'The five things I wish I'd known when I started my teaching career'

20th January 2017 at 18:39
new teacher, training, schools
When teachers finish their training, they are fired up to change the world - but teacher prep courses can never prepare educators for the reality of life in the classroom

Optimistic. Enthusiastic. Ready to change the world one mind at a time. When new teachers finish their teacher education programs, they are eager and excited to get into a classroom they can call their own.

What they don’t realize is that no matter how well they did in those teacher prep courses, it is likely that they will struggle once inside an actual school to no fault of their own.

Despite exhaustive efforts for teacher prep programs to adequately prepare newbies for the classroom, the realities of school jobs are often quite different than the books and college classroom discussion suggests. As a matter of fact, our own experiences also cloud our judgement when it comes time to stand in front of the room.

As a 15-year, middle career educator there are a few things I wish I would have known before stepping foot into my first job. Not that knowing these things would have deterred me from teaching, but they would have at least prepared me better for what lay in store.

1. Finding the right job

The right fit in a school is everything and sometimes when we are interviewing for teaching jobs, there may be a scarcity in the area we live in so we take the first job we’re offered without really investigating first. New teacher education programs should talk to students about job placement. What elements do we want in the school environment we work in? What are the pros and cons of working in a big or small school and which are more aligned with our needs? What kind of population of kids do we want to serve and what is the current status of a school? Is it in good standing? Is it failing? What are the implications of both of those on the day to day job?

There are many questions new teachers can and should be asking in interviews that will greatly increase the likelihood of a good fit. A bad fit can force a teacher out of the profession faster than the program took to train them, so maybe giving teachers more of a chance to get inside of different schools while in their programs would be beneficial.

2. Technology is here to stay and pretending it isn’t is silly 

Education programs must arm teachers with the latest and greatest in ed-tech; not just how to use hardware or certain programs but a deeper understanding of how technology can extend learning and be seamlessly implemented into any kind of classroom.

What apps are most appropriate for different age groups and/or targeting different needs? How can we use social media to leverage student voice and teacher voice to network and create real world experiences? How does becoming an active digital citizen enhance us all as models and learners in the 21st century? Of course, my teacher ed program was a long time ago, but there was almost no talk of tech in the classroom and I’ve had to learn as I go. Fortunately, I’m always eager to innovate, take risks and challenge myself based on what kids need. This is something that needs to be expanded on in programs as well.

3. Collaborative learning environments and alternative assessment are essentials for every new teacher

How can we get every child what they need without being punitive or rewarding? Teachers need to move away from the way they were taught and learn about mastery learning and reflection as a part of the assessment process. We live in a data driven world and it is important that we don’t just learn to gather data, but also to use it to inform instruction and meet all of the needs of our diverse populations.

Something they don’t tell you in school is you’ll likely have kids of varying levels in your class and your classes will likely be much larger than is good for anyone, but we still need to function in that environment. Getting students to work together to own their learning and putting the proper structures in place to make that reality is essential. These need to be taught, not just in theory but also in practice. Let teachers practice.

4. Much of works in theory doesn’t work when you’re in a school

Every child we work with has a story and developing relationships is the single most important skill a teacher needs. There should be a whole course dedicated to helping teachers develop rapport and then diagnose different things that happen in the classroom at different levels. Instead of focusing on classroom management, we must focus on root causes so we can correct those and then the classroom environment will be able to focus more on learning. Basic needs must be met before content can learned. This is a reality that isn’t given enough time in educational programs.

5. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

It’s an unfortunate reality of what we do, but teachers should know that lesson planning, data gathering, providing actionable feedback and keeping anecdotal logs will be a part of their daily lives, teaching newbies to manage this additional load of work would be more than useful.

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Education is always changing so there is no magic bullet for correcting why some teachers aren’t fully prepared. The same way k-12 environments need to be malleable, so do the teacher education programs. Maybe professors should have to get into a secondary classroom every once and in a while to get a sense of whether or not their content is aligning;. develop relationships with local schools that will allow students to observe and participate to see if education is really where they want to be.

Bravo to programs that do all of these things already, but unfortunately many don’t. Teacher education programs must continue to evolve the same way education itself is. Bulk up those growth mindsets and get ready for the ride of your life. There is nothing better than teaching when you’re in the right place.

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