Advice for New Teachers

This is a post inspired by blogging friend and colleague Josie Holford, who did a great post last month on the topic Advice for New Teachers. (Josie belongs here on Connected Principals).    Let me quote a couple of my favorite of her points before adding my own.

  1. Assume that your older colleagues want to be helpful and see you succeed. This includes administrators. Invite them to your classroom. Ask their opinion. Ask to see them teach – or whatever it is they do. See if you can find a project of theirs in which you can participate.
  2. Sign on to Twitter. Follow the smartest people you can find in your areas of interest. Build a great PLN – personal learning network – of the wisest and most helpful people you can find. Follow people with whom you agree and those who challenge your assumptions.  Follow people like you; follow people not like you. One place to start looking: Twitter for Teachers wiki.
  3. Take advantage of the opportunity to work with students outside the classroom – clubs, teams, school trips.
  4. Learn from failure, learn from practice, learn from collaboration with colleagues, learn from theory. Most of all – stay a learner.  [One of your chief roles in the classroom is as Chief Learner, not just Chief of Learning] And here is Cybrary Man’s website of resources for new teachers. He is Jerry Blumengarten and twitters @cybraryman1 .

Thanks Josie: And now some of my own to add (readers, please add your own by using the comment box).

1. This can be counter-intuitive and counter to how you were taught, but try this:  Problems first.  Invert the normal paradigm where we used to deliver the content, information, and skills first, and then ask the questions. Ask the questions, pose the problems at the outset, and then envision yourself a mountain climbing guide roped in with your students as you facilitate them in climbing up the mountain that is the challenge.  (See Ted McCain’s Teaching for Tomorrow for a fuller discussion of this).

2. It is never too soon to seek to become an “expert” in some field or area of your teaching interest– pick a topic you are passionate and deeply curious about,  narrow it, keep learning about it, share it with students, and infuse your learning of it into all your teaching.

3. Celebrate and share excellence, showcase outstanding exemplars, post terrific student work all over your walls, and regularly ask your students to assess and derive what makes this work so excellent with their own eyes, to inspire and influence their own work.  Use exemplars with students and have them derive from them their own rubrics.

4. Seek to make your classroom a space where kids can comfortably “hang out,” and if they do, it will become an enormous enhancement to their learning and growth; it can even be humbling how much more they may learn in this informal time when compared to formal instruction.

5.   One of the first books I ever read on teaching, when I first began in 1989, was an underappreciated but very lovely book of essays called Embracing Contraries by Peter Elbow.  Elbow urges teachers to look for the deep, sometimes buried, contradictions and paradoxes in the practice of teaching, and then embrace them, living with that tension in an aware, rather than oblivious, way.  One example of this contradiction is the way we as teachers are both advocate and judge, both coach and referee, both mentor and critic.   One way to work with this tension is to seek to externalize the enemy, to clarify as best you can that you are teaching students toward mastery and excellence in some external set of standards, rubrics, tests, and that you are only, as evaluator, impartially applying those external things.    Then, like a football coach, you can be full-bore cheerleader, advocate, and coach, leading your students to overcome those external barriers.

6. Embrace Web 2.0 as a guiding concept for your technology integration; see the internet not as a tool for consumption but for creation and collaboration.   Here is a terrific NyTimes blog piece on technology for creation in classrooms. (Here is a longer piece I have written about this.)

7.  Even though we should always conceptualize the web as most of all a place of production, not consumption, you can consume too, in small doses; it is amazing what a value a 150 or 250 second youtube video can have in setting a tone or invigorating your students.   When I think how we used to show 45 minute videos on VHS,  I want to scream; video power is almost always best when under 10, or even 5 minutes. But in that time,  it can really energize a classroom: I have seen great chemistry lessons that were initiated with a short segment of a House episode, for instance, laying out a medical mystery which needed chemical analysis to resolve.

2 Comments

  1. What a fantastic list that veterans can benefit from as well. I do want to add to #3 though, that also post the not so awesome work and not because it isn’t great, but because of the learning that came from it. When you only post the excellent work you will almost always miss out on some students, when you instead embrace learning as a long line of tries before excellence then students will be able to assess where the work is and how to make it better.

    August 15, 2010
    Reply
  2. Excellent point, Pernille; I entirely agree. Some of the most successful teachers I have known have been able to design assignments and support their students such that, with patience and diligence, each and every student does produce something that is in some way excellent. I have no intent to advocate for classrooms where only an elite few have work displayed, and another subset is left out.

    August 15, 2010
    Reply

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