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

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