Education Chat

Advice for New Teachers

Scott Mandel, author of The New-Teacher Toolbox: Proven Tips and Strategies for a Great First Year, and Lisa Vahey, director of the New Teachers Network, take questions on new teachers' needs and concerns.

Advice for New Teachers

Aug. 24, 2005


• Lisa Vahey, director of the New Teachers Network; and

• Scott Mandel, author of The New-Teacher Toolbox: Proven Tips and Strategies for a Great First Year.

Anthony Rebora (Moderator):
Hello. Welcome to our online chat focusing on the needs and questions of new teachers—an appropriate topic for the start of the new school year (particularly judging by the large number of questions we’ve received). I’m Anthony Rebora, assistant managing editor of and, and I’m excited to be moderating this chat. We have two great guests to take your questions: Lisa Vahey is Director of the New Teachers Network, a teacher- induction program in Chicago, and Scott Mandel is a 25-year teaching veteran and author of the book The New-Teacher Toolbox: Proven Tips and Strategies for a Great First Year.

As I mentioned, we have a lot of questions coming in, so let’s get started.

Question from Marilyn, Student, National University:
What are the five things you would advise a new 1st year teacher to have already prepared before she or he enters into a classroom for the first time to make the process a little easier to get started?

Scott Mandel:
Sorry if I don’t limit it to five: arrange the classroom; get supplies; gather basic information about the school and procedures; prepare for the first day; organize the first week’s curriculum; establish classroom procedures.

Question from Dr. Mike Novello, CEO, The Private School Consultancy:
What one thing do most first year teachers entering the classroom need and how would you provide it?

Scott Mandel:
Mentoring. Mentoring. Mentoring. Some of your best experienced teachers, should be assigned as a mentor for all new teachers. This is also a great way to use NBC teachers on your staff. First and foremost, new teachers need help in the day to day aspects of teaching.

Question from Flip Jones, 8th Grade Science Teacher, Whitlock Junior High School, Spartanburg School District #7:
Would you agree that entry-level teachers are our most precious resource and need careful and attentive mentoring and many friends among the teacher core of the school who will help them and to whom they can vent? It is indeed sad that so many of our young fresh teachers do not continue in education and the efforts of today’s chat guests are very much appreciated.

Lisa Vahey:
New teachers DO need our careful and attentive mentoring, but I’m always careful to remember to make sure that venting leads to solution searching and problem-solving. Mentoring used to be a cookie, a tissue and a hug-- boy, have we come a long way! New teachers DO need plenty of Oreos & hugs, but also, they need professional support (in-classroom coaching; access to good professional development; TIME to learn their craft; colleagues, both experienced and other new teachers, to help them be networked) along with the social/emotional support.

Question from Becky Haverland former Middle School teacher of 24 years:
Without a doubt I would say the top three characteristics that produces a successful, well liked and respected teacher are the following: maintaining a good sense of humor, consistently enforcing the rules, and letting the students know you are real. Being flexible and innovative in your teaching style is also very important. How do these criteria fit into your findings?

Scott Mandel:
The three issues you mentioned are critical components of good classroom management. I believe that there are 10 critical components that all teachers need to incorporate into their teaching in order to be successful, well liked and respected: You must have control of the class; You are their teacher, not their friend; Behavior is the problem, not the student; Discover the source of any problem (rather than concentrate on the symptoms); Be fair; Be consistent; Don’t show negative emotion; Learn to ignore small problems; Be human; Use your own style, don’t copy others.

Question from Dr. Rene Rodrigue, Adjunct Professor, Barry University in Miami, Florida:
If you could only teach one thing to a class of new teachers, what would it be?

Scott Mandel:
Do what you feel is right. Too often new teachers are so concerned with meeting the demands of administrators, the district and ultimately the requirements of NCLB, that they forget their basic teaching skills. The first year, they need to become comfortable in the classroom, and learn how to relate to students. This can only be successfully done when a new teacher uses their basic instincts and previous educational knowledge. Skill refinement comes in the second and third year.

Question from Shaista Khan, Teacher Educator,Tal-eem:
Teachers whether new or experienced are mostly bored by theoretical concepts in workshops.They are always looking for spoon feeding, how can this lack of interest in educational philosophy and principles be addressed?

Lisa Vahey:
Eeks-- if the teachers want to be spoon-fed, soon the kids will want that, too, and we’ll all really be in trouble!

