Advice for New Teachers: Dream BIG!
By Educators Barry Saide and Dr. Jerry Paterson
We remember our first year in the classroom. We were there a lot. Arriving early. Staying late. Figuring out why lessons worked (or why they didn’t). Connecting with students. Forming relationships with parents. Listening to advice from our more seasoned peers. There was a lot our college courses missed when preparing us to teach and be the change. As we reflect on our double-digit years in education, there were three pieces of advice we were given that we still follow. Education is a dream job for us, and we hope for you too. With that, we offer our three Dream BIG ideas, so you can enjoy your dream job, too:
There’s many things we have zero control of as educators. Class schedule and size are just two of them. Conducting ourselves as professionals is not one of them. It’s important that in our desire to Dream BIG, we remember the little things. Know and adhere to the building’s adult dress code, arrival times, and mandatory meetings. As role models for students — and each other — how we carry ourselves speaks volumes about how we view the importance of our profession. If we are tardy, unkempt, and unkind to others, what message are we sending to our peers and students? On the flip side, when we create a learning environment that reflects ourselves and our students, we promote a positive, professional approach to education. Put up those student work examples, and change them every three-six weeks. Display your favorite sports teams and the schools you attended. Remind students that you’re human, just a professional one.
One thing we learned quickly is to be comfortable in not knowing. Often, as new educators, we’re told to “sit down and be quiet.” However, what good learning comes from this instructional approach? Being inquiry-based should start on day one. Now, be careful: we’re not recommending you question everything and share those concerns with everyone. Be judicious. Watch the professionals around you. See how they interact with students, design their rooms, and share their thinking in meetings. When comfortable, ask a trusted colleague to informally observe them teach. Inquire if anyone on the grade level/subject area team is open to co-planning a lesson or unit. Make it clear that your questions will aid you in your growth, and you’re hopeful that these questions will also stimulate reflection in those who answer your questions. A win-win is the goal. As new teachers we asked a lot of questions. As seasoned educators we still do.
Learning is not a continuous line. Nor is it an easy path. The learning journey is filled with wrong turns, dead ends, and frustrations. Even the best laid plans — modeling ourselves after those we admired and respected, as well as surrounding ourselves with trusted colleagues we can ask many questions of — does not insulate us from fatigue. Being the new person, in year one, 11, or 21, is hard. Understanding and balancing peer personalities, administrative and peer expectations, school climate, with student and parental needs, day to day instruction and assessment, and curricular demands, is a daunting task. It’s akin to riding a unicycle while everything is on fire. Understand that the discomfort in each area of learning will breed deeper understanding and learning in the long run. It may not feel that way during the tides of February, but it will once you have a year (or 11, or 21) under your belt.
As current administrators who’ve served as building leaders and central office administrators, it sounds easy when we write about Dream BIG. It’s easy for us to talk about only because we’ve been through the hard experiences of colleague conflict, misunderstanding student and parent needs, arriving tardy to meetings, and more. When we’ve looked at each experience as a learning opportunity, instead of successes and failures, we’re honoring the investment that our peers made in us when we asked a lot of questions, opened their classroom doors for us to come observe, or sat us down for the hard, but needed conversations.
We hope that this writing piece convinces you to take those daily risks in your desire to Dream BIG, while realizing that learning is an input-output process. You will get out what you put in, but not often immediately, and not when you expect it. Pace yourself as you learn, and have patience with yourself. Learning is a key component in life, and it will happen, regardless of your years as an educator. Start today, by congratulating yourself on joining the most important and honorable profession there is, and becoming a member of our educational tribe! And if you have a question, just ask…
Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Paterson has been an educator for 20 years. He has taught elementary and middle grade, served as a curriculum supervisor, and is currently the building principal at Tabernacle Elementary School, in Tabernacle, New Jersey. He is college professor at Temple University an Holy Family University, both in Philadelphia, PA. He is a huge Philly sports fan, avid historian, and enjoys fishing with his teenage son. Connect with Jerry via Twitter @DrPatersonTES
Barry Saide has been in education for 17 years. He is a former elementary school teacher, supervisor of curriculum and instruction, and currently serves as Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Tabernacle School District, in Tabernacle, New Jersey. He is a college professor at The College of New Jersey, board member for NJASCD, and is an ASCD Emerging Leader. Connect with Barry via Twitter @barrykid1 or his website, barrysaide.com.
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.
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