I distinctively remember during in my first year of teaching; a colleague telling me: “Hey, your first year of teaching…just blend in and fly under the radar to get through it.” I also remember nodding my head and smiling as I thought, “WHY?”
I made the decision, then and there, that I wasn’t going to take the well intentioned advice of my friend, but try to do the opposite. I was going to stand out in every way possible. Our students deserve the best possible version of us. They deserve leaders, trailblazers, and a professional educators that are capable of not just blending in, but impacting their students every day.
Students Don’t Care If You’re New
Teaching is not like most highly trained and skilled professions that have a very strategic apprenticeship or residency programs. Most first year teachers get little to no support, other than a possible mountain of paperwork that the state calls “support.”
Unfortunately, new teachers are often thrown head first into the classroom with the hope that they can swim. The problem is that the students in front of you deserve no less of a rockstar teacher than any others. And, I hate to break it to you, but those students do not care if you’re new. They don’t care about the learning curve, your nerves, or all the other challenges that come with your first year of teaching. If you don’t get them engaged and get them learning, they will eat you alive. And having a mindset of “getting by” or just “blending in” can pretty much guarantee a new teacher will not reach their true potential.
Don’t Underestimate Yourself
I know it’s tempting to say “I’m just getting through this year, and I’ll try this next year.” I hear this way too often in workshops and professional development. My response is always the same: “What about your students this year?”
Teachers need to get out of survival mode and start focusing on the students in their classroom right now. The students you have now can’t wait (and shouldn’t have to) until next year, or “after the next long break” to experience your new great idea or strategy.
Whether it’s standards based grading, Problem Based Learning (PBL), or mastery or competency based learning that you want to try…DO IT NOW! There is no legitimate reason (other than your own self-doubt) that you can’t start adjusting your instruction for the benefit of your students tomorrow…or today. I know you have evaluations, and that pile of first year paperwork that has never helped anyone, but you can do this!
Establish Yourself as a Leader
Leadership is not a measurement of time spent in a position, but rather the action and attitude one has towards their work and profession. As a new teacher (or even as a veteran) look for opportunities to improve your classroom, invite others in to show them how awesome you are, and speak up at meetings! This is even more important because, whether you realize it or not, you probably have more expertise in the newest ideas and initiatives in education than anyone else in the building.
Sharing your knowledge is a great way to show leadership, but honestly, you’re doing a disservice to your colleagues if you don’t share all those new and awesome theories, tools, and strategies that are now being taught at universities. Lastly, always look to take the lead on newer initiatives that align with your talents and skills. This is a great way to establish yourself as a “go to” person and start building the foundations of leadership in your building or district.
Within the first 5 years of my teaching career I held positions as: Science Department Chair, District Middle School Co-Chair of Science Curriculum, District Leadership Team Member, and Building Leadership Team Member, and I had the opportunity to lead multiple professional development sessions for our staff. I’m not saying this to brag, but rather to illustrate that even as a “younger” teacher you can lead and thrive in your district or school.
The most important thing you can take from this is that your students deserve the best possible teacher you can be. So STOP HIDING, and START STANDING OUT!