September 01, 2016

In this inaugural post for the PBS Teacher's Blog, Pam Thornton, mentor teacher for the PBS Digital Innovator program and middle school library media specialist, shares her tips for new teachers at the start of their first school year.

The 2016-17 school year is underway for most school districts, with the remainder starting in a few days after the Labor Day weekend. As I work with new teachers in my school on setting up their classrooms and technology, my advice to them is to be:

FAIR – Be aware that some students take longer to know and love. Be fair in your assessment of them, and give them a chance!

Imagine yourself as a parent, and perhaps you are one already. How would you like your child to be greeted, treated, and enveloped into the new school year and classroom? Every student has a story to tell – the loss of a parent or grandparent, a household move, a serious illness. We don’t know all of that yet, but soon we will. Take time to listen and to be FAIR!

FRIENDLY – Be warm and friendly, but you are not there to be their friend! Be their teacher, their safety net, and another trusted adult in their life.

One of my mentor teachers long ago told me “I don’t need any 11-13 year-old friends.” At first I didn’t exactly understand that, but she was right, and that advice has really stuck with me over the years. We need to be friendly and accessible to our students, but they are not our confidants, and we can’t solve all their problems. Listening to them, establishing a rapport with them, and being connected with them in knowing some of their likes and dislikes is important as a means of building a relationship of caring and support. 

FLEXIBLE – Be sure to know that things will not always go as planned! Have a Plan B, and roll with it!

What will you do if there is a power outage or the Internet is down, taking away all your best-laid electronic plans for a lesson using Kahoot or your best montage using YouTube clips? How will you adjust your lesson when that first fire drill takes away half of your class time? There always needs to be an alternative plan in case of an emergency or change of schedule. 

Best wishes to all for a successful school year! Whether you are a brand new teacher right out of college or a veteran teacher in your last year before retiring, take a deep breath before you dive in for the school year- and each and every day. We all learn something each day from each other as well as from the students in front of us!