This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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In my last piece I shared five tips to help new teachers make it through the school year alive. And while those are great tips, I also figured the more advice the better. Here are five more things to keep in mind during your first year in front of the class:
1. Keep your personal life at home.
As a first year teacher, you will be tempted to ingratiate yourself with the wonderful new community that is your school. You might be excited about staff retreats and PTMs and meeting all the new and interesting people you are certain to come across. However, and especially at first, remember to keep your personal life separate from your professional one.
As a rookie teacher, it is difficult to know what all of the rules and expectations are, and some students and parents might try to work their way into your good graces with intentions that are less than the best. Don’t be overly cautious of course, but avoid sharing social media accounts, personal contact information, or even too much about your personal life. Again, pay attention to what the other teachers do, and act even more conservatively, at least at first.
2. Do the job they ask you to do.
A common mistake people make in any new job is to act on the impulse to outshine everyone else. You are going to disrupt the old and staid ways of doing things with your bright-eyed dynamism. Never do that. Schools do not hire teachers because they are unaware of how to do the job, they hire teachers who can contribute positively. This means that before you start showing everyone else how to do the job, you learn how to do it their way.
This isn’t to say you should expect to keep your head low and just do as you’re told for the entirety of your career. On the contrary, at some point you may become the go-to teacher for the rookies, or you might move to administration, or begin to write central curriculum yourself. Your day will come, but before it does you need to earn it. And you earn it by doing the job the way you’ve been asked to.
3. Classroom control is key.
When I took on an administrative role in conjunction with my teaching duties, I was lucky enough to take part in the hiring process of new teachers. My favorite question was this:
"In an ideal classroom, fun and discipline are both present, but which will you emphasize first?”
Do you know the answer?
No, this isn’t a trick question where there is no wrong answer. The correct response is discipline. To a first year teacher this might sound harsh; who wants to be disciplining students all the time? That sounds like Ms. Trunchble of Matilda fame, right? However, experienced teachers will tell you, I don’t mean discipline as a verb, I mean it as a noun. If you can provide a well-disciplined learning environment for your students, you’ll be shocked at how quickly you can get work done, and how smooth things can go. When class is like clockwork it’s easy to find ways to make it more exciting – you might even find some time to simply goof off and enjoy yourselves. And it will be okay, because your work will be finished and high quality.
4. Be cool with the support staff.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take a little time to get to know the support staff at your school – custodians, cafeteria staff, yard duty, office secretaries. First of all, they are your coworkers, and just because they aren’t part of the teaching faculty doesn’t mean there should be some sort of social barrier between you and them. Don’t be shy to talk to them – you’re a teacher, it’s literally your job to talk to people. Next, they can make such a difference in the quality of your day to day.
My mom was a teacher at my high school, and she always made friends with the support staff. Because of this, not only did my mom have a number of friends on campus besides her teacher buds, but the trash in her classroom was always emptied, her room cleaned up, she got extra snacks in the cafeteria, and she always shared fun notes with the office staff. Not that this was why she was friendly with everyone – that’s just how she is – but there were perks beyond just being acknowledged as nice. Take care of your support staff coworkers and they will take care of you.
5. Dress comfortably.
Tacky though it may sound, having a comfy pair of shoes and clothes that fit right can be the difference between calm teacher and about-to-burst-a-vein-at-the-end-of-the-day teacher. On your first day, your impulse will be to dress up and try to impress, but most other teachers and students don’t care that much and you’ll hate it by lunch time.
I’m not saying be a slob – sweatpants and flip flops are weekend attire – but just like you should pace yourself, you should also save yourself pain where you can. And one of the best ways to do that is to be comfortable in your clothes. It makes it that much more comfortable doing your job.