New teachers, listen up

February 2012

 

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An education lecturer, a researcher and a teacher who has recently completed her first year of teaching all give their tips on what new teachers should be prepared for in 2012.

Beverley Cooper, Director, Centre for Teacher Education, University of Waikato

At last a “real teacher!” I often hear student teachers say they can’t wait to have their own classroom and teach their class their own way. However, you are now at the start of your professional learning journey and you will receive feedback on your teaching on a regular basis. Continual professional learning and development is an integral part of, and an expectation during, a teacher’s career.

In your first position you will have responsibility for your own classroom(s) and have a lot of autonomy but you are not expected to be an expert from day one.

During your first two years you are entitled to a structured programme of mentoring, professional development, observation and evaluative feedback on your teaching and regular assessments based on the Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC) (New Zealand Teachers Council 2010).

Your provisionally registered teacher (PRT) mentoring and induction programme is designed to support you to reach registration. Research is definitive that beginning teachers who have participated in induction programmes are better able to cope with the complexities of teaching. They have been shown to perform better in many aspects of teaching, including adjusting activities to meet student interests, creating a positive classroom atmosphere and improving student achievement.

Your induction and mentoring programme should be a positive, enjoyable and dynamic experience, co-constructed with your mentor to assist you to become an accomplished and effective teacher. Your programme should aim to build your self-reflective skills and assist you to build a stimulating, challenging and supportive environment that promotes learning and success for all. The relationship you build with your mentor is critical to your success. You will learn together and from each other.

It is also important that you build relationships with colleagues other than your mentor. Be visible within the school. Don’t hide away in your classroom. Some of the best professional development occurs over morning tea and lunch! Informal conversations are often great sources of inspiration. You will find the issues and concerns you have about students and administration are shared by many others. Similarly, your colleagues will value the ideas that you will bring as a new teacher and will appreciate your input. Make time to visit other classrooms and welcome people into yours. You will learn a lot from each other. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need information or support.

Another source of support and professional development for teachers are local and national teaching associations, for example, subject associations such as the New Zealand Association for Science Educators, the New Zealand Association for the Teaching of English and the New Zealand Reading Association. These associations often have local branches and welcome new teachers with open arms and are great sources of information and inspiration. Most meet on a monthly basis and usually provide some form of professional development. They also run national run conferences. Joining your local association is a great way to build up support networks with other teachers with similar interests and to get involved in teaching at a local and national level. Ask your mentor teacher for information about the various activities available.

You are at the start of an exciting, enjoyable and challenging journey, where you have the opportunity to make a difference to many young people’s lives. I wish you every success in your teaching career.

Marie Cameron, Independent researcher

Before school starts, ideally you will have:

  • Met your mentor and discussed plans for induction and the general plan for the mentoring programme

Made sure you have answers to these questions:

  • How will my support be organised?
  • What opportunities will there be for me to share planning with my colleagues?
  • What opportunities will there be for me to observe other teachers who teach at a similar level?
  • Met your teaching team and participated in planning for the beginning of the school year
  • Understood some key school policies (such as expectations for student behaviour, what to do if there are problems, expectations of teachers regarding dress, hours of work etc.)
  • Done detailed planning for your first week with a broader plan for the rest of the first term
  • Had a good holiday
  • Set up your teaching space (if you have one).

In the first weeks, you should:

Prioritise the demands on you according to your main role – you are a classroom teacher so concentrate on making sure you are ready for the students in front of you every day first and then look at the peripheral demands on your time Establish some system for paperwork. The advice always is to deal with paper regularly and with as little handling as possible, but if you need to put things aside for a time, make sure that you have a system organised so that you can retrieve it without wasting too much time.

Concentrate on learning-focused relationships with your students. This will help to minimise negative behaviour and will give you a context to discuss inappropriate behaviour with students.

