The first year of teaching is very challenging. (Actually, the first year of any job is challenging!) Like any career, it is essential to be ready for the first day. Teachers need thorough training in order for this to happen.
It is essential that teacher training programs include a variety of high quality courses (in all content areas), knowledgeable professors, and a balance between theory and practice. They should also include courses about planning for and teaching all types of children, such as those in General Education, English language learners, and exceptional students (i.e. special education and gifted education). When I look back at all of my training, the following was most helpful to me:
Ample Opportunities for Practice
Practice makes perfect! Practice can take many different forms: student teaching in a classroom, teaching a mock lesson to your peers, “teaching” a friend or family member, or even practicing in front of the mirror! Bottom line, new teachers need to practice again and again.
Student teaching is an excellent example of practice. Teaching programs should set the expectations high for the amount of time required teaching as well as the variety of subjects taught. This ensures that teachers not only have several chances to teach content, but also equal oppoirtunities to manage a class. While some programs require only a semester of student teaching, others may require a full year—the longer the better!
Most teaching programs incorporate tutoring, which is another opportunity to practice. I received a Master’s in Literacy at Hunter College, and as part of one of my remediation courses, I worked with a struggling reader for an entire semester on reading intervention. I was able to practice planning and implementing the remediation strategies I was learning about in the course.
Immediate Feedback and Actionable Next Steps
Usually, student teaching comes hand-in-hand with a supervisor observation. These observations are incredibly important! It is the teacher’s opportunity to learn his/her strengths and weaknesses, and then make necessary adjustments.
For one of my summer jobs, I worked as a Teacher Development Coach for New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) and observed new teachers in summer school classrooms. During my training, we learned to prioritize our feedback and constantly think about the following: which one change that we suggest will have the greatest impact on teacher success and student achievement? It is likely that new teachers have several areas in which to grow (which is expected!), but hopefully an adjustment in one area can impact others.
We also learned that we should provide the feedback immediately following the lesson, which provides these teachers with "next steps" to implement in the classroom right away. This observation/feedback cycle is beneficial in that it helps future teachers build on their strengths and address vulnerabilities early on during their student teaching placement. It helps them to hone in on one area and improve their teaching practices.
My favorite courses were always the ones where I found myself saying, “I’m going to try that tomorrow.” Prospective teachers need to learn new information that they can apply into their student teaching classrooms the very next day. This can range from a cool science lesson to a classroom management strategy. If they aren’t student teaching or tutoring yet, they should use these courses to build their “teaching toolboxes” for when they begin.
I remember the day I learned about using “table points” for positive reinforcement in the classroom. I immediately knew that I would be implementing that strategy into my future classroom; it helps with classroom management, building community, and promoting group work. Any teacher reading this is probably thinking, Everyone knows about table points! Well, we all know about table points because we were taught it at some point! One of my professors at Fordham swore up and down about table points—and she was right. I am a huge fan of table points, and so are most other teachers.
These types of “a-ha” moments should be happening constantly during teacher training. Teachers should leave their programs with a toolbox of strategies that work and activities to try on the first day of school.
Time for Reflection
Prospective teachers should constantly reflect on their strengths and vulnerabilities. Although there is generally observation from supervisors or grades from professors, self-reflection is important as well. Reflection is a huge part of our day-to-day jobs as teachers because we constantly think about what went well and what needs improvement. This needs to begin during training.
Seminars are a great time to reflect. Prospective teachers need time to meet and talk with other prospective teachers! They need to discuss highs and lows, share ideas, and reflect together. No one quite understands what you're going through unless they're going through it, too.
A Note on Alternate Route Programs
I'm a huge fan of alternate route programs, such as New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF). This is how I became a teacher! Alternate route programs are great because you are learning and doing simultaneously. You are constantly engaged in practicing, being part of an observation/feedback cycle, learning applicable content, and reflecting, while at the same time working as a full-time teacher. What better way to learn?!
Nothing can truly prepare you for that first year of teaching, but training programs with these qualities set a pretty solid foundation. Does learning just stop at the end of the teacher training program? Of course not! It is ongoing throughout your entire career. Ultimately, a good teaching program should pave the way and provide you with the tools for being a successful teacher and lifelong learner.
Follow Allison Tallman on Twitter at @teacheralynyc.