When we ask young people what they want to be when they grow up, not enough of them are saying teachers.
Our profession has taken a real hit in the last decade or so for a plethora of reasons, and if we want to ensure the success of our careers, we need to make sure we are attracting committed young people and then preparing them for success.
Education programs are not always aligned with the real needs of the classroom. When I was in my graduate program, what feels like a lifetime ago, I remember the shift in my feelings about learning from before I actually had a job to after. When I began taking my graduate classes, I had not yet found a position. I was optimistic and naive about the realities of teaching.
Coming to class each day, I challenged my colleagues who had jobs and chided them about how they should be more positive. Ironically, when I did get appointed to my first position, I deeply understood their experiences.
Although being in tough schools, with few resources and not enough experience is not a reason to be negative, it can easily be a way to become hopeless. In my first school, I didn’t get much support and was often laughed at for naively believing that things like preference sheets were actually honored. What I learned quickly was that in some schools, there is a pecking order with a culture that isn’t about excellence but rather about survival.
Despite many obstacles working against me, I made connections with students and sought out my own professional learning because I knew I wanted to be great. My graduate classes may have helped me understand child psychology or some English teaching methods, but it wasn’t until after I received my master’s and got on-the-job training that I grew into the position.
Having the title of teacher and/or a degree simply isn’t enough, and often we don’t do enough to support our newest, most inexperienced teachers.
As school leaders and seasoned teachers, it is our responsibility to help our newest colleagues as they enter this noble profession.
Here are some ways we can help preservice and early-years teachers have long and successful careers:
- Speak to classes of preservice teachers about your experience; honestly. I am fortunate enough to speak with a variety of different preservice-teacher classes in a few different universities. Talking to teacher hopefuls is an important job to me and is time well spent. Allowing students to ask questions and being upfront with them about the realities of what school is like can only help them be ready for the challenges they will face. Even in the best schools, those early years are not without their obstacles.
- Lend a helping hand to newly hired teachers. Rather than shut your door, keep your doors open to new people. Help them get acclimated to the unique culture of your school and/or district. Be a friend when they need it. A mentor when they need it and a champion and advocate when they need it. We all know what it is like to be untenured and we want them to be successful.
- Let new teachers or preservice teachers observe your classes. Don’t be afraid that you aren’t good enough. Invite them in, let them see. Let them help and allow them to ask questions. New teachers will never be prepared enough so the more opportunity we can give them in real learning environments, the more educated their decisions will be about what kind of careers they want to have.
- Be a cooperative-teacher. If you are given the opportunity to have a student-teacher, take that job seriously. It is not a chance for you to sit there and throw the new teacher to wolves or to get out of teaching your classes. Or conversely, it is not an opportunity to control his/her every move. Consider the process of working together to try new things and gradually releasing control so that the cooperating student- teacher has a real chance to flourish or to realize this isn’t the career for him/her.
- Get new teachers or preservice teachers on social media. We want our new colleagues to be prepared for the journey ahead of them, and there are many great educators on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and bloggers who share honest stories and experiences make the whole profession better. This is a great place for personalized learning, connection, and networking. Show them how or learn with them.
- Invest time. Really, time is the most valuable commodity as a teacher, and sharing that with new colleagues or potential colleagues is huge. Show them the ropes. Make yourself available to them.
Although I’m not always proud of my first five years of teaching, as they weren’t my greatest educator moments, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t learning every day. As a matter of fact, after the first few years, I wrote my first book about the many myths preservice teachers have (and I had) before I started teaching.
Silly me, I thought teaching would be like my school experience and I was wrong. The world isn’t what it was and the system is not what it needs to be. So the new teachers with fresh perspectives will hopefully be the folks who will help us change structural imperfections, as well as additional systemic challenges. We need to give them the best shot they will have and we will need to collaborate to make that happen.
How do you help preservice and early-career teachers acclimate into this important profession? Please share
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The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.