Sunday, October 26, 2014

The New Teacher Seminar:books that work - Second in Series on Developing New Teachers

I recently gave a presentation at the PAIS Biennial Conference titled "From Hiring to Mastery: A Comprehensive Induction Process." Mentorship was one of the themes I stressed. However, good mentors are only a portion of what new teachers need. As a part of our support for our teachers, Westtown requires all of its new to teaching folks to participate in our New Teacher Seminar. Where once I led 10th graders through US History,  now I teach a curriculum intended to help interns and first year teachers take successful first steps towards a career in education. There is very little theory in this curriculum, instead we focus on practical ideas for the next class. The class is a mix of discussing books, sharing successes, asking questions, meeting with seasoned teachers and support staff, and building a personal learning network.

First and foremost the sessions are designed to provide ideas new teachers can implement now. When our group is largely teachers who will have their own classroom we begin with two intensive sessions of mapping out units of study and writing the first two weeks of lesson plans. When the group is weighted towards interns or assistant teachers we focus on classroom management. One of the best tools for rapid improvement in classroom management is Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion. While Lemov's audience is teachers working in school's with at risk students, his techniques translate to Westtown's independent school culture. The beauty of this book is its focus on concrete techniques easily implemented in the classroom. Such things as "100 percent", "no opt out", and "post it" provide our newest teachers with a means of achieving high classroom expectations. Furthermore, and this is most important for young teachers, these techniques provide a means of helping young teachers get over their fear of not being liked. The specific techniques take the practice of teaching out of "I want them to like me", and put the focus squarely where it needs to be on the students and their success. I follow up on our class discussions with direct classroom observations. In my post observation meetings, I am able to speak directly to how well I see them implementing something like "Right is right" or "Stretch It." We talk about what worked, what didn't and how they might adjust to make it better the next day. At some point, these teachers will need to better understand the theory underlying their practice, but in their first year, they need to do, to get feedback, and do it again.

Later this year we will read Peter Gow's The Intentional Teacher, which is focused on teaching in independent schools. Mid-year Gow's book fits well with that moment in which new teachers find themselves wondering if this is the right setting for their aspirations. His is one of the few books for new teachers that is geared towards independent schools. Most importantly, his book helps to provide new teachers with a context for understanding their work in terms of Westtown's Mission. We will finish the year with Mary Cowey's Black Ants and Buddhists. I use this book as a means of transitioning from surviving the first year to thinking creatively about their next year. Cowey's classroom serves as a model for where these young teachers should aspire to go in creating a student centered approach to teaching.

These texts were selected with specific outcomes in mind:

  • day to day success in classroom management and student learning
  • developing a sense of what it means to be a professional in an independent school
  • creative planning for year two

Monday, October 6, 2014

So your child’s teacher is new to teaching. . .

Every teacher has to have a first year of teaching. Over the course of her school years, your child will have a first year teacher or two. Very few professions expect someone to show up the first day and be ready to take full responsibility for the success of a group. Teachers have to know their content, implement best pedagogical practices to deliver that content, and manage a group of young people in such a way that every student learns to his or her full potential. There are steps you can take to ensure that your child has a great learning experience.

First and foremost, find out what supports are in place for the new teacher.
  • You should expect your school to provide every new teacher with a mentor and strong mentoring program. If your school doesn’t have this support, work with administrators to set up a program linking experienced teachers with new teachers.
  • First year teachers need ongoing education. Some schools offer a first year teacher’s seminar. This provides directed professional development in the areas new teachers most need.
  • Every teacher needs regular, formal evaluative feedback from supervisors. Make sure new teachers receive this several times in their first few years.
Second, assume that the new teacher is the best candidate for this position. Hiring great teachers is as much art as science. Young adults are choosing careers in education out of a paired love of working with young people and passion for content areas.
  • When you meet with your child’s teacher connect your wisdom about your child with the teacher’s passion for teaching.
  • If your child has complaints or concerns in the first two weeks, it may be that the complaints are simple things common in any new situation and will be corrected through the ongoing support of mentors, colleagues and supervisors.
  • Ask your child to tell you what he likes about the new teacher, what the new teacher does well.  You want to help your child discern an honest, correctable rookie mistake from something bigger.
  • Even a ten year teacher veteran has to learn a new school culture.

Third, when things don’t seem to be working reach out quickly and directly to your child’s divisional director or Principal.
  • Principals are responsible for teacher quality and student success.
  • Ask for an indication that action has been taken. While you won’t know what has been done, its fair for you to know that your concern has been heard and that appropriate action (as determined by the Principal) is in process.
  • Be persistent and patient . . . to a point. You don’t want your child to lose a year, but you need to give the new teacher time to make whatever adjustments a supervisor may deem warranted.

Fourth, let your child’s teacher know when things are going well.
  • The best teachers are life-long learners. Knowing a lesson or a practice inspired a child, helped a student solve a problem, or understand himself better as a learner is valuable information for  a new teacher.