Seriously, if you want to teach a complex concept, think about doing what a great science teacher does-- root the learning in a practical experiment that helps you understand through experience. Adult learning is tricky business, so whenever I feel like rolling my eyes and sighing that no one seems to care about Piaget anymore, I remind myself that it is my job, as a teacher of adults (mostly new teachers) to make tough topics *come alive* for my learners, so I better find some interesting and exciting ways to make Piaget’s cognitive development theories relevant!

Fortunately, there are great resources out there for learning how to create meaningful workshops that combine theory and practice. I regular use ideas from the National Staff Development Council ( I consider them smart folks with high standards.

Question from Lauren K. Bivona, Loyola College:
This forum may be geared more towards teachers’ first year in the classroom but what advice do you have for a person beginning to search for a teaching job and, once that person finds a job, starting to prepare for that first day of school? Thank you.

Scott Mandel:
For your first question: get some experience in the ages that you want to teach. Even if it is only observing/volunteering--get into a classroom during your off-time so you can see if this is truly the area that you feel is the most comfortable for you. As far as preparing for the first day of school--once you get a job, speak to some experienced teachers in the grade/subject are in which you are teaching. Use them as mentors--they are your best source for succeeding in your new position.

Question from corporate trainer:
How can teachers overcome the fianacial gap easier when moving from the corporate world teaching to the public school teaching?

Lisa Vahey:
The answer is that you CAN’T overcome the financial gap. Isn’t that a hard answer?? :-(

Many teachers have to pad their checks with tutoring jobs, weekend work, and afterschool teaching. BUT if you count the EMOTIONAL pay you get-- hugs (OK, only if you teach little guys!), deep sense of purpose, impact on the future, you might be able to stomach the income drop.

Career-changers should be SURE to look in to mid-career certification programs, though, so you don’t start your teaching career with graduate school debt! More programs that will help you (or even PAY YOU) to train for urban teaching or high-needs area teaching are sprouting up around the nation. Good luck!

PS: I think corporate training is great practice for teaching, so think about joining our profession!

Question from Rita Camille,Curriculum Coordinator, Praslin Secondary School, Seychelles:
What are the most common challenges faced by new teachers and how should they overcome them?

Scott Mandel:
Most common challenge is not to get discouraged. New teachers try too hard to be “perfect”, afraid of losing their jobs; afraid of disappointing an administrator. They must learn that teaching in and of itself is a learning process, and that it takes at least three years before they REALLY “get the hang of it.” They should think of it as is the case in the medical profession--med school makes you a doctor, but your internship/residency makes you experienced. Same in the classroom. You need that “residency” period to become comfortable. The challenge then is not to get discouraged early and stress out or worse, quit.

Question from Kristy Gibbs, Dec. 2004 graduate - MS Ed, Childhood, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY:
Western New York State is now saturated with highly qulified teacher candidates, especially in elementary ed. Do you think substitute teaching is considered “real” experience in the eyes of potential employers, or are their better avenues to landing a first-year teaching job?

Lisa Vahey:
Many schools turn to subs as a resource for maternity leaves, medical leaves, and other “we need a teacher NOW” types of situations. If you are willing to sub, I think it’s a great option. It is different than having your own room, but many sub jobs lead to the “right place at the right time” job offers that will get you your own room.

When you do sub, make sure you do your part as a “staff member.” If you can, eat lunch with other teachers, pitch-in with projects, and attend professional development (if you’re allowed to do so). Being a sub can be very un-glorious work, but it is great training, as well as a foot in the door (esp. in competitive settings).

Question from Sue Moody, secondary classroom management cadre:
What can new teachers do to help manage disruptive students without sending them out of the classroom?

Scott Mandel:
First of all, it is critical that you find out WHY they are disruptive. tha’s the most important thing. Good classroom management skills can alleviate most discipline problems. In the meantime--when someone is disruptive, I follow this progression: IGNORE the behavior--often the student is trying to get a reaction. No reaciton, no reason to continue. STAND near them while you teach--this way they know that you know there’s a problem and are giving them an “out” before you react. SIGNAL them--use a hand signal or something similar to get them to stop. SPEAK to them--interrupt your teaching and ask them to stop the behavior. MOVE them--move their seat to another area of the classroom away from those they are affecting. This is NOT for a “specific amount of time”. Rather, you tell them they can return when the behavior stops.

Question from Ivana Haire, Teacher, St. Brigid - Georgetown Ontario:
I am a recent graduate and this is my first year teaching...the one thing teacher’s college didn’t really teach us was how to do long range plans...besides using the one’s from last year’s teacher, how do I go about making them?

Scott Mandel:
The easiest way is take a calendar, take your curricular guide/textbook, and pace it out. Write chapters/units on the calendar. This will give you some basics to follow as you plan out your year. They start working on your future chapters/units as your time allows.

