Preparing new teachers for the classroom…

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!

This is not Caitlin!Newly trained


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8 thoughts on “Preparing new teachers for the classroom…

  1. Hi Edna. I always seem to miss these #edchat conversations. I must check the times! We often have student teachers at our school. One of the universities sends student teachers on 2 compulsory practicums – 1 of 4 weeks and 1 of 6 weeks. All of them invariably state that this isn’t enough and that this is where they learn the most practical stuff. I only graduated 10 years ago, and I remember the conversation then was the same – that we needed more time on practicums. However, these teachers are doing less than I did 10 years ago! Where’s the sense in that?

    I agree with the mentor idea too. I sorely needed some professional friendship when I first started but there was not a lot to be found.

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  2. I think everyone has the same story. I did a B. Ed. in primary education, and while the theory was fascinating, there was very little practical. I remember the first two years being similar to an Arts course – I did subjects like Psychology, Fine Arts and Ancient History. There were a couple of weeks prac teaching in third year, and a few more in fourth, by which time the course was exclusively ed theory. I remember (ahem, 30+ years back) being overwhelmed when first having my own class, and very much learning on the job. I would have hoped things had changed by now… apparently not.

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  3. Edna, I too have been teaching more years than some of my colleagues have been alive but during my teacher training I distinctly remember marching off to dem lessons every week conducted by some incredible teachers followed by a practicum of three weeks each semester. Their lesson plans were works of art but practical, meaningful and effective as well. When I started teaching there was a huge amount of in service training options for beginning teachers and these were a lifesaver-this no longer exists. I think beginning teachers should all be attached to mentors and they need to understand their learning journey is just beginning and should continue for the rest of their teaching career.

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  4. I blogged about this recently too Edna, having had a student teacher with me for her second from last prac. Her university sent her for two days a week for six weeks. So at no time did she get a true feel for the flow of classroom life and the hectic nature of a complete week, let alone a term. I remember her teaching for almost a full day and virtually collapsing at the end of it from exhaustion. It still worries me that next year she will be a fully fledged teacher and potentially in charge of her own class. A delightful girl and potentially a fabulous teacher, yet currently she would be eaten alive

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  5. You are writing about an issue that is global. I’m sure new teachers throughout the world are struggling at this very moment. Preparing individual to enter the teaching profession is one monumental task. We in education continually talk about individualizing instruction for our students. What are we doing to individualize teacher training? Strength of teaching candidates varies greatly. From what I have read, all those being certificated to teach in a particular area are required to complete identical courses. What are your thoughts? As for mentoring, this is essential for all beginning teachers. An exemplary mentoring program for new teachers can be beneficial to students for years to come. We in the profession have an oblation to make contributions to improve these issues. Passion and a love of connecting with students are necessary elements for success but these alone will not produce master teachers.

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  6. At my tiny school outside of Houston, Texas, I am charged with designing a program to help mentor four new “teaching fellows” as they gain the experience in the classroom you speak of. I am struggling this summer to structure the kind of support they will need, and your blog post has given me some good ideas. Thank you.

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