Today I was asked to assist in a mock interview of sorts with a recent college graduate, eager and ready to join the workforce of public education. In the process of asking typical questions one might encounter in this situation, I began thinking what advice I would have enjoyed prior to beginning my first year in the classroom. Viewing things in hindsight is sometimes depressing – especially when there were mistakes you could have easily avoided had someone stepped in to lend a hand.
So I lent a hand – if only a small one. And along with providing feedback to my interview questions I added these few items I believe EVERY new teacher would be wise to follow. And yes, I’m tellin’ it like it is.
1) Avoid the Jaded & Complaining
If there’s a sure-fire way to start your education career on the wrong foot, buddying up to one of these characters is a pretty strong start. In the hallways and lunch room, when you hear a teacher inevitably talking about the same students (it’s a revolving door of at least a handful) in a negative light – run far, far away. These are usually easy to spot because they have no problem showing their true colors. They’re almost always complaining about what a student did wrong in their class, what they forgot, or how much they don’t listen. Just keep in mind there’s typically a reason why; and it has EVERYTHING to do with that teacher failing to build a meaningful relationship.
The jaded teacher is simply going through the motions and can best be classified as “putting in time”. It’s not that they’re causing disruptions or leading a revolt, they just don’t really believe in anything new, anything leading toward change, or anything outside the status quo. Beyond second-guessing everything and finding holes in any new endeavor, they are the ones LEAST likely to lift a finger when you’re in need. These characters will suck the life out of an ambitious first-year teacher because they display an attitude of mediocrity and complacently that is hard to overcome.
2) Refer all “stupid” (or even mildly considered stupid) questions to your mentor or another teacher.
Now don’t get me wrong – administrators are there to help (they SHOULD help). But you don’t want the tag or label of high-maintenance and annoying because you asked your principal where to get a pencil sharpener instead of a teacher across the hall. Whoever said, “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” is an idiot – and likely asked many themselves. Granted, WE ALL will ask a stupid question, and there will be times someone already told us the answer but we simply forgot. It’s gonna happen. So when in doubt, ask a trusted co-worker. Better to earn the label of “dingbat” with them than your bosses.
3) Handle discipline “In-House”
To me, this is one of those unwritten rules or laws of the interview process. An applicant will usually be asked what their view of discipline is – or how do they look to handle classroom behavior problems? What a principal WON’T ask is, “are you gonna send a kid to the office because he told you he wouldn’t spit out his gum?” As an administrator, I’ve seen this exact phrase printed on a school referral form, and it reeks of ineffective classroom management. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t send students to the office or document behavioral incidents when needed. Just understand the impression you’re giving the administration when every week another incident has occurred that warrants their valuable time – and you could have handled it within the four walls of your classroom. Not only do you lose credibility and respect from your superiors, you lose instant credibility with that student and their peers who witnessed it!
Sure, there are plenty more, but these three provide a strong foundation for making your first year a successful one. Keep your priorities in line and remember it’s not all about you! There are valuable futures and dreams staring you in the face each day, waiting on your direction and guidance!