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New Teachers

4 Tips for New Teachers on Building a Strong Career Foundation

Teaching can be a tough job—as the past year and any veteran will tell you—so finding ways to make it sustainable is imperative.

May 25, 2021
Allison Shelley for the Alliance for Excellent Education

Embarking on a career as a new teacher can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. The excitement of working in a dynamic and hugely rewarding profession is often tempered by seemingly never-ending administrative demands, professional development responsibilities, and classroom challenges.

Forming a solid foundation of routines in the early years of teaching will offer a consistent buffer against the stresses that may appear on the horizon. The four strategies below can provide structure to your daily work and support during demanding times.

4 Tips for New Teachers

1. Be sure of your ‘why’: It may sound like an obvious prerequisite, but being absolutely certain of your reasons for teaching is essential. Every teacher will have different views, philosophies, and approaches. That’s what makes our profession so interesting. Being sure of and true to your own beliefs means that you’ll always have a firm footing from which to approach any problem.

Just as you would in any business, sports team, or major organization, make a note of your mission statement, your core reasons for being a teacher, and the overriding influences that you want to have on the lives of your students. Give some thought to the big picture and what you want your career to contribute. Then, when a problem arises, come back to your core commitment and remember that every issue is an opportunity to confirm and deliver on the mission you’ve chosen to pursue.

2. Find efficiencies: Teaching should be a marathon, not a sprint, and if you’ve started working in a school, you’ll already have seen the difference between the two—from the teacher who seems to be constantly under pressure, rushed, and stressed, to the savvy educator who does an excellent but seemingly effortless job. Time spent outside the classroom building a bank of lesson plans, ideas, assessments, and resources frees up time in school to deliver productive lessons, interact with students, and share professional time with colleagues. Preparation certainly beats perspiration, and spending hours every day preparing work is not sustainable and certainly not efficient.

The smart teacher slowly and steadily builds a portfolio of resources for every topic, commits to and masters one online storage option (no more jumping between an array of apps, drives, and cloud services), and creates a memorable method for labeling and organizing folders and documents. Do you prefer the versatility of Dropbox, the ubiquity of Microsoft’s OneDrive, or the educational leaning of numerous Google apps? Pick which option works best for you and stick with it.

Similarly, the ability to manage school time efficiently produces benefits for both teachers and students. Create answer templates and exam sheets so that you can reuse resources in a variety of topics or classes. Build self-correcting tests or forms to eliminate some of the time spent marking work. Get to school early to complete administrative work at quiet, uninterrupted times. Maximize your preparation productivity to free up time to do what you do best in the classroom. The aim is to save time while also improving teaching outcomes.

3. Be the captain, not the referee: The ocean of books, studies, and research papers in the area of classroom management can almost always be summarized in one phrase: positive relationships. In teaching, it’s extremely hard to bring anyone on a learning journey if they don’t want to come with you. If your intention is to teach by keeping your distance, by refusing to accept any deviations from your rules, and by sticking rigidly to prescribed materials, it will be almost impossible to develop positive interactions, creativity, or a love of learning.

If, on the other hand, you’re a positive role model for your students, if you display a genuine concern for their lives and interests, and if your preparation and passion make it very clear that you care about their work, your students are far more likely to become enthusiastic learners.

4. See every day as a school day: As educators, our primary role involves encouraging and supporting others as they learn. It’s worth remembering that our own personal and professional development benefits significantly from bringing an open mind to all of our teaching interactions. Forming a habit of effective reflection not only provides an opportunity for growth but also offers a chance to learn from experiences to be better placed to tackle future challenges.

The end of each teaching term or semester is a great time to look back and assess not only your own approach but also the outcomes achieved. Keep your own record of key incidents. How did you deal with them? What was the outcome? What would you do better the next time? Equally, it makes sense to make short notes after completing a topic or subject with your students. What went well? What needs to be changed for the next time you teach this?

The objective is to constantly evolve and improve as a teacher and to know that you’ll perform the next task even better. Effective reflection is the ability to look back honestly, so that you can look forward confidently.

Teachers new to our profession are beginning their careers at a time of unprecedented connectivity, in an environment where the internet and social media supply a deluge of instruction and advice. Finding your own path and building an efficient, effective, and rewarding journey requires a focus on the information that actually helps, on the things that genuinely work, and on your students—the people who matter most.

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