Let’s be honest, Graduate Teachers have one of the hardest jobs! No university course or placement can fully prepare you for what you are about to be responsible for. The teaching, students, grading, reports, parents, school politics, after-school meetings, before-school meetings and let’s be honest, running out of photocopier credits is enough to send us over the edge some days.
I remember how hard it was to be a graduate teacher and I was so lucky to have some wonderful mentors in my first school, I just had to do a little bit of searching to find them! No question was ever too silly, no assistance was ever knocked back and I received the love and support I needed (are you out there reading this right now Mel?). Not everyone is this lucky, so when I was given the opportunity to mentor a Graduate teacher, I took the role very seriously.
The most important thing – we need to support graduate teachers and keep them in the profession!
In this blogpost am not posting about advice for graduate teachers because they are already overloaded with information and they simply DO NOT have time to read yet another blogpost. Instead, I am sharing some things we, experienced teachers, can do to help new teachers survive the first month of teaching.
1. Put together a new teacher basket of treasures
I put this together for my graduate teacher and she loved it!
Some items you might include are:
– picture story book
– inside ball for games
– hand sanitiser
– antibacterial wipes
– foam dice
– correction pens
– bulletin board letters and borders
– sturdy box or container (teachers can never have enough storage)
2. Be the coach, not a player
Graduate teachers don’t need you to take over and play the game, they need you to be the coach. Show them what to do, practice, provide them with the resources, but let them play the game and in some cases, make the mistakes. Remember we teach children the FAIL means “First Attempt In Learning” and it is absolutely true as a teacher. Don’t let them sink, but help them and guide them to find their way.
3. Gradual release of information
In the first few months, graduate teachers will be exhausted, sleep deprived and no doubt suffering from the sniffles as they build their immune system. The last thing the want to know is about something going on in 3 months time. Tell them when they need to know, provide them with the information, but don’t expect them to do anything about it until closer to the time. Heck, I remember being a new teacher and planning day to day, because my brain just COULDN’T cope with anything else at that stage!
4. Help them set up routines
We know routines make our life easier. Talk through some of the routines you have in your classroom. It could be as simple as your morning routine or your pack up routine. Showing a graduate teacher what you do and helping them implement the routine from the start of the year will be one less stress for them. Share your routines and explain why you do it, show them how it will make their day go smoother. Children like routines, they like to know what comes next and they like to know their school day will be predictable. Programs such as The Daily Five are great at teaching teachers how to take a few steps back, create anchor charts and make no assumptions on prior learning.
5. Behaviour Management – the power of rewarding the positive
As an experienced teacher, I walk into a classroom and straight away can praise the behaviour I want to see, I do this because I know by saying “Oo Evie, I love the way you are sitting” will automatically get at least 5 more children sitting like Evie. Say it again to another child and you may be close to having the whole class sitting beautifully. I set high expectations in my classroom and it is enforced not through yelling or telling children off every time they aren’t listening, it is simply the power of positive reinforcement. When observing or teaching with new teachers, the lack of positive reinforcement is something I notice straight away. Talk to your new teacher about rewarding positive behaviour and what it can do for your mindset. Discuss having the same expectations on a day to day basis. Concentrate on the positives…. (And by rewarding positive behaviour I don’t mean treasure chests full of Dollar Store items, chocolates and pizza parties). Read more in my blogpost here.
6. Reward the positive
Like your students, teachers respond to positive reinforcement too. As a new teacher you are often feeling overwhelmed, busy and are constantly trying to do everything right. But do you have parents come in and tell you that you are doing a good job? No, you have parents coming in complaining that their child’s jacket went home with someone else, or that their child keeps bringing home the same reader. Share the love, if you spot something great, comment on it. It could be a bulletin board, activity, worksheet, dealing with a yard issue, anything, anytime – you will be surprised how much it can make someone’s day. It is a great feeling to be told you are doing a great job, even when you feel like the ocean could swallow you up at anytime.
As a graduate teacher I got bogged down in planning. Constantly trying to change things up, spending all my time researching and finding new activities. I remember spending hours making little draw string bags (without a sewing machine) for a simple activity. Yes, new teacher enthusiasm, but really over the top and not required! The same concept could have been taught in a much simpler way! I used to go into school for most of Sunday to organise my week ahead, and then sometimes even found myself planning day to day. What was I doing with ALL that TIME? Planning comes with experience, so show your new teacher your planner, let them use it initially while they find their feet if you want, show them how each day and week can look the same. We don’t want to make things harder on ourselves than they already are.
8. Classroom decor
There are teachers out there spending their summer vacation working on things for their classroom, spending up big on the newest chairs, cushions, rugs, tables, bulletin boards and organisational. Sure Pinterest inspired classrooms are beautiful, but they aren’t required. New teachers are not going to have the budget to spend thousands of dollars and let’s be honest, hundreds of hours, making their classroom look beautiful. And really, that’s ok. If they need a classroom library, encourage them to go to second hand bookshops or garage sales. Cover bulletin boards with cheap material and ribbon. Show them teachers can work in classrooms that aren’t immaculate and colour coordinated. You might like to refer them to my blogpost here about setting up for the new school year.
9. Let them talk
If a new teacher comes to you for advice, let them talk. Let them share their issue and listen, really listen. As teachers we are very good at wanting to help and telling people what to do, but we know that the learning is richer when we let them figure it out for themselves. It is absolutely the coach role again. Here is a scenario… A new teacher comes to you with a concern that one of their students isn’t listening and following instructions. Instead of telling the new teacher what you do in your classroom, ask them what they have tried. What has been successful for others? Why do you think that child isn’t listening and following instructions. Prompt the new teacher with questions to get them analysing the situation and them thinking about it. More often than not, simply talking through the problem with someone else leads to a resolution.
Find out how your graduate teacher has their coffee and surprise them with a tiny gesture, at a time when they need it most. For under $5 you can make someone’s day.
Remember, these teachers are new, they want more than anything to prove that they can do it, but they need our help. Teaching is hard, much harder than any of us could have imagined.
Happy teaching (and happy coaching),