It is a strange time to be a new teacher. When the school year starts later this summer, young educators will be entering a school system still reeling from the trauma of the past two years and navigating sometimes divisive cultural challenges.
However, it’s also a time of innovation with new technology and teaching strategies providing a multitude of exciting ways to connect and inspire students, say award-winning educators. Here is their advice for new teachers.
1. Be ready for a challenge
Robert C. Sidford, director of technology and innovation at the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in California, says new educators should remember these are still not normal times.
“These are really hard times for everybody, everybody seems to be struggling right now, for one reason or another,” he says. “Know that you’re coming into this in one of the hardest times you’re probably ever going to teach.”
On top of these unique challenges, the first year of teaching is always the hardest as a teacher, according to Christopher Jenson, an ER doctor turned high school science teacher. “It’s like any new job, there’s so much uncertainty your first year,” says Jenson, who runs Diagnosing Education LLC, a school consulting service. “Hang in there, and do not be afraid to ask questions. You could not possibly ask enough questions. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of you developing faster.”
2. Remember the joys of the profession
“Teaching is a great thing,” Sidford says. “This is where we were building our future leaders and future generations and future people. And it’s a great way to influence all that and be part of helping kids to get where they need to go.”
Dr. Curtis Cain, superintendent of Wentzville School District in Missouri and the 2022 AASA National Superintendent of the Year, offers similar advice for those starting out in the profession. “There is joy, and value, and dignity in this job. There’s pride in what we’re doing. And there really is a true appreciation from parents in terms of what educators do on a daily basis. Never lose sight of that.”
Despite well-publicized debates around topics such as school masking, the majority of Americans remain very satisfied with their local school regardless of what they think about school policies at the national level, according to polls.
3. Be intentional about how you incorporate technology
Laurie Guyon, coordinator for Model Schools at Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton- Essex BOCES, says new teachers looking to incorporate technology should be very selective in their efforts. “There’s a power in one,” she says. “Learn one tool very well, and get comfortable with it, and then expand. “
This can help ensure teachers are using that tool in a beneficial way for their students and that they’re not overwhelming themselves. “A lot of times technology is like standing in front of a fire hose – it’s just like throwing so much at you,” she says. “You need to pick what works for you, and what works for your students. If it’s not working, put it away and pick something else. A lot of times teachers will say, ‘What’s the next new thing in technology?’ And I always say, ‘Well, what’s your learning objective? What do you want your students to be able to do? Then we’ll figure out what makes the most sense.’ And you know what? Sometimes paper and pencil make the most sense.”
4. Learn from your students
Kimberly Ramos, a technology instructional coach at the North Kingstown School Department in Rhode Island, says to always give students time to play and explore with any new tool before introducing the lesson content. She also says it’s good to learn from students about the technology itself. “There’s always going to be a kid in your room who knows how to do things way better than you do and who knows way more about the product, and you can jump on that,” she says.
Getting to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses can also help how you teach. Cain advises, “Meeting students where they are,” and “clearly understanding where students are going to go,” then figuring out lessons, pathways, extension activities, and more tailored to each individual student. He says teachers will want to learn what is the path that’s going to be best in terms of meeting the individual needs of students.
5. Set boundaries
Kyle S. Whipple, a professor of Education for Equity and Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, warns the preservice teachers he works with to protect their personal lives. “You’re going into education, I promise you that every hour of every day, you could work if that was your goal,” Whipple tells the aspiring teachers during the first week of classes. “You will always have a basketball game you could attend. You will always have something you could be grading, and you will always have some lesson plan that could be better than it was.”
That’s why Whipple advises his students to delineate between times when they are working and when they’re off.
Jenson agrees. “You cannot provide all things to all people at all times, and if you fall into that trap, you will not last long,” he says. “Teachers are so selfless and caring, and they want to do as much good as they can, but I think you really have to rein it in a little and look at what you’re actually responsible for, versus what you think you’re responsible for. And if everyone gives their 100 percent during the work hours allotted, that’s a great school experience for your kids. So don’t think you have to go beyond that.”
To assess his own work, Jenson uses what he calls the “Go to bed at night” test, asking himself a few questions before sleep. “Did I give 100 percent? Yeah,” he says. “Did I give it to the people who needed it? Yep. Are there other things I could have done? Definitely. But I’m only capable of giving 100 percent.”