New teachers face a daunting task. There are classrooms to decorate, students to manage, and lessons to teach. Paul reminds us to avoid unrealistic expectations. None of us are masters of a craft the first time we practice it. Rather than hold yourself to an unreasonable standard, Paul urges a functional approach: start with something that will work, then improve as you can. He highlights crucial tasks that new teachers should place prioritize.
Some things I’ve learned and read about, about lowering the stress level of being a first year teacher, are some of the things I want to talk about this morning. I listened to a podcast by Angela Watson and one of the things she said on there one time was, “Everyone knows that a first year teacher is not going to perform at the same level as a 30-year veteran.” And I think a lot of times people think they need to operate on a veteran level and it can be pretty stressful.
One tip that I can think about here that I would want new teachers to think about is get the first-level product out. Whether it’s a lesson plan or a worksheet, don’t try to have the final version perfect the first time you get it out. Software developers, they push out a barely functioning product and then they’re continually updating it. I think that’s something that teachers should learn or could learn. Just to kind of lower that stress bar just a little bit. And so it kind of goes against some of our Mennonite work ethic of cutting the corners. But cutting the corners to be more successful is going to be okay as a teacher, especially when you’re getting started and you’re in it for the long haul.
Now you don’t want those first products, those first worksheets, those first lessons or units that you push out and they’re a little rough on the edges, you don’t want to let them sit that way. The next year you want to tweak them or adjust them. Maybe even as you’re doing them make some changes so that the next time you use them they’re better. So we don’t always like to cut the corners, but I think teachers should be thinking about [the fact that] it’s okay to cut the corners a little bit.
When you go to cut the corners though, you want to think about the corners that affect the students the least. If I need to be away for a day or something like that, in some ways it feels like it’s kind of cutting corners when you plan your substitute lessons so that anybody can do that. But that’s the kind of a cutting corner thing I’m thinking about. Maybe I’ll push a test off until I’m going to be away, so that that’s a little lighter load. Or creating some kind of activity that’s that self-guided.
Another thing to think about as a new teacher is that don’t try to do it all yourself. Don’t try to come up with all your lesson plans yourselves. You don’t want to just use everybody else’s stuff. But the textbook publishers, they have lesson plans, they have daily orders that you can follow, and the first round of teaching a class or the second time teaching a class, use those and then make them your own later on. There’s a lot of resources out there that are available.
Another tip I think is start asking questions. Start reaching out to people early. Don’t wait until you’re really stuck and struggling because then it’s maybe harder to ask questions. Even if it’s kind of a simple question, you think, “Oh, I could probably figure this out on my own.” Start building relationships with the other teachers in your school by asking questions early. It’s always easier to start early than to start getting help when things are actually kind of bad or rough.
We have another thing that teachers that get really busy kind of forget about and that’s lesson plans. I think that you can do lesson planning kind of at two different levels. [The first is] at a 40- or 50,000-foot overview where you’re thinking about what the year is going to look like, what the quarter is going to look like. But then there’s also importance in doing ground-level lesson planning. And it’s probably something that when I first started teaching, I wasn’t pushed into enough. Do lesson planning, plan out what you’re going to do because if you get busy in the morning or something happens, you know you have your lesson plan. You can just look at it, a quick reminder of, “Oh, yeah, this is what I intend to do today and in this class.” Even if it’s the details of key points for your lecture, what you want to cover.
And you know what? That kind of planning is good, not just for teachers, but if you’re involved in kids’ ministry or kids’ clubs or things like that, it’s profitable there as well.
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CONTRIBUTOR: Paul Harrison