Most teachers would agree that their first year was by far the most difficult. After all, how many people can say they graduated from their teaching program adequately prepared for all that was thrown at them? The most important things brand-new teachers need are time, attention, support, and guidance. Supporting first-year teachers on day one can make all the difference. Here’s how to do just that:
Focus on school-wide stability.
First-year teachers thrive in stable environments and flounder in chaotic ones. As a school leader, job number one should be creating a positive school culture that values teamwork, open communication, and support for everyone, veterans and newbies alike.
Give everyone a to-do list.
Just like our students, first-year teachers need scaffolded assistance as they start their new careers. Create an action plan that details how you and your staff will help them succeed. Some school districts create a calendar with month-by-month tips for supporting new teachers. Interview newer teachers on your staff for insight. What was particularly helpful in their first year? Was there something they could have used more of? What was unhelpful?
Hand out an operational blueprint.
Every school has different operating procedures. If possible, hold an orientation session for new hires to meet one another and ask questions before the rest of the faculty arrives. Provide them with a faculty handbook or welcome packet that fills them in on things such as the school calendar, bell schedules, duty rosters, school policies, professional expectations, and district contacts.
Set them up for success.
If possible, provide first-year teachers with access to classrooms, rosters, schedules, and teaching materials as soon as possible. The more time new teachers have to familiarize themselves with the logistics of their job, the sooner they can shift their focus to the needs of their students.
Create a welcoming environment.
Introduce them, have a celebration, do some team builders. Also be sensitive to the fact that they are new. During meetings don’t reference past events (our policy regarding x will be the same as last year) without explaining. Share cultural norms and traditions. For instance, if Friday is jeans-and-school-polos day, let new teachers know ahead of time.
Pair first-year teachers up with a mentor.
Mentors can make a huge difference. According to a 2015 federal study, 92 percent of first-year teachers assigned a mentor returned to their classroom. Many school districts assign district-level mentors as part of their induction process. While that is very helpful in terms of professional development, it’s important for new teachers to have a mentor teacher in the building who can help them navigate the particulars of their school.
Help them manage their time.
It’s impossible not to be overwhelmed your first year of teaching. Help new teachers manage their workload by assigning them an aide or limiting the number of preps they need to do. Make sure they have common time to plan with their teammates. Excuse first-years from committees and leadership positions until they are more seasoned.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your newest faculty members—i.e., check in often. Don’t be guilty of benign neglect and assume their mentor is taking care of their needs. Make a few friendly (positive, supportive) visits to their classroom before starting formal evaluations.
Provide meaningful feedback.
New teachers want ideas, guidance, constructive criticism, and encouraging advice. They want a school leader who is well versed in instructional strategies and who can provide meaningful, workable strategies to help them improve their craft. My first year teaching, I had a post-observation conference with the principal where the only feedback I received was a blow-by-blow account of the lesson I taught. No suggestions. No critique. Not helpful.
Be especially supportive when it comes to discipline and parent issues.
First-year teachers have enough on their plate just learning the curriculum and how to manage their classroom. They need strong support dealing with higher-level issues like parent complaints and high-maintenance students. Take a protective stance and teach them how to successfully negotiate these situations.
As school leaders, we must model care and concern for our teachers in the same way we expect our teachers to be sensitive and responsive to the individual needs of their students. First-year teachers, in particular, need extra support and encouragement to ensure their success. We believed in them enough to hire them. Let’s invest in supporting and guiding them through their first few years.
How do you support your first-year teachers? Come share in our Principal Life Facebook group.