10 Things First Year Teachers Need Veteran Teachers to Know

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first year teachers: Brilliant or Insane
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The new year is upon us here in New York State, and as is often the case in August, I’m spending much time facilitating orientation sessions for first year teachers. This is always a fantastic opportunity for me to recharge and refocus on my own professional learning goals as well, as I’m meeting some incredible colleagues along the way.

First year teachers often bring abundant energy and light to their classrooms and schools, particularly when they’re well cared for by senior staff members. But there are things they want their more experienced colleagues to understand–things that will help create a collegial culture at your school.

10 things first year teachers want veteran teachers to know

1. First year teachers long to be respected, particularly by veteran teachers they admire. Maybe that’s you. New teachers know they have a lot to prove. When veteran teachers take the time to notice and name their strengths, their confidence grows.

2. They’re eager to belong. So, invite their contributions, shine a little light on their work, and help them find their tribe. Do your part to make your school community one worth belonging to as well.

3. They’re stressed and they’re sick and they’re ignoring it to impress you. Remember that many first year teachers are also navigating their first years of marriage, parenthood, and home ownership. They don’t have your intuition, your vast experience, or your archive of instructional approaches.

They’re working hard at just about everything, and they’re doing it almost to the point of exhaustion. Be kind. More important, be a role model. Wise teachers are not workaholics. They aren’t judgmental either.

4. They’re well connected. Many are recent college graduates and experienced job hunters. They’ve established wide networks filled with interesting, talented, and equally passionate educators. They’re eager to include you in that circle, and you might just love the people you get to meet there.

5. They don’t care if you aren’t so well connected. Are you secretly ashamed of the fact that you aren’t sure how to post a status update on Facebook? Does Twitter overwhelm you? Are you clueless about Voxer? It’s okay. New teachers are often looking to you for something different, something more.

Drop by their classrooms. Learn about their lives outside of school. Compliment their efforts. Notice them. Tend to them. Help them feel at home. When it comes to nurturing first year teachers, this matters more than your digital footprint (of course, you still need to work on that, too).

6. They may be parents, and they wonder if this will threaten their credibility. Not better. Not worse. Different. Their priorities will change, their schedules will change, and their interests will change. Expect this and help them celebrate the evolution, if it occurs. Recognize how their parenting experiences can make them better teachers.

7. They may never become parents, and they wonder if this will threaten their credibility. I know many incredible educators who choose to remain childless for a wide variety of reasons. This makes them different teachers than those who are parents. Not better. Not worse. Different. As a parent, I turn to these friends when I know my own biases are getting in my way. The fact that they do not have children themselves enables them to provide different and often, much needed perspective.

8. Social tension doesn’t serve them well. When Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was struggling to recover from a stroke, she implored her visitors to take responsibility for the energy they brought into her space. It mattered to her recovery and growth.

When first year teachers confide their greatest challenges to me during debriefing sessions, it’s this issue that rises to the surface of our conversations most often. Don’t complain about your administrators, colleagues, students, or work to first year teachers.

They have enough to worry about without needing to monitor battle lines or concerning themselves about maintaining allegiances. New teachers long to be a part of a supportive community. If this isn’t how you would define your school system, then be part of the solution.

9. They need to know who the real leaders are. I’m not referring to the titled leaders. I’m referring to the real leaders inside of your school. Help them identify and foster powerful connections with those who will support, inspire, and leverage their work within and beyond your system.

10. They aren’t your competition. First year teachers are excited to use all that they’ve learned in service to their students. They are designing their first classrooms, their first lessons, and their first experiences with students and with you. They want to be successful. They want to be respected. Most importantly, they want to make a difference, and they are going to do everything they can to accomplish this goal. If that feels like competition to you, consider what your feelings might be teaching you about yourself, your own needs, and your ambitions. Be grateful for the lesson, but try not to assume that first year teachers are competing with you.

You’re wiser than that.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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