Monday, November 7, 2016

Dear New Teacher...

I recently read a blog post in Edutopia (if you haven’t had a chance to visit this website, it’s amazing! - I thought this “Dear New Teacher” letter with a list of ideas for making your first year great was inspiring. I have done some editing to the list and added my own comments, mostly from experience (more than 20 years in the classroom, and now mentoring new teachers!) and comments I have heard from many brand new teachers in the past few years. The blog post begins:

“Dear New Teachers,
This blog post is for you. Perhaps you’ve heard that your first year will be “sooo hard.” I want to offer you another possibility. Your first year might just be awesome. You might not only survive it but you could even thrive.”

Here’s the edited list and my annotations:

Build Community and find positive mentors.

A mentor, especially one who is going to be a positive role model, is one of the best things you can do for yourself! Your first year in a new college culture can be lonely. A mentor can be the person who helps you find the copy room, but can also be someone who can help you when things get really stressful and you just need to talk about how things are going, whether it’s going well or not. Find that person; a formal mentoring program is not always necessary. I have found many “hallway” mentors in my life, and they have been just as helpful as my formal mentors. You will be very glad you did this! Mentors also help us network in the system.

Ask for Help

Never, ever be afraid to ask for help. As I mentioned above, sometimes it’s just “where is the copy room? I’ve never taught in this building before!” all the way to “How and when do I ask my department chair if I have classes next quarter?” We always encourage our students to ask questions – I wonder why we ourselves don’t do this? Also think about asking “Why is it done this way?” or “Who on campus knows about this?”

Observe Other Teachers

This is ALWAYS a great idea! Good teachers will welcome you into their classroom. Seeing other people teach and getting ideas that you can implement (either now or later) will help you build your teaching toolbox. Ask your colleagues who in OTHER departments you should observe as well. Just because someone teaches in a different area doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them!

Write Down Your Vision for Yourself as a Teacher

This was something I never thought about before. I realize that I have changed a great deal in the 20+ years that I was in the classroom, some of it based on theory, some on practice, some on advice… If I could go back to that brand new teacher I was back then and ask what my vision of myself would be, I wonder what I might have said. Now I regularly take the time to think about my goals for the next year, the next 5 years.

Don’t Neglect Your Body - Do Something Non-Teaching Related

Yes, you probably saw this coming. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep – all of them are critical to our success in the classroom! We encourage students to take care of themselves, so we need to make sure that we take care of our own selves so we can be the best at what we do.

Catalogue Every Single Success in the Classroom

And why not! At some point you will have a conversation with your Department Chair or Dean about how things are going, and if you keep a journal and are able to articulate for him or her how things are going, it will more likely guarantee more classes the following quarter! And it makes us feel better when we have had successes, and you will be able to look back and reflect on what and how things went right.

Take a Day Off

Maybe it’s to watch the Seahawks play. Maybe it’s to take a hike. Maybe it’s to spend time with the family. And maybe it’s to do the laundry that’s been piling up! Just remember that if you don’t get that test graded today (even if you have ALWAYS gotten a test graded in 2 days) you can tell students “I’ll be sure to have that test back to you within the next 3 days.” I believe they appreciate our honesty!

I hope you enjoy your first year of teaching. And if you’ve been teaching a long time but are at a new college, I hope you find joy in what you are doing!