Becoming a Teacher: How to Succeed Once You've Landed the Job (page 4)
NEW TECHNOLOGY and approaches to teaching are creating many possibilities for educators today. At the same time, today's teachers still face many of the same challenges as teachers in the past—conflicting job expectations, reduced resources, and limited freedom.
You learned many important things in your teacher education program. Still, all the education courses in the world won't help you manage your relationships with other teachers, staff, the principal, and parents. This chapter gives you tips for being successful during your first year on the job.
You got the job you dreamed of and are ready to begin your career. Taking out your education manuals, you start to plan the first lessons. You collect all the teacher's editions and manuals available and read all the students' records in the guidance files. You think you are ready to start, but one major ingredient must be added to the mix: input from senior staff members.
The key to your happiness and high student achievement often depends on your interaction within the school community, that is, your working relationship with your colleagues. Building these relationships is the most important first step to take when starting any new job. Every school has a culture. Your job is to learn this culture and become part of it. Doing this will help you succeed as a teacher and can determine your ultimate success in the classroom.
A school is a complete community—self-contained in many ways, yet part of another community, that is, the district that encompasses the building. The school district (the official hiring agency) defines the set of rules and regulations that structure your workday. These regulations often appear in a policy manual and provide specific prescriptions for handling problems, expectations for your teaching day, and general do's and don'ts set by the board of education. In addition, there may be a teacher contract from your union or professional association that explains the specific details of your job. However, the unwritten code of behavior within your particular building is what you want to capture before you begin to teach.
The time you should arrive at school may be listed in the teacher handbook, in the union contract, or in the board of education policy book. Although the requirements are defined, they do not tell you what really happens. For example, the teacher workday may be listed as seven hours, beginning at 8:20 A.M. Because the children do not arrive at the building until 9:00 A.M., when the buses pull in, this may seem logical to you. On the first day of school, you leave your house expecting to arrive right on time at 8:20 A.M. However, when you get to the school, you find a parking lot completely filled—you are the last one in! Are you on time? Technically, yes. Culturally, for that school, no!
In this particular school, many faculty members come in earlier than required to have breakfast together, socialize, copy materials, or complete professional work assignments. This culture can differ dramatically among schools within a district. It is your job to learn and interpret these small nuances that are part of the school culture. Social arrangements for weekend or after-school gatherings may be made during these times, and you should take part. To belong to a school community, you must have shared experiences that bind you to other staff members and make you part of the culture.
Your first task is to be a good detective and learn who the players are. Listen carefully to the clues presented by colleagues in conversational moments, and learn to ask questions that will help you understand the culture of the school.
Make Friends with the Secretaries
In your building, several people run the operation. The secretaries are the most visible. Stop in often to say, "Good Morning!" or to see if you can deliver anything to any other staff members for them. Your friendly approach will benefit you over and over again.
The front office is a gathering place for staff members, so the secretaries know all personnel and the staff hierarchy. Get to know the secretaries! Learn what they do, because they will point you in the right direction when you need information. They know who is in charge of what curriculum area and how to get what you need for your classroom.
Listen to Other Teachers and the Administrators
Your colleagues are extremely important to your success. To begin with, they already know the culture of the building because they are not only part of it but also create change as they see necessary. Before you even walk into your classroom, find out who else is in your department or on your grade level. You can ask a secretary or your administrator—a department chairperson, an assistant principal, or whoever your principal has put in charge of your area. If your school is a one-person operation, go to that person: the principal. Never be afraid to ask pertinent questions of your administrators or colleagues.
Most teachers go back to the school sometime in August. Often they have been required to pack everything up at the end of the previous term, so they must set up their rooms again. Particularly for K–4 teachers, this can take up to two weeks. As a new teacher, you will want to set up your own room. If you are replacing a teacher who retired and used the same classroom you will be using, there will probably be cartons for you to sort through. You will also have new supplies to unpack and you will want to set up your own desk in a way that will work best for you. Call your school to find out when you can come in to visit your new colleagues, offer to help them, and set up your own room.
First-Year Teacher Burnout
Nearly half of all teachers quit during their first five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As one teacher confided, "There are real challenges; large class sizes, disciplinary issues, inadequate materials and funding, inadequate support and training, and the administrative pressure to follow mandates and to excel on highstakes tests. Too much pressure is placed on a teacher in a single year."
Teacher burnout occurs when a teacher cannot perform the day-to-day duties of teaching due to a sense of tiredness, frustration, exhaustion, and/or hopelessness. The teacher either leaves the situation or stays in the same position and, in general, is unsuccessful or ineffective as a teacher. Here are ten tips for avoiding first-year teacher burnout:
- Create "me time" outside of school.
- Continue your hobbies or interests during leisure time.
- Stay positive and surround yourself with positive people.
- Always use your time wisely.
- Set priorities, concentrating on what needs to be done for the day.
- Reward yourself for the good things you did each day and learn from the mistakes.
- Organize your life in and out of the classroom.
- Ask lots of questions—remember, there are things you do not know until you ask.
- Reach out for support both in and out of school.
- Get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat healthy.
Consult with Other Professional Staff
Many staff members can help you adjust to the school. Within every setting, there are support personnel who work with your children regularly. Children may have the same art, music, physical education, technology, and library science teachers throughout their elementary school experience. These teachers may have already worked with your students (unless you teach kindergarten) for several years and may have some interesting information to help guide your instruction. They also have specific skills that can assist you in the classroom and enhance your curriculum. These teachers can work with you to integrate the curriculum by supplementing the course of study in art, music, or physical education. The librarian can prepare materials for you and work with your children on a research project. A collegial approach is a healthy way for you to integrate yourself into the staff culture.
Other staff members also work cooperatively with classroom teachers to help selected students. Like the curriculum teachers, many of these teachers and support personnel may already know some of your students. If they are going to work with your students, then you must work with them, too. Be assertive; seek them out, because they can be great sources of information and support to you. Often supplying mandated services to children who need extra help, these include:
- remedial reading teacher
- remedial mathematics teacher
- teacher of the gifted
- resource room teacher
- speech and language teacher
- guidance counselor
The entire school community is your resource, and the more you expand your network to include all staff members, the easier your transition and integration will be.
Take the time to learn who your colleagues are, what their strengths are, and how you can engage them in your personal growth as a teacher. As one teacher confesses, "The teachers with whom I've been on staff were an extremely valuable connection. The colleagues I have met at seminars, classes, and inservice gatherings were also an invaluable source. And although I moved to several different states over the years, I maintained contact with former colleagues." Once you become a part of the process, you, too, will be asked for advice.
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