[Disclaimer: If you are not a first-year teacher, please pass this along to a first-year teacher that you know. However, there are some gems that you can utilize also.]
As a first-year teacher, there’s so many things you must learn in order to do your job well. When you agree to teach at a city school, the school you choose is likely a school that is in need of improvement according to the state department of education. You are walking into a school that maybe under political scrutiny in addition to district in community wide pressure to both improve academically and where student safety is concerned. Also, know that you are not the only first-year teacher. You could be part of a new first-year teacher class that is up to a quarter or a third of the school/district population. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get all the support that you really need. Administrators will speak to you as if you’ve been teaching for 5 to 10 years. They will expect you to know things that you don’t know. Administrators will act like you’re a first-year teacher on the first day. Some will even treat you like a first-year teacher for a couple of weeks. But administrators don’t have time to train you on the job to get kids to perform on state-mandated test that they themselves wish they didn’t have to administer. They need you to be ready yesterday; that is the demand of the job. However, you’re not ready and with the overabundance of first-year teachers in urban school districts, Black and Brown kids suffer, but I digress.
Many urban school districts, whether traditional public or charter, have a churn and burn mentality. Meaning that they bring in a whole bunch of new first-year teachers only to burn them out and watch them leave or facilitate their departure, only to bring in a new crop of first-year teachers and teachers new to the district. Your school may or may not have a teachers union (SEE UNITED WE STAND). Regardless, you need to protect yourself. During your first year(s) teaching, your most important job is secure earning your standard certification. Your certificate of eligibility (different states have different names for it) means that you can get a job teaching however that will expire; your standard certificate is what will help you get a job as a teacher moving forward. Generally, if you were working at a traditional public school, teacher mentoring and any classes that you have to take (particularly if you are alternate route) are organized by the district but all of the cost come out of your pocket. Some charter schools will both organize these things and they’ll also pay for it. However, if the school is going to pay for your certification, they have the power to say whether you’ve earned it or you haven’t. So again, as a first-year teacher your job is ensure that you receive your standard certification. That doesn’t mean to allow yourself to be walked on or to not be a person of integrity and dignity. That just means to be smart, cautious, and ready to show receipts. As a first-year teacher, here are some of the things that you need to do in order to protect yourself and make your job moving forward less tedious and less cumbersome.
- Document everything. Whatever happens to you during the school day or whatever directives you receive; document them if they’re not already on paper and save them. If the information is in an email, did you save the email? If it is a written note you save the written note? If something happens during the school day in the classroom or during a faculty meeting, write it down and save it. When in a meeting with administration and they give you a directive, particularly if the directive does not sit well with you, you need to type in email, to the administrator who gave the directive, asking to clarify exactly what they said to you – you email to them what they said to you and ask them to clarify if what you interpreted is correct. This way you can get have a written record for every conversation and or interaction that you had; do this with administration, children, parents and staff.
- Save all of your evaluation and observation written feedback and scores. I have heard horror stories from teachers where they’ve been observed and got great feedback from their administration, numerous times, only to receive their official formal evaluation and receive poor scores – they were on unable to contest the poor scores from a stronger position because they didn’t have the record of the feedback they received previously. Make sure that whenever an administrator comes into your classroom, whether they sit down or stand at the door, if they are watching you teach they are a evaluating your performance. If they do not give you anything on paper about your lesson that day, email that administrator and ask for feedback. Keep that feedback along with anything else in the administrator gives you – informal and formal of evaluations and also your biyearly reviews – whatever your school does make sure that you keep your records on file.
- Request your personnel file in January and in June. Your school has your personal file in the human resources office. You should make it a habit to twice a year viewing your personal file and requesting a copy of it. This is not to say that the school is going to intentionally railroad you however, you want to make sure that there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be and you also want to make comparisons to make sure that nothing was added that shouldn’t have been added to The previous five months that you already had made copies of.
- Save all your lesson plans and all your substitute teaching plans. One of the more tedious things about teaching is writing lesson plans. Depending on where you work, administrators will want to receive lesson plans that is super detailed, they may want lesson plans that are not as detailed and there are some cases where administrators want both; a detailed and not as detailed plan. You may have to post lesson plans every week, every couple of days or every day. Make sure that you save your plans to make your job easier doing the next year. Even if you don’t teach the same class next year or same grade level, you will probably be teaching some of the same content; if you can’t downright cut-and-paste from one year to the next you can at the very least use the previous year’s lesson plan as a template for what you will do the next year. The same goes for substitute plans; in fact you may be able to keep those exactly the same.
- Keep a detailed list of everything that you done during the school year. Part of what you will need in order to either get a promotion, get a new job or give your current employer a reason to keep you is to have a portfolio showcasing your accomplishments and abilities. Putting together a portfolio can be very stressful if you’re not organized. One way to be very organized is to list everything that you’ve done during the school year, having examples of a lesson or lessons with student work, and having any certificates or transcripts showing the professional development session and graduate courses you’ve attended over the year. This won’t amount to having enough material for three ring binder, but you will be using this information as the foundation to build your portfolio moving forward.
- Find a person that you can talk to outside of your school building. You’re going to make friends with people inside your school; that’s natural. But people inside your school cannot be trusted with all of your thoughts and all of your information. You want to find someone who can mentor you and someone who can be your friend and confidant outside of your school. Whoever you’re talking to outside of your school won’t be invested in the school or in the work at the school; they’ll be invested in you and loyal to you. The problem with sharing everything with a coworker in your building is that they are also invested in themselves and some of what you say may come into conflict with the other person. So you must be wise with who you confide in.
- Stay out of the teachers’ lounge. The teachers’ lounge is a very dangerous place because it is the place where most teachers go to vent and complain. It’s also a place where teachers go to talk about kids like they are grown adults. Not every teacher does this, however, there are teachers’ lounge regulars where you’ll find that is all that they do. The last thing that you need as a first-year teacher is to be around negativity because unfortunately the teachers who been around the block that can spot BS as it’s approaching and who have also been jaded to the point where they don’t have any life left to speak into children. You want to make sure that you don’t fall under that kind of spirit as you are trying to speak life to children. Stay in your classroom or find a quiet place in the school (there are a few if you look hard enough).
- Make nice with the secretarial and custodial staff. These folks are the nicest people that you’ll ever want to meet and if you treat them good they will treat you good. You should do this with all people; say hi or good morning every day. But in case you don’t do that with everyone make sure that you do with the secretarial staff and custodial staff. These people will make sure that you get the supplies that you need, that your room is extra clean, and whenever there is something good that everybody is unaware of, they will make sure that you are aware of it. And… they have the information you’ll need to make moves on behalf of the students and yourself.
There so much that you have to do when your first-year teacher. On a day-to-day basis you’re just trying to survive. The kids can get to be much, the administration can get to be much, and the parents can get to be much as well. However, you must make sure that you do the things within your power to protect yourself and to position yourself for whatever it is you want – whether it is an administrative position or to be a teacher leader for the next 20 to 30 years. If you can follow these steps, your first year may not be a breeze but you’ll be able to have peace of mind and sleep at night… and of course, you’ll be able to be more effective at your job.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!