Nothing can truly prepare you for the life of a teacher; you just sort of dive in and do your best. That said, here are some tips I wish someone had shared with me in my first year of teaching.
1. Remember…it’s all about the students
At times, the smiles of your students are the only things that will power you through the immense emotional and pedagogical work on which you are about to embark. Your students need you to progress to the next grade; if they feel that you are trying to understand them, they can better focus on and understand their own work. It may seem obvious, but when stressed and overwhelmed, just remember, it’s all about the students.
2. Learn the culture and curriculum
To best acclimate yourself to the school, you have to understand the curriculum through the lens of the school culture. This usually entails finding out who the decision-maker is for each part of the curriculum and asking them to clearly explain how they expect you to teach it. You will not always agree with how the material is being taught, but make sure to wait until you thoroughly understand the culture of your school before you use the knowledge and skills they hired you for to improve on their methods.
3. Take advantage of the existing resources
At the beginning of the year, make an effort to familiarize yourself with all of the resources at your school. Most likely, there are many books, worksheets, and manipulatives that you can access. Even though I am a big fan of making your own materials, you may find perfectly good resources held within the school that you can use or modify.
4. Data, data, data
The sooner you know every students’ weaknesses, strengths, and learning styles, the sooner you can effectively teach them. I keep an ongoing spreadsheet of my students’ data that shows their progress throughout the year. This data, along with a deep understanding of each student, allows you to be very purposeful in your teaching. You can use this data to measure both their progress and to measure your effectiveness as their teacher.
5. Check in on the quiet ones
One of the first things I noticed during my first year teaching was that I had a few students who were very obedient and very quiet. I thought that these students were doing well, learning and progressing just fine. Later, when I went to check their understanding I found that they had no idea what was going on. Let this be a lesson to you- just because students are constantly tracking the teacher and following directions does not mean that they are meeting their learning goals. Check in with the quiet ones, not only the squeaky wheels.
6. Master parent teacher communication
Make a point to contact parents about something positive at least once a year (hopefully more than that). Don’t be a teacher who only makes an effort to communicate when something goes wrong. Parents are your allies and being on the same page makes for a better learning environment for the students.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks and happy teaching!