar if you said you were "borrowing"), so make sure you use technologies like Edmodo and Twitter to keep yourself connected to other educators, your personal learning network (PLN).

5) Know What You Are Assessing

Obviously, teachers should know what they are assessing, but sometimes we forget and start assessing everything. If you collect a formative assignment, only assess for a few things. Do you have to assess for conventions all the time? No, but there is a time and place for that. Do you have to assess correct answers in math problems? Perhaps not this time. Perhaps you focus on process-oriented feedback. Know what you are assessing, and be transparent about this to students. Not only is this manageable for students to digest later, but it makes the time you spend assessing and giving feedback shorter, focused and more efficient.

Again, these are tips, and may not work for everyone, but I think in general they encompass what I learned in the first years. You can only care for your students if you are caring for yourself. If you create and live in structures that allow you to work smart, then you'll transition into a confident, veteran teacher so much more quickly!

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