“One of the best things about your first year of teaching is that it will end,” someone said to me when I first started teaching. I still remember those words, and that was a lot of years ago.
Although the numbers and reasons vary depending on the year and on the study, there’s no doubt that first-year teachers face challenges, and sometimes don’t make it past the first few years of their careers. One of the ways we can increase the likelihood of positive experiences and retention rates is by knowing how to support them.
Thinking about the different times throughout the year, here are some ways to think about how we help teachers make it through their first year with enough confidence and inspiration that they’re excited to return.
The Initial, Out-of-the-Gate Support and Documents
By the end of the three days of New Teacher Orientation, almost every new teacher has glazed over and feels overwhelmed. I see it year after year. So year after year, I try to reduce the amount of information I provide them about our writing program, staggering what they need with when they need it.
As part of the orientation, I provide grade-level new teacher packets when I meet with new teachers before the school year begins. Over the years, these packets have evolved to include:
- Our year-long calendar of units with predictable issues that typically happen. Typical issues include:
- Staying in the first unit too long for a variety of reasons
- Experiencing shortened days and weeks during conferences and Thanksgiving break
- Infringing on academic times because of holiday celebrations and distractions
- Dealing with weather-related delays and closings
While I don’t expect new teachers to remember all of the potential issues, I do want them to understand it’s okay to plan for the unplanned.
- A document with grade-level writing standards and a piece or two of student writing that illustrates the standards, especially for the first unit of the year. New teachers do not usually have student writing from previous years, so when we can provide that to them, they can more easily understand what they should be aiming for within their own classrooms. Additionally, they can use these student exemplars as part of their instruction with their own students.
- Copies of the three major assessments in narrative, information, and opinion writing and the dates of the administration windows. Each grade level has slightly different renditions. It’s important for teachers to know what they are going to be asking their students to do and know as a result of their instruction.
- Some basic principles of workshop instruction. I usually include:
- A list of lingo terms that have to do with writing workshop
- A template for planning a minilesson
- A record-keeping form for conferring
- An offer of any other sort of support system they want: live, digital, or in writing
In preparation for this post, I asked some of the newer teachers in our district what they’d appreciated and wished was different during their first year. I’ve shared one of their reflections below:
This response made me wonder about the timing of New Teacher Orientation. Many of our new teachers are hired well before the end of the summer, and sometimes between now and the end of the year. Why not meet with them earlier in the summer? That way, they’re not trying to fill out forms and internalize curriculum at the same time. Maybe it could be an option.
At that initial meeting when I share all of this material and overwhelm these new teachers, I talk to them about how they learn best, what systems and supports will help them be successful. In the back of my mind is Maya Angelou’s beautiful quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
For many of us, New Teacher Orientation is our only chance to make our first impression on our new teachers. Thinking about Maya Angelou’s important words can help build the foundation for important relationships throughout the year. More than anything else, make those teachers feel valued, supported, and capable.
The Real-Time, Throughout-the-Year Support
For the last couple of years, I have met with new teachers throughout the year to review units just before they begin. I have found choice to be important when setting these meetings up. Do they want to meet before school? After school? In their classroom? At a coffee shop away from distractions? How long do they want to meet? How much can they absorb? And always, what is their learning style?
When we met, I shared:
- major learning overviews of the units
- sample charts that could be created over the course of the unit
- exemplar pieces of writing
I try to share these resources in a gradual way, pulling things out one at a time and only giving them to teachers when they ask for them. That way, they walk away with things they’re excited to use and not overwhelmed to try to understand. Some teachers ask for more than others, and I have other resources on hand in case. Some teachers don’t ask for much. I make note of that and make sure to follow up in the not-so-distant future to see how it’s going in the classroom.
Understandably, these meetings have helped new teachers feel more comfortable about upcoming units. These meetings also frequently led to invitations to come in and demonstrate a lesson or even engage in a coaching cycle.
And It’s Not All About the Documents
As I shared earlier, I asked some of our first and second-year teachers about what really helped them during their first year of teaching. Their responses have helped me rethink some of my less formal practices.
One teacher wrote:
I think the people who made me feel the most supported were the people who built me up and made me feel successful In what I was doing but at the same time inspired and pushed me to do more. They had that healthy balance of positives and constructive advice.
Her words remind me of the vulnerability that new teachers feel. All of the teachers talked about how much they appreciated having someone — whether another teacher or an instructional coach to lean on and ask questions — even when the questions seemed self-evident, or silly. Working with them is a balancing act, hovering between nurture and feedback, while creating genuine connections and communication.
The first years of teaching are finite. As mentors, coaches, and experienced colleagues, our job is to make that end feel less exhausting and more celebratory!
- This giveaway is for a copy of Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
- For a chance to win this copy of Welcome to Writing Workshop, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 5th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 6th.
- Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.