Question from Cornelio D. Lozada Jr., teacher, Tesla Alternative Middle School:
What are the most recommended strategies for teaching mathematics to at-risk or troubled middle-school children?

Thank you in advance for your advice.

Lisa Vahey:
First, join a great PD organization. My “math friends” swear by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and their work. Also, many reformed-based math programs (Everyday Math, Math Thematics, Connected Math, for example) have professional development experts that you can call on for help (some of them even run support groups for users!). Talking about your teaching, sharing student work, building your own understanding-- these are the things that will help you get better at reaching your students.

If kids are far below grade level, they need to experience SUCCESS, no matter what the content is, so make sure, as you start the year, that you are building up your students (using an additive approach) rather than working from their weaknesses (the deficit approach). Make sure you start the year celebrating how *smart* they are, and getting them excited to be mathematicians (or scientists or readers or writers) is part of the work good teachers need to do.

Question from Sarah, Secondary Education - Math Student, UNL:
What is the best way for new teachers to engage disinterested students, especially as students oftentimes think they can exploit the insecurities/inexperience of new teachers?

Scott Mandel:
One great tool we have is engaging curriculum. And making sure that that curriculum is at the “just right” level for a class of 25 (or 30 or 35!) is a huge challenge. This ability to “differentiate” is a great balancing act that gets easier as you grow your repertoire.

I think another great thing new teachers can do is ASK experienced teachers to share THEIR best ideas for engaging disengaged kids-- you’ll hear about proximity, using small groups, creating partnerships, creating short-term goals-- and if you are still preservice, make sure you get in to as many classrooms as possible to see how teachers manage (with their voice, with pacing, with the curriculum, with their presence)-- the more teaching you see, the more ideas you’ll gain for your own classroom.

Question from Ann Benjamin, Assistant Professor, UMass Lowell:
How relevant are courses in child development to today’s beginning teachers? What improvements should teacher preparation programs make to ease the transition from college/graduate school to the classroom? What are the risks of having veteran teachers mentor new teachers, e.g, do we risk perpetuating undesirable practice and/or negative attitudes when practicing teachers induct newcomers?

Scott Mandel:
Let me take these one at a time:

How relevant are courses in child development to today’s beginning teachers?

They are good for basic background information. Just as with every profession, there is certain background knowledge that everyone should have. This is one of the problems with “emergency credential” programs that have people go directly to the classroom before they take a full slate of ed courses.

What improvements should teacher preparation programs make to ease the transition from college/graduate school to the classroom?

See some of my answers above. You need to get the students ready for the reality of everyday classroom life--not theoretics. The first year is about “survival” and they need to be prepared for this.

What are the risks of having veteran teachers mentor new teachers, e.g, do we risk perpetuating undesirable practice and/or negative attitudes when practicing teachers induct newcomers?

I totally believe in the importance of mentor teachers. I also believe that most teachers are good, with positive practices and attitudes. Administrators should ask their best teachers to serve as mentors for new ones.

Question from Bill Stewart, Director, Gladstone School District:
What is THE most helpful strategy/activiity that principals and adminstrators can use to support new staff before they begin their first day in the classroom?

Lisa Vahey:
THE implies that you only want onen answer, but I can’t do it, Bill, I have to give you a list of choices!

1. Let them spend $ on a classroom library of their choosing (esp. good for K-8 teachers who teach language arts).

2. Build EMBEDDED professional development in to their first year (or TWO!). That means not only an “after school mentor” but someone to come do demonstration lessons or co-teach or lend an extra set of hands or to watch and offer feedback. If only once a month, I promise you, this teacher will thank you for it!

3. Realize that knowledge is power-- institutional knowledge (how to get copies made, how to plan field trips), informal knowledge (Ms. Jones is often absent on Fridays, so plan for a sub for library), practical knowledge (Here is a great list of begin the year activities you can try). SPEND TIME sharing what you know, what other teachers know, and what other NEW TEACHERS have learned.

So, the list is money, time and knowledge!

Question from Anthony Bloss, Mathematics Teacher, New Canaan High School:
As a new teacher, what one or two things should we always keep in mind during the first year?

Scott Mandel:
Do your best, and everyone fails at times. The goal of the first year is SURVIVAL. Not being more than a day or two ahead of yourself (if that) is NORMAL for a first year teacher. Especially in today’s age, where pre-service education is more limited than it was ten/fifteen years ago. It takes AT LEAST THREE YEARS for a new teacher to begin to feel comfortable. Be patient. Enjoy your kids. And also, I always tell teachers--new or experienced--a teacher that never fails at a lesson, hasn’t tried anything new in a long time.

