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More great resources for new teachers and the schools that wish to help them grow

July 29, 2011

Update: I added a great post from Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) on what beginning teachers want you to know

When I was a new teacher, there was never such a thing as too much information. As a fresh out of college grad, I remember asking my headmaster for something I could read to prepare for my job, and he handed me a stack of articles and a few books off his desk, and I remember devouring each one. While I know not everyone is like me, I do think new faculty appreciate having lots of information at their fingertips so they aren’t forced to feel like they have to as a bunch of “dumb” questions. So in the interest of sharing, I wanted to pass along two links for new teachers that are absolute gold.

Peter Gow, the director of College Counseling at Beaver Country Day School in Boston, MA, is one of the wise and thoughtful voices on the Independent School Educator’s Disussion Listerv (ISED-L), that makes a free subscription to this listserv a must read for educators.

Peter recently wrote an open “Letter to New Teachers” that is simply outstanding. Here’s an excerpt that resonated with me:

You’re entering the profession at an exciting time, as I’m sure you have been told. Technology really is changing everything, and even the methods used by your very best teachers, perhaps just five or six years go, are undergoing some major changes. Thought leaders in our world call these changes “disruptive,” and many of them are just that. It’s likely that your school, although they may not have said this in so many words, will be looking to you, who are probably younger and casually adept at thinking about things through a Web 2.0-kind of lens, to quietly set an example for your more senior colleagues.

Speaking of more senior colleagues, there are a couple of things I want to warn you about, but these are things that can really help you grow as a teacher if you handle them the right way.

All this change, this “disruption,” is going to make school unsettling for some experienced teachers; they’re being asked to assemble a whole new toolkit after years of developing their own ways of doing things. They see their schools–their working homes–changing. Some of them are grumpy about this, and sometimes there is cynicism.

Don’t stick around to listen or participate; you’ll have plenty of other things to do, anyhow. Just walk away—you don’t have to chime in or argue, as you’ll soon figure out who is worth listening to.

But here’s something that you can do to help: When you see a real reason to do so, ask one of the grumps for help or maybe even advice. They won’t necessarily make it easy, but in the end they will most likely offer you what you’re looking for. After all, what’s bothering them is the fear that amid all this change what they DO know isn’t going to be valued any more.

What they know that is of value, if they’re good enough to have been kept on for a while, is that teaching isn’t about content and it’s not about technology. It’s about kids, about building relationships with them, about believing in them, about finding out what they can do and then providing opportunities for them to do it. And it’s about seeing them goof up and giving them chances to try again.

In the end it doesn’t matter so much if the approach is Old School—memorize the formula, do grammar exercises 1 through 13, odd—or all about a New Culture of Learning that grows around not-teaching. Know your students, have faith in their capacities, and magical things will happen.

Peter also helped his school write one of the very best New Teacher Survival Guides(pdf) that I’ve seen anywhere, and almost all of the advice in this manual is highly relevant beyond BCDS.

Here’s the section on writing comments, which is 100% gold:

HOW TO WRITE EFFECTIVE COMMENTS

WHAT PARENTS WANT TO KNOW:

  • Do you really know my child?
  • Is my child doing the work?
  • Is my child behaving properly?
  • What is my child doing well?
  • What can my child do to improve?

THINK PERFORMANCE (how the student has done), PROCESS (how well the student has mastered the skills of doing), and PROGRESS (how the student’s mastery has changed over time relative to expectations)!!

There’s so much more behind the link. And as a new teacher, it is always great to get perspective from another school. First year teachers can often fall into the trap of thinking that the way their school does things is the way all schools do things, and manuals like this can give you some very helpful perspective.

Finally, for schools that bring new teachers in and hope to help them grow into master teachers, Peter has written a “Some Reminders to Schools about their ‘New’ Teachers“, which describes, with a fair amount of detail, how to go about creating a culture for new faculty that encourages growth in your new faculty.

In the first weeks of classes the people overseeing new teachers need to be alert, present, and helpful—without hovering. Some brief classroom drop-ins by smiling supervisors can be really helpful—and watch your body language, even if there are things you may need to discuss later. Plan some check-in times in each of the first few weeks—and this means plan, as in, get them (and some walk-around time to stop in on classes) on your calendar. We all know what happens when you don’t.

A great new teacher program includes regular times through the year to work on things, individually and sometimes as a group. Prepare new teachers for ongoing success with workshops (perhaps over dinner) on comment-writing, parent conferences, and expanding professional knowledge in areas specific to school aims (teaching with technology, social justice education, child and adolescent development, differentiated instruction…). Perhaps you have some second- and third-year teachers who can be especially helpful, as they will have a good sense of stumbling blocks the “old pros” take for granted.

In the end most of it boils down to relationships, which are the stock-in-trade of independent schools, in particular. We really mustn’t let new teachers feel alone, or confused, or (certainly) hung out to dry. Even if things do not in the end work out, we owe it to our students as well as to our faculties and communities—I would say we owe it to our values, but that may seem old fashioned—to make new teachers’ experiences as successful as we would have wanted our own to be. This doesn’t mean all smooth sailing, but it means treating them with respect and treating their struggles with concern and with the same confident optimism we offer our students.

And here’s one more great post for schools looking to help new teachers grow: As a beginning teacher, I need you to know…. , by Bill Ferriter.

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