By Christian Ehrhart
Each February I have the chance to talk with groups of pre-service teachers concerning finding and surviving that first teaching job. Although designed for new educators, I think it has some valuable reminders for all of us.
The purpose of this presentation is to give you some tips or insights for acclimating successfully in your first year of teaching. Each section of the presentation is based off of a concept you will mostly likely be asked during a first interview. The purpose is so you can provide not only a high quality answer to the question, but when hired, be able to successfully reinforce those thoughts with actions.
Most definitely you will be asked questions dealing with student interactions. Students can quickly determine if you mean what you say. They do that through your actions. Be conscious of your behaviors and interactions with students both in structured and unstructured settings. Model what you would like your students to do in class…positive, positive, positive. The students must come first. Also it is important to understand the informal groupings that take place in a school. Remember that although you most definitely are qualified to teach experience is invaluable. Use those informal leaders, and administrators to provide you with coaching; you too must always be willing to learn. Students will return to you what you give them. A safe environment to task risks and one that sets students up for success, rather than punishing with failure will always result in positive student achievement.
The second section deals with your persona. Although nervous at an interview, and completely nervous those first few weeks of school, your outward attitude is infections. Create a positive atmosphere built on “good mornings, please, and thank you’s” and you send the correct level of expectations to your students. This is never more important and more difficult when dealing with students who are struggling. Their struggles can be academic, behavioral, or both. In any case, there is a reason, probably not you. So don’t take it personally and remember that giving choices not ultimatums for students will give them a sense of control. That sense of control usually will navigate you and the student through difficult times.
In your interview you will be asked a question about interacting with stakeholders. Those are parents, administrators, and other teachers. At first interactions with parents can be intimidating. My advice would be to understand your place. You are part of the team trying to help their child be successful. You are not that student’s parent, so don’t act like it. If you start to take student behaviors personal you are probably getting close to viewing your interaction to much like a parent. In my opinion navigating the formal and informal groups within a school is much more difficult and treacherous. In your first year of teaching your role must be one of observer, learning and trying to understand the social dynamics of your colleagues. Seek out help, but make decisions for your classroom based on what you feel comfortable being held accountable for.
This is probably my favorite opinion on a section. Remembering that at the end of the interview, just like at the end of the school day, education is about students, so this section is dedicated to students. When you speak with educators you will hear about the good kids, the not so good kids, and the unmotivated kids. Very teacher has had them, and will continue to have those students in their classroom: because they are the same person. Depending on the day, the time, the subject, the home life, the social drama, and generally life’s stressors, a student can take on many identities. You must remember you set the tone for expectations. If you believe you are teaching the “good-kids” or the “bad-kids,” you will teach differently, and the students will be happy to comply. If you believe all students can learn, prove it with your expectations and student interactions. In my opinion, equal and fair are not the same. Treating students equally, is ignoring everything we know about learning modalities, and differentiated instruction. But treating them fairly for that situation will create a chance for building a relationship with that student. Those chances are invaluable. Fight the urge to categorize students, or fall victim to your own expectations.
I hope that my experiences and opinions have had some value to you. I want to welcome you to a great profession, and wish you all the best in finding employment