Question from Hal Portner, consultant/researcher:
Lisa: Have you collected any data regarding differences in 1) teacher retention; 2) student achievement; and/or 3) school culture/morale since instituting the teacher induction program in Chicago?

Lisa Vahey:
We just started a fine grain analysis of our program, and I would LOVE to share it with you, Hal, given your background in mentoring! I need to clarify that we are an external program to the CPS’s “official” induction program. We work primarily with schools (not just new teachers, but principals, too) on Chicago’s mid-south side.

To read more about our work, you can read the Joyce Foundation’s annual report (, and we’ll be presenting at the New Teacher Center’s Symposium in February 2006.

Thanks for your interest, we’re honored!

Question from Monique Melara, Special Ed Teacher, Mt. Holly Middle School:
This will be my first year teaching. I was educated in elementary ed, but accepted a position and will be working teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in Sept. Can you give me a few good ideas for a fun icebreaker on the first day.

Scott Mandel:
The three grades are very different. 6th graders can do many of the ice-breakers that you learned in elementary ed. 7th may or may not respond. 8th graders will often “look down” at you for things that they think are “uncool.” A suggestion--ask some of your colleagues at your school what they do with these kids, and then adapt these ideas to your own personal style.

Question from Scott Techner, Student Teacher, Laurel Springs Elementary:
If you had to prioritize, which is more important the first year of teaching, classroom management, or, curriculum knowledge?

Scott Mandel:
ABSOLUTELY CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT!!! (Did I say that loud enough?) You can learn curriculum. When I came to Los Angeles from Cleveland, my first class was fourth grade history--state history. I knew little about California other than it was sunny, they had a gold rush and earthquakes. But I knew how to teach history. I simply had to stay up on the material and constantly study the curriculum.

Question from Carol Johnson, Student Teacher, Allentown:
I will be student teaching fifth graders in an inter city school later this fall. My biggest concerns are classroom management and how will I relate to kids whose lives are so different from my whitebred suburban upbringing? I would appreciate any advice you can give.

Lisa Vahey:
First, kudos, Carol, for realizing that this will be an issue. We can’t ignore the impact of race, class, and culture on classroom management (or curriculum, or society, for that matter!). Thanks for being reflective enough to ask.

So, what to do? I am a fan of professional reading, so find an author or two who’ll inspire you. Gloria Ladson Billing’s Dreamkeepers is a MUST, and I still pick-up Dave Brown’s Becoming a Successful Urban Teacher at least once a month. Lisa Delpit, Martin Haberman, Theresa Perry, Bill Ayers, Herb Kohl, Greg Michie- find an author who will PUSH and SUPPORT you as you think more about this.

THEN, of course, GET IN TO CLASSROOMS. Watch what city teachers do to be effective. They use their voice, their manner, their style, their pacing, their organization, to keep their kids on task and focused on learning. LOOK CAREFULLY at what they do, and start to try out what works, and then OWN what you’ll do (student teaching is all about finding your voice, manner & style!).

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from teachers you see having successful experiences. Bring up this topic during your student teaching seminar.

Oh, and one other tip-- find curriculum that you LOVE and bring that passion to your teaching. If you are excited about the learning, that can be more effective than even the sternest “look” you can muster!

KEEP THE FAITH, Carol, we need you in our schools!

Question from Laura Sherman music and movem ent teacher Kaiser Elementary School:
In your first week of class how do you set the stage, Do you go right into the activities that you will be doing with the children or discuss classroom rules right away?

Scott Mandel:
i usually do a combination of both. A “getting-to-know” each other session. Some little activity or discussion, and the basic rules. To hit them with the rules at once gives a bad impression. By the way--I have only three rules: RESPECT EACH OTHER, RESPECT THE TEACHER, RESPECT THE SUJECT MATTER. That’s it. Everything else falls into one of those three POSITIVE rules. I never use “negative” rules.

Question from Sonny Arnel, Associate Principal, Francis Howell Central High School:
We have developed a program aimed at supporting and developing our new teachers during the school year. I wanted to know from your experince what are the topics, issues, etc. we should include to reach our goal.

Scott Mandel:
The major issues/topics that I feel you should concentrate on: The Room Environment and the First Weeks (Things to do before the school year begins/Arranging your classroom/Bulletin boards/A helpful binder to leave for substitute teachers); The Curriculum and the Students (Fairness and critical thinking in classroom discussions/Teaching five hours of material in only three hours/Keeping students interested/Teaching test-taking skills/Discipline issues); Grading (Marking papers and promoting self-esteem/How to figure your grades/Rubrics/Student self-esteem); Parents (Parent involvement/Parent-teacher conferences); How to Maintain Your Sanity (Avoiding stress).

