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Advice for old teachers about new teachers (guest post)

July 17, 2009 am31 12:06 am

Guest post by Teachin’  (from the new teacher blog: I’m a Dreamer)

I invited responses to “Lots of winners when new teachers stay; What can we do to help?” – here is the first. The author’s an elementary a middle school teacher, new, different part of the country. Please, read, comment, think about contributing a guest post on improving retention of new teachers. — jd

I love teaching.  I love it, love it, love it a ridiculous, disgusting, slobby amount.  But it’s not an easy job, and so of course turnover is high.  I’m two years in and I’m already seeing some of my colleagues leave the profession.  Why?  I’ve thought a lot about that.  While the following list isn’t comprehensive by any means, it’s a place to start.

Give us something, but not everything.
My first year, I was handed my district’s curriculum pacing chart and told, “Go!”  Turns out, that’s not all that helpful.  I built everything myself – every unit, every lesson, every assignment, every assessment, everything.  Could I have gotten help if I’d asked for it?  Possibly.  I did ask once; nothing happened.  After that, and as a generally independent person, I wasn’t going to ask for what wasn’t being given.  I would have loved to have been provided with some materials to use while still having the freedom to incorporate my own ideas into my planning.

Remember that we have ideas too.
This is true in lessons, of course, but also in the rest of school business.  During my first year, I was never shy about sharing my opinions, but not everyone feels comfortable presenting their thoughts to those who are far more experienced.  And while experience is great, those of us who have just finished our certifications might have a deeper knowledge of some of the new research and understandings about learning that we could share with our colleagues.  Not every new idea is good, but not all of them are bad, either.  And when one of our ideas works, acknowledge it and compliment us!  Everyone likes praise.

Continues below the fold

Provide a mentor (or mentors) who actually wants to help.
New teachers desperately need mentors, someone to go to when we’re having the type of day that makes us want to drink a bottle and a half of wine that night, or even just to figure out who to talk to about our need for a new roll of tape.  But the mentor has to care and has to want to actually assist that person.  Perhaps shared mentoring would be the way to go, with one mentor who is in the same department and can assist with curriculum questions, and one who is an expert in school and district procedures and policies and can assist with those issues.

Differentiate professional development based on individual needs.
Every teacher has different areas of strength and different areas of need – just like students!  This is true for us newbies too.  For me, I’ve never had a hard time with classroom management but I suck hard at organization.  Hearing about others’ strategies to keep on top of the masses of papers we deal with would have been incredibly helpful for me, but sitting through lectures on how to stop disruption before it starts wouldn’t have been as useful.  I’m not saying I’m perfect in that area, just that it’s not my biggest weakness, which is what I think schools should focus on (this, of course, assumes that a school offers specialized PD for new teachers.  If not, this whole paragraph becomes “Offer specialized PD for new teachers”).

Be friendly without being condescending.
It’s hard to be new in any situation, but especially in teaching; we’re so isolated from adult contact while so surrounded by kids.  If you don’t want teachers to make friends with kids, give them adults to be friends with.  Everyone needs a smiling face to joke around with or commiserate with now and then, and while mentors are a good start, they’re assigned by the school.  New teachers need other, more experienced teachers to reach out and act like they care that we exist.  But remember that we’re in a different place than you are.  You might hear us chatter on about how great a lesson went, while you’re thinking, “Yeah, but what’re you going to do tomorrow?”  Just celebrate with us sometimes without always gifting us with the benefit of your many years of experience.  We know you’re experienced, and we’ll come to you for help when we need it if we feel like we can trust you.

Is this everything new teachers need?  Of course not.  But it would have helped me, and it might help others out there.

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