Even the best prepared, most promising first-year teachers face a harsh transition from completing credential programs to becoming solely responsible for an entire class of students for the first time.
During their first few days in the classroom, they are bombarded with a variety of situations they had not anticipated, and are often caught off guard by the realities of teaching.
When new teachers aren’t supported to rapidly develop skills and address the realities of the classroom, it’s their students who pay the price. To help teachers overcome these struggles – particularly the top challenges that every new teacher faces – it is essential that district leaders put a comprehensive induction program and ongoing support system in place.
Administrators need to be sure they are aware of the unique challenges of first year teaching, and are providing the correct tools and support so teachers can overcome these challenges and ultimately help students succeed.
Getting to Know the Students: Frequently new teachers are placed in a classroom with children of strikingly different backgrounds from their own. Whether it’s a difference in race, income, cultural background or learning style, they are rarely in a classroom that mirrors their own experience. To help new teachers build the type of rapport with students needed for learning to take place, administrators and new teacher mentors should work hard to foster collaboration among teachers, enabling experienced teachers to help new teachers understand the background, interests and needs of the children and families at their school. Something as simple as learning how to pronounce a child’s name prior to the first day of school – perhaps by connecting with the teacher who had the student the previous year – can dramatically impact the way a student views their teacher and experiences school.
No teachers can succeed when they stand alone. So to support teachers with this challenge, administrators must become instructional leaders and create professional learning communities where teachers come together to connect with their peers and share knowledge.
Done well, this powerful and effective professional learning model fosters teacher leadership and supports collaborative school cultures focused on improving teaching and learning.
Classroom Management: This is one of the biggest struggles for incoming teachers. They have a lot of great ideas for teaching and for leading a classroom, but minimal experience establishing and maintaining structures that keep students engaged and productively learning.
To help new teachers learn this skill, administrators can make sure they receive meaningful feedback on their teaching that can help them analyze what’s happening when they teach, and make adjustments as needed to improve classroom management and student achievement.
When new teachers have their administrators or carefully prepared mentors by their sides who can deliver trusted feedback and help them build a lesson plan, watch them teach, coach them through improvements and analyze student data, they get up to speed more quickly.
When everyone giving feedback to teachers is adequately prepared to address what the teacher needs most, teachers continuously improve. Guidance from an administrator or mentor is one of the most effective ways to help new teachers learn procedural skills for seemingly simple tasks that prove to be extraordinarily difficult in reality – like managing children getting from the classroom to the bathroom, or developing a full lesson plan on multiplying fractions that includes a means to assess effectiveness and areas for improvement.
For example, a new teacher mentor might observe a new teacher’s lesson and identify a need to better address the needs of a wide range of learners. During a post-observation meeting, the mentor could suggest that the teacher build relationships with students by spending just two minutes a day for ten days getting to know a student, forming a bond that will greatly impact the teacher’s ability to get through to that student over the course of the year. Having this type of experienced educator as a resource can be invaluable when new teachers are learning the ropes during their first year (and beyond).
Teacher Evaluations: Evaluations can be intimidating for new teachers, so it’s essential administrators find a way to deconstruct their district’s adopted teaching and learning standards for new teachers, then discuss what each looks like, sounds like and feels like for the teacher and students. It also helps to allow new teachers to watch experienced teachers who are exemplary models of different teaching and learning standards, and discuss with them how these teachers have worked toward these standards. Using these standards to set goals with new teachers, and as a point of reference point for regular feedback from a mentor or coach who is not in a formal evaluator role, can also help them and their students meet key standards. Receiving incremental non-evaluative feedback from a coach, mentor and/or administrator not only helps new teachers improve, but also better prepares them to succeed when they are officially observed for their evaluations.
Bringing it All Together: The first year of teaching can be a sink or swim experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Administrators who understand the most common challenges new teachers face can take actions that help novices get better, faster.
Districts that implement comprehensive mentoring and induction programs boost teachers’ confidence and capabilities, increase teacher retention and improve student performance, while reducing district recruiting costs. By increasing teacher retention and improving teaching effectiveness, we keep talented teachers longer and provide our students with a better overall education.
Schools, teachers and students all come out ahead when we equip all first-year teachers with the proven skills and processes required for inspiring students and increasing academic success.
Ellen Moir is the founder and chief executive officer of the nonprofit New Teacher Center.