Lisa Vahey:
I know this is embedded in Scott’s answer, but make sure that you help your new teachers learn your city’s/school’s systems-- who to ask for x, y & z. To do this, you might ask a few 2nd and 3rd year teachers what it took them 2 or 3 years to figure out (and that they wish someone would have told them!). Also, remember that good meetings for beginning teachers aren’t “sit and get” professional development, but rooted good conversation (not complaining--make sure it leads to problem-solving & idea sharing!). It might make sense to respond to THEIR issues and problems (and of course, being good mentors, you’ll be able to anticipate some of these), rather than have them driven by an external curriculum.

Question from Tony DeCaria, Chemistry Teacher, Seton LaSalle High School:
I am a first year chemistry teacher. One of my biggest concerns concerns is the many labs that must be prepared. Experienced teachers have much of the solutions and equipment needed for the labs set asside, but I will have to prepare everything from scratch. Do you have any tips for trying to stay ahead of all of this preparation.

Scott Mandel:
Connect with an experienced teacher in your department. Use the person as a “mentor teacher.” You will be surprised how much help you will receive, as far as “short cuts” and things that you need to learn.

Question from Charles Green Director of Related Arts:
My new school opens on Monday, but we will probably be without half of our supplies and the building will not be completed. What thoughts do you have on dealing with this??

Lisa Vahey:
If you are a primary school, here is my response: make sure you have a classroom rug for a meeting area; plenty of great read aloud books; pencils, washable markers & paper for extension activities; and a lamp, for turning lights out and having quality talk time where you’ll get to KNOW and build your classroom community.

A school isn’t the buidling or supplies, it’s the adults and kids coming together to learn, work, play and learn more. Focus on that, and REMEMBER, buffer those kiddos from the grown-up grumpiness. School needs to be an amazing place, and with the right attitude (and 20 great read alouds!), that can happen anywhere.

If you are a middle or high school, you need to ask some other experts for help-- many charter schools face this exact problem; that’s where I’d start my calls and/or emails.

ONE OTHER NOTE: Make sure you reach out to parents and families to let them know you’re having a bumpy start but putting the kids and learning first. You may need some extra hands on deck during this start-up, so ask for help. Maybe parents, maybe a local college/university teacher ed program or fraternity/sorority looking to do community service, maybe community members. Don’t forget to ask for help. It can be humbling, but leads to many rewards. Good luck, Charles.

Question from Cheri Grant, Technology Coordinator, Hamilton County Schools:
What advice do you have for new teachers wanting to get started by integrating technology into their curriculum?

Scott Mandel:
Look at the Internet as the ultimate teacher resource center. this does NOT mean that students have to be online. Rather, integrate online material into the curriculum. This can be something like bringing in supplemental material that you found online. Or, using an LCD projector, take the class on a virtual field trip to some place you are studying. Look at technology as a TOOl, not a subject. For a couple of resources that explain this in detain and provide you with material you can directly use in your classroom, see Cooperative Work Groups ( or Cybertrips in Social Studies (

Question from Melissa Leopard, 5-6 th grade Teacher, Tapestry School,:
Do you have any suggestions on how I can stay organized?

Scott Mandel:
Lists. Lists on things to do today, for the week, for the next month. Filing papers as they come across your desk. Everyone finds a system that works for them. Its not easy. I’m still working of staying organized.

Question from Paul Jackson, Teacher, Hill Middle:
How do lateral-entry teachers make it on the salaries they command? I’ve discovered my pay is about 15% of what it was in the private sector, and I’m witnessing many lateral-entry folks leaving after (or during) the first year because of this.

Lisa Vahey:
How do they “make” it? How do many teachers, not just lateral entry teachers “make it”? You teach afterschool, you tutor, you work a weekend job... many folks would say that raising teachers’ salaries is an important part of truly changing the profession. Salary is a big issue, and one that educators need to keep on policy-makers radar screens.

Question from Becca Rowan, Student, University of Missouri:
Do you find it valuable to help in an extra-cirricular job such as coaching or sponsoring a club in your first few years? How will you know when you have time?

Scott Mandel:
Absolutely--it lets you see the kids in a different light, and it allows them to see you in a different light. It’s also fun--and you can’t discount that. How will you know when you have time???? You will never have time for it. You just do it anyway and cope!

