Why We All Need to Help New Teachers Succeed
A MiddleWeb Blog
To this day, I can still remember the first time I jumped off the high dive. Before doing so, I spent hours watching/studying others as they confidently leapt into the water. Despite my mental preparation, I left the edge of the board with amazing awkwardness and hit the water with an oafish splash.
I felt similar feelings my first year of teaching. After all, the only thing more challenging than being a teacher…is being a brand new one. Nearly every educator enters the profession with knowledge and enthusiasm, but relatively little experience.
Unfortunately, society expects novice teachers to hit the ground running – showing prowess in instruction, assessment, student engagement, classroom management, and nearly every aspect of the educator’s job description (Sowell, 2017). These expectations – coupled with the complexity of teaching – can stifle (and even suffocate) newcomers.
As a long-time teacher turned full-time teacher educator – and someone who spends time in schools with novices who are eager for help – I’ve come to this conclusion:
It really doesn’t matter if we are tasked with being an official mentor teacher or simply want to help someone down the hall navigate the first, formative years in the profession. Nor does it matter whether we have a few years or a few decades of classroom experience. Our newest colleagues need our support.
Each of us can help novice educators (and their students) to be successful by providing support, collegial friendship, collaboration, instructional modeling, and well-crafted feedback.
“Frustrated by poor pay and underfunded schools, half of public school teachers nationally have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past few years.” ~ The 2019 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools
Drop-in’s and Day-to-Day’s
Few things make a new employee, particularly a teacher, feel more comfortable than gestures of welcoming and acceptance (Carucci, 2018). To help new educators feel less like the new kid on an old block, consider dropping in briefly to introduce yourself with a small, inexpensive bundle of treats and new teacher supplies (sticky notes, pencils, etc). Develop a ‘service attitude’ by making contact one to two times a week in the hallway or workroom, or during non-class time to find ways to provide support.
Rarely is it useful to say something generic like… “Just let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” Some new teachers may be reluctant to ask for assistance, while others might not even know what to ask about. Instead, consider asking what supplies you can help them get a hold of, what they are most enjoying, or what specific questions they have so far.
Throughout the year, foster conversations that help your new colleague get the information needed to function on a day in and day out basis. Think back your your own early days and anticipate the mundane and the complex: using the copier, finding classroom supplies, reporting attendance, learning what instructional technology is available to teachers and students, grading/discipline guidelines, standard school procedures, handling a medical emergency or fight in the classroom.
Above all else, be sincere and patient, and remember that it takes time and trust-building to establish collegial relationships that help new teachers feel comfortable ‘opening up’ and voicing questions and concerns about their duties (Heikkinen et al., 2018).
Collaboration Is Key
Collaboration plays a key role in helping new educators and can have a tremendous impact on their students’ achievement (Palmisano, 2013). It provides opportunities for professional growth, brainstorming, and developing/refining activities that foster student learning.
It may surprise you, but research is finding that when utilized effectively, interaction and collaboration with other teachers can have a stronger impact on student achievement than teacher experience or ability in the classroom (Cross & Thomas, 2017). Rather than just passing time together, it is important that collaboration be purposeful and based on new teacher needs (Brown, 2019), such as:
- supporting English Language Learners and students with special needs
- effective use of formative assessment
- increasing understanding of student data
- instructional strategies
- classroom management
- curriculum development
- building relationships, respect, and rapport with students
- creating a positive classroom environment
- communicating effectively with families
- lesson planning
Middle Level Students Have Unique Needs
In addition to the usual challenges faced by new teachers, those who begin teaching in middle schools are typically not familiar with the unique experience of working with young adolescents (Martin, Buelow, & Hoffman, 2016). After all, fewer teacher preparation programs specialize in middle level licensure when compared to elementary or secondary licensure.
For students, middle school is a time physical maturation, as well as social and emotional challenges that can impede learning if not dealt with appropriately (Van Hoose et al., 2001). New teachers who do not have experience in organizing their classroom and instruction to meet young adolescents’ particular needs require time to converse with, observe, and learn from more experienced middle school teachers.
Observing – and being observed – by trusted colleagues creates opportunities for self-reflection, focused feedback, and improved classroom practice.
Learning and Growing Together
Effective teaching is a perpetual process of learning with and from those around us. Whether we are new to the classroom or seasoned professionals, there is an opportunity to learn, grow, improve, and help others to do the same.
New educators – particularly those entering middle schools – find themselves at the edge of the high dive, filled with enthusiasm and uncertainty. As they leap into the profession, each one of us needs to seek out opportunities to provide support, fellowship and collaboration to help them flourish and make a positive difference in the lives of their students.
In truth, by helping them, we help ourselves. Many of their students will be our students, too.
Brown, E. A. (2019). COACH APPROACH: Mentoring programs work best when experienced educators grow alongside new teachers. District Administration, 55(2), 31.
Carucci, R. (2018). To Retain New Hires, Spend More Time Onboarding Them. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 1–5.
Cross, S. B., & Thomas, C. (2017). Mitigating First Year Burnout: How Reimagined Partnerships Could Support Urban Middle Level Teachers. Middle Grades Review, 3(1).
Heikkinen, H. L., Wilkinson, J., Aspfors, J., & Bristol, L. (2018). Understanding mentoring of new teachers: Communicative and strategic practices in Australia and Finland. Teaching and Teacher Education, 71, 1-11.
Martin, K. L., Buelow, S. M., & Hoffman, J. T. (2016). New teacher induction: Support that impacts beginning middle-level educators. Middle School Journal, 47(1), 4-12.
Sowell, M. (2017). Effective practices for mentoring beginning middle school teachers: Mentor’s perspectives. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 90(4), 129-134.
Van Hoose, J., Strahan, D., & L’Esperance, M. (2001). Promoting harmony: Young adolescent development and school practices. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
Edutopia has republished portions of this article.