As we move back to in-person class, teachers will need to support students with compassion and trauma-informed strategies, and teachers—rookies in particular—will need support from colleagues and school leaders. Teachers will have the herculean task of engaging students who are starting the school year already behind, with the added weight of loss, grief, and health worries as distractions to learning.
For example, low-income students and communities of color disproportionately feel the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic. A survey from Columbia Teachers College’s Black Education Research Collective indicates that black families have been experiencing an undue amount of trauma during the pandemic. Also, during the past two school years, student absenteeism was high and shifts to online classes led to students’ learning less new content than they would have in physical classrooms. A recent McKinsey report estimates that the pandemic caused students to be about four months behind in reading and five months behind in math. In addition to losing class time, more than 1.5 million children lost a primary or secondary caregiver due to the pandemic.
These challenges have contributed to making it harder to recruit and retain new teachers, and to persuade veterans to continue. Schools are experiencing a significant teacher shortage, particularly in communities that serve students of color. Not only will new teachers be entering the profession during an unprecedented time, but, according to an article in Education Week, most online teacher-preparation programs have no field experience component, typically a critical part of teacher-preparation programs.
This means that many first-year teachers will begin their career without any live classroom experience observing a veteran colleague or teaching students themselves.
Helping New Teachers Have a Successful Start This Year
Offer to mentor: An experienced teacher can mentor a new teacher and help them acclimatize to the school community and become part of the teaching team. A mentor can guide the rookie teacher in building relationships and setting up successful classroom rituals and routines.
First-year teachers who have mentors are significantly more likely to be successful and return for a second year. And it’s not just the mentees who benefit: Mentoring often empowers veteran teachers to grow in their practice by pushing them to be more reflective about their own teaching.
Define success (for teachers and students): Confident teachers who believe they can positively impact their students are more likely to be resilient in the face of challenges. Veteran teachers can work with rookie teachers to define achievable goals, helping them build self-confidence and positivity.
In addition to teaching and learning, a rookie teacher’s objectives should relate to self-care. For example, a teacher working to improve time management may aim for losing only five minutes or less of class time to off-task activities. Outside of the classroom, a time management goal can enable the teacher to focus on identifying one weekend day when they’re not working and budgeting time during the rest of the week to maintain that downtime.
Prepare to face trauma: In addition to helping students managing added stress when returning to the classroom, teachers may need to work through their own trauma. The University of Michigan’s School of Social Work developed an online tool kit to help educators and communities identify signs of trauma and implement practices to support students and teachers alike.
Modeling listening for new teachers is an effective way to support them in this work. In a recent EdSurge article, education consultant Megan Collins writes, “Better listening requires a shift from a reactive frame of mind to one which is more receptive.” This could mean the veteran teacher scheduling both structured and unstructured coaching sessions, giving the new teacher a safe space to build trust, vent, and get constructive feedback that will help them grow.
Keep it simple: One of the most stressful experiences for a first-year teacher is when technology fails, whether it’s a projector that’s not working, an internet outage, or a student being unable to log in to a laptop. Veteran teachers know to have low-tech emergency plans ready, but teachers often learn this through (bad) experience. It’s important to coach rookie teachers about having backup plans ready before they execute a lesson so that if their laptop suddenly won’t turn on at the beginning of class, they’re prepared.
Teaching during the pandemic has made education more complex, and as we return to the classroom, we can expect students to continue to use more technology for learning than before the pandemic. Blended learning models, where students work directly with peers, teachers, and technology in the same class period, can be an effective way to help students catch up with missed learning, but these models can be overwhelming for a rookie teacher to manage.
All teachers, and especially those who are new to the profession, will need extra support and guidance this coming school year. Any advice and suggestions that experienced teachers can offer will benefit the rookie teacher and their students, as well as any new teachers they encounter in the coming years.