Question from Kristina Amodei, Teacher, Jenkintown Middle/High School:
Do you have any tips on how to handle or organize the new immense workload beginning teachers face?

Scott Mandel:
Make prioitized lists. Things you want to do today, this week, this month. Once the list is made, mark each item A (MUST do today), B (should try to get to today) or C (if I have time). Cross each item off as you get to it--that will give a feeling of accomplishment. Also, as experienced teaches at your school for help/advice as to “short-cuts” for some of the stuff you are required.

Question from :
It’s a week before school and I’m planning a three hour session for district beginning teachers. What should we focus on, what do they really NEED and WANT to know right now?

Lisa Vahey:
UGH, I just typed a great answer and LOST IT! Rats!

OK, back to the beginning again!

What would you do for kids in the first 3 hours? BUILD A LEARNING COMMUNITY!!! So, I’d read aloud (try Thank You Mr. Falker; chapter 1 from Double Dutch; or the section from To Kill a Mockingbird where Scout goes to school for the first time). THEN, do a reader response. Do an ice-breaker/getting to know you. Share hopes and dreams. Have a fun snack together (I suggest a community-building snack, like make your own sundaes!). Give them a goodie bag with chocolate, a copy of the powerpoint presentation of all the things they need to know, a great professional text, 10 start the year ideas, 20 packs of markers (or other grade-appropriate goodies!) and the PROMISE that you will KEEP GETTING TOGETHER.

Everything you do together should model JUST WHAT GOOD TEACHERS DO the first days of school. Show them that you believe in creating wonderful places of learning.

You want them to know that they are not alone, so make sure they leave with the next get-together date on their calendar, a promise that someone will check-in on them TOMORROW, and a welcoming glow that they were smart enough to take a job with your system.

THANK YOU for helping out new teachers!

Question from Karen Hand, Instructor, Northern Illinois Univ:
What would be a working definition for new teacher induction?

Lisa Vahey:
I’m glad you asked for a working definition!

You can check out Richard Ingersoll’s work for the components of induction, but truly, it’s a model of support for beginning teachers that INCLUDES mentoring or coaching, professional development, access to school-based support and information, and networking with other beginners. Also wrapped around induction is the idea that learning to teach follows a developmental continuum. I stay inspired to keep fighting for good induction policy by reading Ellen Moir’s work. She directs the New Teacher Center at UC Santa Cruz.

BTW, if you work with preservice teachers, many good folks feel induction STARTS with preservice-- a great idea, huh??

Question from Susie:
How effective is it to call parents at home when a student misbehaves? IS is better to just take care of it youself as the teacher?

Scott Mandel:
You take care of it first yourself, and contact the parents if need be. (Obviously, there are some situations that are bad enough a parent MUST be called). Only if you and the student can’t resolve it, do you bring the parent in. It’s a power and respect thing. If you exert your power--calling the parent and getting the student in trouble--when you don’t have to, you are showing disrespect to the student. And I PROMISE you--he/she will get revenge one way or another when they feel disrespected like that.

Question from Susan Johnson, Reaves Elementary,:
I am a new teacher and my principal did an observation of me and my class on the second day of school. ANy advice for getting through an observation. I was completely terrified! Thanks

Scott Mandel:
The second day????????? My question is what did the principal say to you afterwards. Did it feel helpful, or negative? As far as nerves--even experienced teachers get them. Just do your best. I hate to say it--but a principal who observes looking for negative stuff will find it--regardless of the quality of your lesson. A principal coming in to help will find positive stuff and be nurturing regardless of the quality of the lesson. You have no control so do your best and be yourself.

Question from Laura Hardesty, Education Major, Arizona State University:
How do you gain the respect of parents in your first year?

Lisa Vahey:
You earn it. The same way you get anyone’s respect. So what to do?

You introduce yourself first thing (consider sending a letter before school even starts). You dress, act, speak respectfully. You say “That is a good question, let me gather more information so I can answer it for you” when you don’t know the answer-- don’t fib, lie or create answers off the top of your head. You see the good in every child and CELEBRATE that good. You set fair, clear rules (and expectations, too). You communicate them (rules & expectations) to families FROM THE START.

You don’t EVER SAY “I know how hard it is to...”. EVER. Because you don’t know. (Oooh, can you tell I learned this one the hard way???!!!)

Comment from Bonnie Nizamis - Consultant - Rochester, NY:
Not so much a question - but in reading through the questions - keeping a journal like we ask kids to do may be a great reflection tool for you to “laugh at” and remember your first days. Thanks for joining the profession - we need more great teachers!!!

