I only remember two things
from my new-teacher orientation—which, granted, was 14 years ago: an
exceptional amount of paperwork that was even more important than I
knew at the time, and a very unattractive picture taken for my ID
badge. Incidentally, try to look good for that picture. In my district,
you have the same picture forever, so you are frozen, cruelly, on one
of the most stressful days of a teacher’s career. (And, in my case, a
really bad decision to have had highlighted hair.)
First, do pay attention to the paperwork and details. Do not be afraid
to look stupid. It matters greatly to your life if you choose to be
paid over 21 weeks or 26 weeks, how much you have deducted from your
paycheck, what status you claim—particularly how you plan to feed
yourself when summer comes, but also for tax repercussions. Ask
anything. I promise that your questions aren’t going to stump the
people who spend their days handling these types of things. Second, it
is a really good career move to let people help you. Be appreciative,
and remember who these “helpers” are for future reference. Ask any
veteran teacher, and he or she can tell you that knowing the right
people in a school setting can make your life go much more smoothly.
Always say “thank you.” And, if the assistance saves you from
catastrophe, buying a cup of coffee for the person who helped you is a
great way to show your appreciation.
So, you make it through the long trainings, the paperwork and
the panic. Now, it is time for the authentic teacher orientation—the
one that happens when you walk through the doors of the school not as a
student, not as a student teacher, but as the real deal: a teacher. I’m
a big believer in letting everyone find his or her own way, but there
are two key fundamentals that have a huge impact on students and are
worth thinking about (as if you don’t have enough on your mind!).
It’s all about the relationships. You can
be a master of content, but you will never find success in the
classroom until you are a master of relationships. That means knowing
your students, their parents and the school community. It is your job
to make learning happen for every child; and to do so, knowledge of the
student’s life is crucial. So is knowledge of how the school can
provide a foundation with scaffolding of services when necessary.
Icebreaker is great for late middle school and high school
students. It lets students meet each other, while allowing you a great
opportunity to observe your students and begin discovering the dynamics
you will be working with. The same type of activity from the ELA team
to Know You and Your Class Bingo and is appropriate for
younger students, struggling learners and English language learners.
Consider yourself an investigator of student needs, and you’ll thank
yourself in January when you are sitting in a parent-teacher
Just because you “teach” it doesn’t mean anyone
learns it. I once observed a teacher who was a great orator,
but it wouldn’t have mattered if students were actually in her
classroom or not—she would have done and said everything the same way.
As teachers, we are called to do more than act a part, particularly as
best practices are leading away from “sage on the stage” and more to
the “guide on the side,” or even simply “facilitator.” The ELA team’s Teacher
Technique Toolkit— All You Need is even more impressive than
it sounds. I’ve used this to train new teachers, and it always produces
a sigh of relief. New teachers are sometimes so worried about what they
will say, they don’t always remember that learning is a team sport. I
keep this PowerPoint on my desktop as a reference guide.
I’ve mentored teachers for a decade, and when there’s a bump
in the road, as there always is in this journey, it is frequently when
a teacher is so focused on delivery and curriculum that he or she
misses one of these basics. Remember, you aren’t there to teach
content. You are there to teach students the content.