I still remember my first day of teaching. I had the “perfect” lesson plan.
I was going to utilize all the strategies that I learned in my college program. I was going to be the best teacher ever. As I reflect back as a new teacher…I realize that I stunk that first year. I had the best of intentions, but I was misguided. I made “teaching” all about me and not about student learning. I was doing what I thought the administrators wanted me to do. In our schools, this assumption is taking place everyday, and as building leaders it is our responsibility to the students that we do not allow for our younger teachers to become misguided. One of the biggest mistakes that I see with new teachers is they focus on themselves and what they “look” like as a teacher. As building administrators, we need to change this narrative.
Now as I sit as a building level administrator, I feel that it is critical to let young teachers know that our goal for them is to be successful. We also need them to know that their success is mostly going to be determined by things that cannot be measured by a standardized test. My opinion is that an educator’s success cannot only be measured quantitatively. There are too many factors that determine the educational outcome of kids. In a world with standardized tests and teacher evaluations, it is so important for administrators to let their new teachers know this as they enter the classroom.
We Don’t Expect You to Be Perfect
Here is a little secret to all new teachers; We interviewed a lot of people and you were the best. We saw something in you that the other candidates did not have. Are you perfect? No, and we do not expect you to be. We ourselves have gone through the growing pains of being a new teacher and know what it is like. Here is another secret; We don’t even expect our 30 year veteran teachers to be perfect. Education deals with kids, and kids are variable. Due to kids always changing, education is always changing. As principals, we understand these changes and want all teachers to be able to recognize them so they can learn and grow.
Will you ever be perfect? Most teachers will say hopefully yes, but realistically we know that you will never be, so please do not put that pressure on yourself. Focus on doing your best, reflecting, and using that to grow and you will be off to a good start. The best teachers in our schools are the ones who are always reflecting, collaborating, and looking to improve.
We Expect You to Stand Out
You might not be perfect and make mistakes as a new teacher, but you better stand out. We hired you to help us get better. Your energy, knowledge, fresh views, and excitement to the field of education can be a climate changer. Your passion can ignite a building and lead to impactful changes. Our biggest fear when hiring someone? They just sit back and blend in. You can be the best teacher in the world, but we will be disappointed if you do not infect the building in a positive way.
With this positive infection that you bring, we want you also to stand out by being a risk-taker. We are longing for somebody to try something new and different and be successful at it. Will everything you do be successful? No, and we do not expect it to be. But we hope that your successes lead to other teachers jumping in on the journey to growth with you. We want you to know that if you take a risk and fail, we are not going to hold it against you. Actually the opposite is true, we want to support you to try again.
There is one thing that is consistent through all successful first year teachers; their ability to build positive, collaborative relationships. The first group that you must build a strong relationship with is the students. As a new teacher, administrators want you to know that we don’t care if you are “cool”. We want you to care about kids and that the kids can genuinely feel that they are cared for. As a new teacher, one of the most difficult things you will discover that they do not teach you in college is that many kids have a rough life, even if they come from great families. You will hear, see, and discover things about kids that will make you cry, smile, and laugh. Guess what? It is ok to show emotion and empathy for kids. It is ok to let them know that you are human. Stop focusing on being “cool” and start focusing on letting them know you care. This is genuine and will go far with kids, and you will see a huge impact in your classroom.
The next group that you need to build a relationship with is parents. New teachers usually have not experienced the power of the parent yet. Parents are our greatest ally in education. As a new teacher, do not let anyone tell you differently. Parents will give you information that will allow for you to support students and allow for them to have better success in your class. The stronger the relationship you have with parents, the greater the support you will have from them. The more you connect with them in a positive and proactive way, the greater the impact this will have in the community, which will lead to a powerful impact on kids.
Being a new teacher is tough, and your principal understands this. If you as a new teacher are frustrated, confused, or struggling with something, please let your principal know. We do not see this as a sign of your inability to do the job. We see you as a reflective educator that wants to improve. When asked, “how are things going?”, answer honestly. If your principal is not routinely meeting with you, please request a time to meet or informally stop in to talk. It is this dialogue that will help you reflect and allow you to continually get better and grow as an educator.
Mike Janatovich is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. He is currently the assistant principal at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio. Janatovich believes that educating the whole child is critical to ensuring academic success and is an advocate for supporting middle-level learners. Connect with Janatovich on Twitter @mjanatovich.