Question from Ann Barysh, teacher educator:
There has been some discussion of late regarding the sometimes tense relationship between the newest generation of teachers and their senior colleagues, many of whom came to teaching during the heady days of the early 70’s.

In your work, how has this factor influenced your work with new teachers?

Scott Mandel:
I haven’t had the problem. If I’ve ever seen it, the problem has been initiated with the “older” teachers. Today’s new teachers want to feel accepted, and they want help and mentoring from the experienced teachers. Any new teacher I have found that “knew it all” usually was out of the classroom within a year or two.

Question from Simmie Raiford, Senior Legislative Analyst, Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, Tallahassee, Florida:
With nearly 50% of all new teachers leaving the profession within their first five years of teaching, what can schools and school systems do to improve working conditions and increase teacher retention rates?

Scott Mandel:
I totally believe that the majority of new teachers leave because they do not get sufficient support in their first years. Too many district new-teacher programs are concerned with things such as “How do you align your curriculum to the standards?” New teachers don’t care! They want to know: How do you handle discipline? How do you grade papers fairly? How do you teach 5 hours of material in only 3 hours? How do you cope with the stress? Mentor teachers are what new teachers need, and realistic classroom support, tied to THEIR experiences, not demands of NCLB. That will keep them in the classroom. This is exactly the subject covered in the book The New-Teacher Toolbox (Zephyr Press).

Question from Jeneane C., Substitute Teacher:
I am a substitute teacher. As we start a new year, what are some tips you can give to a new substitute teacher?

Scott Mandel:
Try to contact the teacher early if possible. Absolutely, use their lesson plans. Know basic curriculum--if you are subbing for a history class, know the basics so you can teach a lesson if needed. There are now resources for substitute teachers. Go to the bottom section of the Educational Resources page of Teachers Helping Teachers ( for a web site devoted to substitute teaching.

Question from Colleen Gleason, Teacher, Atlantic High School:
Are there any tips that you could recommend for new teachers to improve staying consistant while dealing with 120 students.

Scott Mandel:
You have basic rules and procedures. Keep to them. Make sure the students understand them. However, you need to alter and change them if needed for indivdiual situations. But to do so, you MUST have solid reasons to do so. Role-play in your head. You’re about to alter your rules for a special circumstance and you are being questioned about it. Do you have enough good, solid reasons to answer this person? If not, don’t do it.

Question from Stacy Dumont, TA, Carmel Central School Dist:
Can you explain to us some proven strategies in classroom management regarding maintaining order and discipline without being military about it? Or should we be military about it? :o) Thanks!

Lisa Vahey:
Jump over to and read their amazing stuff about creating a community. Teaching Children to Care will help you set high goals for yourself. Rules in School is a practical how-to guide. Morning Meeting will help you start each day well.

But I will say one thing, from the heart. My very-progressive, very wonderful teacher education program was all about “democratic classrooms” but I did realize, about my third year, that I needed to be president of my room! It is very important for kids (now I’m a K-5, not middle school/high school person) to know that there is a great leader guiding their work.

Oh, but do remember, be president, not the dictator! Good luck, President Stacy!

Question from Susan Wiswell, ESOL teacher, Falls Church High School:
Although I am not a new teacher,I supervise student teachers and am called on to help new teachers in other disciplines. The questions that I ponder frequently relate to defining intra\interpersonal skills. So my question is this, “What matters most in terms of intra\interpersonal skills to be a successful teacher.”

Scott Mandel:
This is a really rough one. Most adults who lose jobs lose them for poor interpersonal skills--NOT lack of knowledge. Teachers need to see themselves holistically within the school organization. They must see themselves as part of the school “family.” It falls upon administrators and experienced teachers to make them feel this way. For example: go into your lunchroom. Are there new teachers who you NEVER see in there? Drag them out of their classroom once a day to socialize and interact with other staff members.

Question from Pamela Smith, Principal Intern, Maine Consolidated School:
What are some specific ways that the established teachers in a school can help the new teachers when no organized mentorship program exists?

Scott Mandel:
Ask them questions. “What do you need?” “What can I do for you?” “How can I help you?” Then look around and ask and think about those things that YOU know they need, but probably have not been told. “Did you know that...” “Did anyone tell you about...” Also--the first week or two get them out of the classroom for recess/nutrition and/or lunch!!!! the first Friday, take them out for Happy Hour/coffee. This will help them feel less lonely and more accepted.

Question from Lynda Adams, District Director of Science, Deer Park School District:
Can you please give some ideas on administrative strategies to support second year teachers and help them to continue to explore and grow?

