Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Phil Lewis, the Executive Director at the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals (MoASSP). MoASSP is a professional organization committed to the ongoing improvement of secondary education, the professional development of middle level and high school principals and assistant principals, and programs for the youth of Missouri. The mission of MoASSP is to improve secondary education through positive leadership and the enhancement of student performance.
First-year teachers and teachers new to the profession are under a great deal of stress. They were students for 16 or 17 years and have seen and participated in lessons ranging from poor to fantastic. They have seen the great teachers who make teaching look effortless.
As a new teacher, they will soon struggle with confidence as they face their first failure and that failure will be followed by yet another. The college level lessons and training make teaching look so easy, if there is a problem, go the internet and find a solution or back to the “learning expert” text your professors favored.
Undoubtedly, what is tried fails or at the least, it does not work out like the textbook indicated it would. This yields yet another blow to the ego. The idea that he or she has let down a room full of students is somewhat demoralizing. They think “maybe if I spend more time planning, threatening the students, demanding or searching for other solutions I can find the magic bullet.” This can be a lonely feeling.
The single biggest comfort for new professionals is knowing that you are not alone. The great models new professionals admired once had to battle those same fears. The lack of confidence, setbacks and trial and error disappointments are all common occurrences for any novice. The inward perception for all new teachers can be “asking for help is a sign of weakness.” For most new teachers,
For most new teachers, school environment was safe and supportive. As a student, they received help when they needed it and were encouraged when they doubted themselves. Now, they are the one who is supposed to know what to say, how to encourage, and understand the difference between empathy and enabling.
How do you get the help you need? Whom do you talk to? What do I ask and how? What about that ominous figure in the “Office?” Here are some tips to get over your fears and rebuild your confidence:
- Reach out early to fellow teachers and make casual conversation about families, hobbies, and see where your common interests lie.
- Go to the office and visit with the secretary or administrative assistant. They know how the system works for everything from markers to odds and ends you need for your classroom. Remember, they are not your servants, they are the front door and security guard to the principal(s). Treat them with the utmost respect. Their opinion really matters.
- Visit with your principal. Most principals have an open door policy, so use it. Go in and ask questions of him or her. Get to know them as a person and as time goes on you will learn what they encourage and support.
- Make yourself visible outside your classroom. Walk the halls for a few minutes each day you have planning time. Listen to what is going on in the classrooms. What you learn there is of much more value than spending time in your room grading papers or trying to prepare for the rest of the day.
- You will hear good lessons
- You will see good teaching techniques
- You will open the door to ask for advice (I was walking by your classroom the other day and I hear… how do you do that so well?
You are a teacher with your own personality, strengths and weaknesses. Don’t try to be someone else, but learn from others techniques, look at ways to hone your skills, and have a vision about where you would like to be in five years. Schools need great teachers and like any profession, it takes a few years to be GREAT, even if you have the intangible skills.