As you know, back-to-school season is in full swing these days, and the start of another school year brings a fresh crop of NEW TEACHERS! Last year’s post 20 Things to Know Before Your First Year Teaching High School has, naturally, gotten a lot of attention lately; and, I’ve gotten several emails from first-year teachers. With their permission, I’m sharing a few of the questions I’ve received today + my answers in hopes of helping out other newbies too. In the comments, I’d LOVE to have some other veteran teachers chime in with your thoughts as well.
QUESTION: I have been subbing the past year for middle school (7th and 8th grade), and I really like that age. Turns out I will be student teaching for high school, which I’m not used to yet. I’m a little nervous! I’m 24 but I look younger. I think I’m worried that the high school age kids might not respect me as much because I look younger. Any advice?
Boy can I ever relate to this!!! I was 23 when I started teaching ninth and tenth graders, and I looked about 14 (their age). It seems so silly now (especially since I look a lot less like a teenager and a lot more like a mom these days), but I was SO concerned about how I would be perceived by my students since I didn’t look much older than them – much less like someone with any authority over a classroom. It’s a totally legitimate concern; and, I’d imagine, a fairly common one… My advice is to dress professionally (probably more conservatively than a typical 20-something and more formally than the older teachers in your school), and to ACT like a teacher. Have high standards for behavior and consistently reinforce them in your classroom. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to be liked and allow things like bad language (for some reason, I found that kids lost their normal “teacher filters” around me because I didn’t look like a teacher) or disrespect. The age difference between you and your students really isn’t very big, so you have to be especially careful not to treat them as peers – by talking too much about your personal life, getting involved in teenage gossip/drama, etc. Remember that you are THE TEACHER. You definitely don’t need to be MEAN, but you do have to establish yourself as an authority by setting (and sticking to) rules. Don’t apologize for that – it’s your job (and, truth be told, they will actually like and respect you MORE for it).
The bad news is that you might be right – I actually DO think it was a little harder for me to get respect because I looked so young at the beginning. BUT, the good news is that that is temporary. I looked young for the first several years of my teaching career (still do really), but I stopped worrying about it after a while. Earning respect – from students and colleagues alike – is a right of passage for ANY new teacher. It takes a lot of effort and isn’t easy; but, once you’ve established yourself as an authority and a professional, you can loosen up a little (hello Casual Friday!).
QUESTION: I would like to know how you handle those especially difficult students. Let’s say I have a wonderful class, but there is always that one disruptive student, that likes to slack off, and not pay attention… what have you done in the past with situations like that? I am going to be a first year teacher, and I think problematic students are my main concern.
This is a great question and definitely a normal concern to have. It’s also not easy to answer because every situation is so different and may require a different approach; but, in general, I tend to ignore problem students as much as possible and give them lots of positive feedback when they DO participate, have a good day, etc. In my experience, those especially disruptive students really are just craving attention – maybe they are embarrassed because the class is really hard for them, maybe they are bored because it is really easy, maybe it has nothing to do with me/the class at all, but they have stuff going on at home. For the most part, I try to give my students the benefit of the doubt and look for some GOOD in them. Once I find it ;), I make it a point to point it out to them and encourage them whenever possible. If a kid is really smart and constantly makes comments to undermine me and make me feel dumb – I acknowledge his intelligence by asking him for help when I’m writing assignments or asking him to lead part of a discussion. If a kid is constantly goofing off and not doing work – I check in and offer my help more often and also look for ways to let her “shine” in other areas (like making a poster for my bulletin board or even something simple like running an errand for me). I find that kids, usually, respond really well to words of affirmation, so I use them whenever I can and avoid making a big deal out of “bad” behavior.
If that doesn’t work, I usually will ask a student to stay after class and try to have a on-one-conversation with him/her. In it, I’ll point out the positive traits I see, tell them how frustrated I am with the negative ones, and ask if there is anything else they’d like to tell me or ways I can help them. Usually this does the trick; but, if not, a call home almost always does. Only after all that do I get administration involved and go that route. (For more on my classroom management philosophies, check out this post.) I give it for the good, and don’t give it for the bad. I’ve also had some success chatting with the student one-on-one and encouraging them about the positive qualities I see in them. I talked a little about that in if you want to read more.
QUESTION: What advice do you have for a new teacher facing a “Meet the Teachers” night before school starts? This night is making me really nervous, and I’m not sure how to exactly prepare for it.
Mostly, relax. Most parents are kind and forgiving and just want to put a face with a name at the beginning of the school year. (You likely haven’t even taught their child yet, so you shouldn’t have to worry about having done something wrong!!) Beyond that, make sure your classroom is looking pretty (and organized), provide copies of syllabus, set out some copies of the textbook/novels you will be using or other materials, and plan a short little speech about yourself – where you’re from, where you went to college, what you’re most excited about, etc. Try to keep things light and very positive!! (There’s really no need to tell them this is your first year and definitely don’t apologize for ANYTHING.)
I also like to prepare a little power point with blurbs about the books I’m teaching, class rules, class materials needed, etc. to be scrolling in the background on my Activboard. This gives parents something to look at while others are arriving or you’re talking to someone else and gets across important information. This is a great time to introduce Remind.com too and invite parents to get out their cell phones and “text you” right then and there. *They will love this. 😉 If there is extra time, you can always take parents on a “tour” of your class website and show them where they can check for announcements, assignments, grades, etc. Especially if you teach younger students, the parents may be just as nervous about some of those logistics as you are!
Bottom line: be yourself and be friendly. Once again, look and act like the teacher you are!! They are going to love you!! (There are some fun “Meet the Teacher” night station ideas – like this one – on Pinterest etc. This seems like too much for secondary teachers like me, but they are definitely worth checking out!)
New teacher, you are going to do AWESOME! Just smile and remember… IT GETS EASIER. You’ve got this!!
And, to the seasoned teachers… Please don’t forget about the new teachers in your building… Stop in to ask how you can help (and mean it). Smile at them! Tell them it gets easier. Invite them into your tribe and remember what it was like to be new. We need each other!!