Scott Mandel:
Most of my comments towards mentoring above will fit well with administrators. Remember, a second year teacher is still in that three-year learning frame. They care about/want to know little outside of what is required for teaching in their own classroom this week. The only way you can REALLY get them to “explore and grow” (a great way to refer to it, by the way), is to select things that directly relate to their individual curriculum, things that will DIRECTLY make their teaching better. Other things--which you may feel are great--should be suggested for over the summer, when their minds are a little freer.

Question from Karen Pampush, 3rd grade teacher, Chicago Public Schools:
How can we “quantify” our authentic assessment of students so it can be put into a letter grade in the repot card?

Lisa Vahey:
Oh, hello Karen (who I happen to know is a great 2nd year teacher here in Chicago!).

So here goes. Set some CLEAR GOALS. Authentic assessment shouldn’t be all soft & unclear. So in writing, if you are looking at student work, make a list of 5 things that you expect kids to have mastered, 5 things you’d like to see bubbling up more in their work. Low & behold, that’s 10 (5 + 5!). Now I might choose to keep it in a checklist format, and decide my next cluster of writing lessons based on whether or not my list of 5 has been truly mastered and where the kids are with the bubbling-up list. But my principal may want to see 8/10 in my book (or his boss may want to see it, you never know!).

The important this is that I got information to inform my practice (What are my next 8 writing lessons going to be, based on my kids’ needs?) and I also can convert that to a grade.

Karen, Chicago loves you! Keep up the great work! xo Lisa

Question from Sue Moody, Secondary Classroom Management Cadre:
I visit new teachers and help with their classroom management strategies. The biggest problem seems to be that many teachers have not had practice in classroom management prior to their first teaching experience. How do we let the colleges know this should be a vital part of their education.

Lisa Vahey:

But telling isn’t enough. Offer suggestions, too. “I noticed that many of the physics teachers you are training have such tremendous knowledge. Thanks for making sure they know their content so well. Might I suggest that these great teacher get some preservice support on organizing experiments? I notice that many of them tend to lecture, then they lose the kids, and management becomes an issue. There is a great program you can expose them to called Blah Blah Blah, and maybe we can work together to have one of our great physics teachers come in and share how this works.”

Don’t give up, Sue. It may take 4, 5, 10 conversations to make this happen. But have a concrete way to make it better.

Another idea-- make sure the teachers themselves are getting this feedback back to their programs, too. Many new teachers that I know really do wish their teacher ed programs were giving them more on management. They just paid for an incomplete education, so get their voices in there, too!

Question from Becky Hatch, Teacher Quality Specialist, Granite School District:
How can those of us who work in district positions best support the new teacher in their classroom? What strategies have proven to be the most effective?

Lisa Vahey:
Becky, I think I’ve answered a version of this, but I’ll go again with:

GIVE teachers time - to plan, to visit other teachers, to get great professional development, to ask questions, to build their expertise.

Districts have to be committed to supporting new teachers, and it’s not easy. Go back and ask your 2nd and 3rd year teachers what was helpful, and what wasn’t so helpful (and what they wish you’d done). They will have the contextual knowledge you need to plan a more comprehensive induction program.

Visit New Teacher Center’s website for more info on district-wide work.

HURRAY for administrators who are supporting new teachers! Thanks, Becky!

Question from Justin Lev, Student Teacher, Shonto Preparatory School:
In your opinion, what is the most important thing an educator should accomplish or focus on in his or her first year of teaching?

Scott Mandel:
Survival! Learn good classroom management skills. Self-reflect--what worked, can can be better, what should be discarded. Enjoy your first year. Most important--look forward to your second year.

Question from Paul Gipson, Social Studies Teacher, Climax Springs High School:
I just started my first teaching job and it is quite overwhelming. I teach social studies 7-12 grades and I have 6 different preps. Do you have any time management advice, because I have spent the last week in my class until 9 oclock at night or later preparing lesson plans, and I still feel like I am getting behind in my work instead of getting ahead.

Scott Mandel:
6 preps--sounds like my schedule. Refer up to the comment I made regarding making prioritized lists. And also ask experienced teachers at your school how they do it. you may get some good advice for your particular situation.

Anthony Rebora (Moderator):
Well, we’re just about out of time now--we actually ran a little over because we had so many great questions and our guests were having such a good time. I want to thank everyone who submitted questions--we tried to get to as many as we could. It’s great to see there’s such support out there for new teachers. And I especially want to thank our guests Lisa Vahey and Scott Mandel. They were great. This was a very fast-paced and informative chat. Thanks again.

The transcript of the chat will be available by 8/25 on and

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