Opinion
Education Teacher Leaders Network

Teaching Secrets: Tips for New English Teachers

By Renee Moore — September 01, 2010 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Brand new English teachers have much to learn as they boldly walk into a classroom for the first time. Fortunately, others have gone before us all, and we should learn from them. Looking back over my 20 years in the classroom, there have been four truly enduring lessons that have helped me to be a successful teacher, and I urge not only English teachers, but anyone entering our profession to consider them as they navigate their maiden voyage.

1. Join or create a supportive professional network.

Thanks to years of persistent hard work, professional learning communities and other types of teacher networks are more numerous and accepted than they were even a decade ago. I have been part of several such learning communities, and each of them has provided me tremendous information and encouragement. Not everything that calls itself a “learning community” is a truly supportive or collaborative environment for bringing out the very best in teachers, so some searching may be necessary. Nevertheless, it is worth the time to seek out a group within which a new (or veteran) teacher can ask important questions about daily classroom practice and get thoughtful, helpful feedback.

Hopefully, such a network will exist in your school building or district, but that may not be the case. Fortunately, there are other options, including social media networks, which are increasingly becoming the professional development venue of choice for proactive teachers. Teacher networks and learning communities are powerful incubators of both teaching quality and genuine educational innovation. (They are also extremely helpful for accomplishing points #2 and #3 below). Some that have been especially helpful to me include: English Companion Ning and my carefully developed professional network on Twitter. Another popular site with teacher “cred” is Classroom 2.0.

2. Develop a deep working cultural knowledge of your students and their communities.

I have done extensive classroom research on culturally engaged instruction. That research has led me to this belief: Empowering language arts instruction is a dynamic practice. It is shaped by informed and collaborative analysis of the particular cultural experiences, strengths, and learning goals of a specific group of students within a particular community. I refer to this type of teaching practice as Culturally Engaged Instruction (CEI). [Read more about CEI at my research website].

One method I used to accomplish Culturally Engaged Instruction is the Personal English Plan (PEP). The PEP is an individualized learning plan that I have developed with each student in my high school English classes. Starting with a series of diagnostics that I designed, the students and I develop their learning goals for the year. The student him- or herself is responsible for monitoring progress on the PEP. However, I also ask each student to select one significant adult to act as a mentor for the school year. (This could be the parent, but not necessarily). A few helpful tips should you want to try a similar method:

• This type of planning can be overwhelming at first, especially if you are teaching on a six or seven-period day. The first school year, I only developed plans with one class, until I worked out the logistics.

• Having students working in reading/writing workshops facilitates having the individual planning conferences.

• Be open-minded in developing the goals. Don’t limit the student (or yourself) to adopting just the goals from the list of state objectives, but help them set realistic timelines.

For my classes at the community college, I use a modified form of this same process.

3. Explore technology and other teaching tools, even the initially unlikely ones.

Find out as early as possible what the tech possibilities and limitations are at your new school. Then determine how those options might help you and your students. Don’t be discouraged if you have to push your administrators, or your colleagues, or even your students at first to work with some forms of technology. It is a myth that all young people are into technology and know how to use it better than their teachers—just as it is a myth that most teachers are anti-new technology and don’t want to use it. Beware of teaching myths in general; many a novice teacher has been shipwrecked by relying on inaccurate information about students and new co-workers.

This is another area in which networking can be immensely helpful. There are hundreds of teachers who are using technology in myriad forms under all types of conditions, and documenting their work. Some of my bookmarks include: Ted Nellen’s CyberEnglish; Bill Ferriter’s Digitally Speaking; and Jennifer Barnett’s Web Wardrobe. These teacher-created resources address a range of grade levels (readers, feel free to add others in the Comments) and can help you apply tech knowledge to your own work, making you more effective and efficient in the classroom.

4. Resolve to have and fiercely protect designated family and rest time for yourself.

Don’t let either a teaching contract or a sense of moral obligation turn you into a white-collar sharecropper. (Cultural reference: a sharecropper is a tenant farmer who works someone else’s land, hoping each year for enough surplus from the harvest to cover expenses owed to the landlord and provide for his/her own family, which never happens).

Contrary to yet another myth about teaching (often fanned by the media), most new teachers, regardless of their route into the profession, enter enthusiastic, committed, and determined to make a difference for their students. They tend to overreach, take on too many extra duties, and seriously underestimate the amount of physical and emotional energy real teaching requires.

English/language arts teachers often grossly underestimate the amount of time outside school they will need to spend on preparation, evaluation, and feedback to students. New teachers too often push through the school year at a breakneck pace, neglecting their health and their families. Those of us who are parents have to remember that our own children will only grow up once: with or without us. This awareness of the need to protect family time is especially important for those teachers who are also single parents.

To be truly effective over the long haul for students, accomplished teachers learn to balance their lives. I have taught over 2000 children, but I also had to raise 11 in my own house, including two who were special needs students at school. One of my personal mentors, a wise 40-year English teaching veteran gave me this memorable advice my first year in a high school position:

“Renee, you will need to give up one of your breaks (part of Christmas or Spring) to read and grade research papers because they take so much longer. Decide ahead of time, which one, but never give up both. One belongs to you and your family.”

Teach long and prosper.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)