Once again #edchat, got me thinking. #Edchat is a fast and furious, thought provoking Twitter conversation on a pre-selected topic. This week the discussion was about how new teachers should be prepared for the classroom. If you’re interested, there’s an archive of the conversation.
I’ve been teaching for longer than some of the teachers at my school have been alive. I can’t really remember whether my course prepared me adequately for the classroom or not, but I don’t remember suffering too much. Mind you, the demands are far greater on new teachers nowadays. I was lucky that my late father was an incredible educator who both inspired and supported not just me, but whole generations of students and teachers.
At university, I learnt history of education, psychology of education and philosophy of education but very little about classroom management. I remember that we had a subject called ‘Blackboard Technique’! I remember being grateful to more experienced teachers in my first couple of years who gave advice and shared ideas. But I also remember a degree of discomfort and uncertainty as often my instinct told me that what they suggested wasn’t the best way to teach.
My colleague, Caitlin is a smart and talented third year teacher, who gets the best out of her students without ever raising her voice. She’s also a perfectionist and I know she found the demands of the first couple of years overwhelming at times. I asked about her experiences as a new teacher.
One point Caitlin raised is something that hasn’t changed since my day! She says her university course could have prepared her better by providing more practical classroom experience. I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries, and I’m sure even here in Australia it varies between universities. Caitlin had three, three-week placements. Some university courses now have a weekly class placement, one day per week. She feels strongly that the more time in the classroom observing and trying out techniques, the better and even says she’s not sure how university can really prepare you for the reality of the classroom.
It’s also important for new teachers to have a mentor and to feel part of the school community. Caitlin says:
I think as a new teacher it can be really hard to know what you need initially. You basically go into ‘sink or swim’ survival mode, and everything is a bit of a blur!
Some things that have helped me in my first couple of years have been: the welcoming atmosphere among the staff, the emotional support that the staff give to each other, an approachable head of campus.
Some things that might have made the transition easier – perhaps some sort of weekly or fortnightly debriefing one-on-one with a trusted mentor to share challenges as well as successes. Also PD very early on, with a focus on setting up classroom routines and dealing with challenging behaviours, because these aspects are not covered at university.
We have since implemented a mentoring system, but it’s something we still need to work on improving. It’s interesting that she talks about a ‘trusted mentor’ because this came up a lot in the #edchat discussion. The new teacher needs to feel that he can trust the mentor, that he will not be judged and his job is not at stake if he reveals weaknesses.
I was horrified to see a tweet from a new teacher yesterday saying that fellow teachers didn’t acknowledge him and didn’t even know his name. Making new teachers feel valued and part of the school community is the most important thing. No wonder Caitlin says there are so many newly qualified teachers who leave the profession shortly after joining. She has a friend with whom she studied, who lasted just three weeks.
It’s not just about the training… It’s up to us, I think!