Ask anyone in education and they can probably quickly recall their first year of teaching.
The nervous excitement that runs through their body. The incredible feeling of “making it” when their principal hands them the set of keys to their classroom.
The exhilaration when they open the door to find desks stacked on each other – and bare walls! – thinking about all the wonderful things they are going to do to make this space theirs.
But we also share memories of the trials and tribulations of finding the right classroom management for our personality. The endless hours of grading, planning, teaching, meeting, phone calls, etc. Ask anyone in education about their first year teaching, and many will smile, even if it was the worst experience ever, because they learned so much.
Signing on for a year like no other
In every year prior to 2020, newly minted teachers were launched during ceremonies in May or June, as colleges of education around our country presented them with the credential that made them one of us. An educator! And they were full of excitement as they interviewed at schools, wondering if each in-person conversation was the start of a great working relationship.
But this year things were different. Instead of celebrating graduation together at official ceremonies, many new teachers attended virtual events or simply received their diplomas by mail.
And instead of meeting their future principal face to face, they were sitting at home, hoping their technology would work and that they had downloaded the right video conferencing app. What if the app froze during their interview? Would it be used against them or would this potential new employer, observing them on camera, be understanding?
These young, so hopeful, soon-to-be teachers were already dealing with a reality that never existed for most of us – before they even stepped foot in the classroom.
I know that most of us in school leadership roles probably had programs and mentors ready to go for these bright new hires. Even so, with the topsy-turvy circumstances that this pandemic has caused all of us to experience this year, we have to be mindful and pay a little more attention, giving a little more care to our new teachers.
How Assistant Principals can help
As an Assistant Principal, I realized that I could help with this extra attention and care in several ways.
First, I check in with my new teachers at least 2-3 times a week, if not more. Just a quick pop-in during their planning to try to answer any questions they may have, to reassure them about how they are doing, and to make sure that they understand any new information that has been shared out by administration.
I pull from my years as an Instructional Coach to give them practical tips for classroom management and building classroom culture and to ultimately just listen from time to time. Sometimes that’s all they need, just a chance to be heard and have their thoughts and concerns acknowledged.
Second, I created a New Teacher Mentoring space in Google Classroom that includes a book study using Ron Berger’s Management in an Active Classroom. I teamed up with my Reading and Math Coaches to decide in what order we should use the content in the book.
Now I post monthly reading assignments with discussion questions they can use to talk with each other, with administration, and with their assigned mentors. The idea behind this is to give them some much needed guidance without monopolizing a lot of their time.
Finally, I’ve tried to be more patient when our new teachers come to visit me in my office or when they catch me in the hall. I recognize that they are scared and that they are overwhelmed. There are times when they ask me questions that have been addressed in emails or in faculty meetings, but just like our students, our new teachers are struggling with the emotional side effects of this pandemic.
They are not only dealing with the ordinary, every-year concerns this year that have become amplified because of the pandemic, but in our hybrid model they are also struggling with having to wear a mask all day; juggling face-to-face students, virtual students, and those in quarantine, and coping with all the other issues that have arisen from this pandemic.
Our finding a little extra patience when interacting with new teachers this year can help them feel more comfortable and confident about how they are handling teaching in a time of crisis.
Stepping up in trying times
This year has been hard on us all. I’ve found myself having conversations with teachers in September that we normally don’t have until December (the atta-girl/atta-boy conversations to get them through the rest of the year).
But this is also a time for those of us in leadership roles to step up and help our new teachers find and utilize the tools that they need to be successful. Focusing a little more intensely on our new teachers can help us build their capacity and build our school’s culture.