In the first year:

Be proactive about your professional learning. Other teachers will be busy but the school has a responsibility to assist you to meet the requirements for full registration. Don’t sit back and wait for others to second-guess what you need. Evaluate your own teaching and seek other points of view. Identify your learning needs and develop a plan to address them

Get into the habit of looking for evidence of your teaching effectiveness. Seek feedback from your students about what is working for them

Build networks of professional colleagues both within and outside school. Make sure that you attend opportunities to meet with other PRTS

Ask questions all the time! It’s the only way to get your head around this complex work we do and teachers love to help each other. Be sensitive, though, to the demands put on your mentor. Perhaps collect a number of questions to ask at a time or just ask them if it’s a convenient time to talk. Ask your colleagues for feedback on how you’re going in particular areas. Celebrate your successes and don’t dwell on things when they don’t go the way you would like. We tell children all the time that we learn by making mistakes, but teachers don’t like to get it wrong

Raise any concerns or issues early and directly with your mentor. If these are not resolved to your satisfaction, let your mentor know that you need this issue addressed and try to see who else can help you do what is needed to meet the requirements for full registration Perhaps your mentor is overworked and does not have enough hours in the day to do all that is expected of them. It might be possible for other teachers to share the load.

Keep good records of your progress towards full registration. Get into the habit of filing evidence from your day-to-day practice that can be used as evidence that you are meeting standards

Don’t take on too much outside of the classroom. Extra-curricular work is frequently a source of great satisfaction for teachers, particularly secondary teachers, but coaching the top netball team should not detract from your impact on student learning

Don’t overwork. A teacher’s work has no end point. You probably should expect to spend many additional hours at the beginning, but learn to manage your workload so that you have time to refresh yourself and enjoy your life outside of teaching. Seek advice from ‘old hands’ about how to manage your workload and retain your enthusiasm for teaching.

Advice for school leaders:

Ensure that there is a designated mentor for each PRT and that this person has the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to do this role well. Ideally this person will teach at the same level or subject as the PRT, although other teachers will also have a role to play

Ensure support for the mentor – encourage and enable them to attend professional development in mentoring

Ensure that the mentor has enough time to devote to this role. Don’t give the responsibility to someone who is already overworked. It can be an idea for mentoring a PRT to be a valuable learning opportunity and a step towards leadership. However, this person may need to be supported by a more experienced school leader

Make sure that you take the time to have a face-to-face meeting with each PRT, so that you can show a personal interest in them, and show that you are committed to ensuring that they have every opportunity to become the best teacher they can be in the next two years. It also gives the PRT a chance to make a personal connection with you, rather than feeling that they are just a new cog in the machine.

Advice for mentors:

Pages 60-72 Lessons from beginning teachers: Challenges for school leaders, by Marie Cameron (2009, NZCER Press)

Laura Bluett, first year teacher

Overall my first year of teaching has been a positive experience. I felt prepared and aware of most of the aspects I had to encounter and tackle. I had the theoretical framework behind me and how to apply these lessons to the classroom. Because there is no perfect formula for teaching, many aspects cannot be taught and it comes down to your own personal style.

Being aware of school policies, especially on behaviour management, early on in the year gave me more confidence.

I initially under-valued the time with my PRT mentor to reflect on my practice. In day-to-day teaching it often is pushed down the priority list, as there is no physical product at the end, no new resource or set of completed reports. However, until reflecting becomes a habit, using the mentor’s experience and knowledge is a valuable resource. I was also very grateful to have the opportunity to engage with other teachers who have fresh approaches. Never cease to ask questions.

I felt teacher’s college focused too much on pedagogical theories. I acknowledge that these are important to be aware of, but applying them to everyday situations would have been more helpful. For example, instead of recognising the merits of differentiation, focusing on how this can be applied in the classroom would have been more beneficial. It would have been useful to spend more time looking at how Bloom’s taxonomy could be practically used in developing activities that cater to specific learning styles so you can present the same information in different formats to cater to the learner. Instead of researching the benefits of group work, develop group activities – as many subjects have their content specified, this could help produce a practical resource bank.

Teacher’s college also lacked a focus on technology and its huge capabilities within learning. This has the potential to develop our learners and will be how students can engage, interact and reflect on their learning.