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How Colleagues Can Help New Teachers

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They approached me as I walked through the hallway of my new school. Both of them had friendly smiles. They introduced themselves as veteran, primary teachers. I told them what grade and classroom I had been given and was hoping to hear words of wisdom and enlightenment. What I got was, "Oh, Room 19 is the worst room in the whole school. It's always so hot in there," and "Those kids have had sub after sub and Anthony is in there. I had him last year and you'd better watch him, he steals and lies!"

Although I am sure they meant well, to hear their brash opinions of my situation only made my insecurities and fear escalate. After all, it was my first week in the building and my third week as a teacher. I was looking for a hug and "Welcome to our school, you are going to make a difference in the lives of the children you teach!"

It may have been nearly 23 years ago, but I still remember that first encounter with my veteran colleagues. As the new school year begins again, I think of all the simple "gifts" we can give our new colleagues as they begin their journey into the classroom. Here are a few:

A Minute of Your Time

Loribeth, a teacher friend of mine, remembers the best gift she got from her mentor teacher as her first year began. "She came into my classroom to help me set up the desks and put up all my bulletin boards."

Teachers know there is much to be done during the first weeks of school, but new teachers who have never gone through the experience of opening a school year have added stress. Give a nervous novice a little bit of your time. Just a few minutes to check in on a new colleague, to answer a simple question about attendance, or to help choose an opening activity for the year can be a great welcoming gift — and can go a long way toward alleviating some stress in your new neighbor's life.

New teachers are often "given" extra duties because they are eager to get involved and may not be aware of the time and work required to accomplish the tasks they agree to lead. Being chosen as the grade-level chair or given the title of coordinator for the Winter Festival sounds good on paper, but these activities may overwhelm a new educator trying to survive until winter break.

Let’s give new teachers time to grow and learn the ropes of the profession before we ask them to take on more than they need to the first year. Don't use them as scapegoats. Give them a chance early on to learn more about their students, school, community, and teaching style. When they are ready, they will take the lead.

Kathie, a former literacy coach, says her favorite teacher gift to give to new teachers was "free class coverage." As a floating coach she was able to take over a class period for a teacher. "I think maybe new teachers would enjoy that free time to catch up if other teachers offered it occasionally," she says. What a terrific gift that would be for those in a position to give it.

We're All in This Together

"I would have never made it through my first year without the help of my grade-level colleagues," another teacher told me. "We planned together every week." Invite and include new teachers in planning. Let them see first hand how lessons and units are created and developed, how to analyze student data, or how to organize the school day.

Let's model for our new colleagues how professionals work collaboratively in learning communities to provide the best possible instruction for all students. Gone are the days of stand-alone teaching. Other professions work as part of a team for their clients — so should we. Don't leave a new teacher out in the cold.

Show, Not Tell

It is easy to hand a new teacher a lesson or share the writing strategies you use in your class. But think about how much more meaningful it would be to actually see that lesson being taught. Invite a new teacher into your world. Let them see you in action, show them how you make transitions, rotate groups, or conduct a mini lesson for writing workshop. Never underestimate the power of observation!

The four teachers on Felicita's grade-level team planned science lessons together last year. As they scheduled lab time, they made sure that Jennifer, the new teacher in the group, was the last to conduct the experiments with her students. This strategy gave Jennifer the opportunity to observe the lessons of three experienced teachers, ask questions, reflect on what she saw, and modify her own lesson plan in advance. Priceless.

"Need To Know" Information Only, Please

All schools have their own culture and history. Avoid sharing subjective "insights" with new colleagues. New teachers don't need to hear that little Johnny couldn't sit still last year or that the teacher in Room 37 isn't very collaborative. Let new teachers get to know the school on their own terms. They may have an outlet for little Johnny's energy level that we didn't think of. Perhaps they will find a friend in Room 37.

Do share important information or helpful hints about matters like upcoming meetings, how to order supplies, school procedures, and students with special needs.

Chocolate, Notes, and Cash

The easiest and most simple gestures may just be what a new teacher needs during a maxed-out day. It doesn't take much effort to smile and say hello. An invitation to sit down and have lunch, a pat on the back, or a few kind words can mean a lot to someone who is feeling overwhelmed. I have been guilty of putting treats, stickers, or extra supplies into new teachers' mailboxes from time to time. If I find a sale on markers or a great new read-aloud, I pick up extras.

Toni welcomes new colleagues with a simple note saying, "Don't worry, we all went through it and you are doing great," or a quick phone call to see how they are doing. Think of the parent who puts a love note or special treat in the first-grader's lunch bag on the first day of school. New teachers need some notes and treats as well. As a new teacher, someone slipped an application for a classroom library grant in my box with an encouraging note. Three months later, I had $1,000 to spend on books!

With a Little Help From My Friends

The two best gifts I got as a new teacher were Evelyn and Sandra. They were colleagues who sat and listened to me cry, complain, and share my insecurities. They didn't judge me, but rather offered me a shoulder to leave tears on, just-in-time support, and real friendship. Make an effort to get to know a new teacher, lend them your ear, and offer to help. Be a friend.

What are some favorite new-teacher gifts you’ve given or received?

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