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May 2, 2017

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

The World of a New Teacher

By Dr. Alvin Taylor

 

Well, you’re almost there. Time to complete your degree in education and step out into the unknown. Are you ready? I will never forget my first year as a teacher. The excitement, the nervousness, and simply not knowing what to expect. Trust me, veteran teachers have been exactly where you are. As the Wizard told the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz, “…what you need is a testimony”.

Since you’re just getting started, you may not have a testimony just yet about the world of education, so I will do you a favor and lend you one of mine. I will start that testimony with a famous quote, “a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others,” and since I have made my share of mistakes during my first years in the field of education I think I can help you, as a new teacher, learn from my experiences.

As with most first-year teachers, I definitely had my obstacles to overcome, but hindsight is 20/20 and looking back over my past experiences as a teacher I have come up with three areas of focus that I feel will help the newly-minted teacher. The three areas that I feel are important are:
a) Planning,
b) Mentoring & coaching, and
c) Developing relationships – with the parents.

 

Planning

“People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” The level and intensity of your planning will play a pertinent role in the outcome of your effectiveness during not only your first year of teaching, but also your entire career. Whether it be your lesson plans or your classroom management strategies, it will be in your best interest to not just have a plan A, but a plan B and C! My advice would be to expect and plan for the unexpected because the unexpected is guaranteed to occur. No matter if we’re talking about a technology malfunction or if your planned 50-minute lesson actually turns out to be only 20 minutes in real time, it pays to be prepared and the only preparation for the classroom is distinct, deliberate planning.

 

Mentoring & Coaching

Back when I started teaching, having a mentor or a coach was not a given. Today, we know that research clearly states having a mentor or coach will have a positive and profound impact on the new teacher. Mentors not only help you with big issues such as instructional strategies or classroom management tips, but they can also help you with the little things that can make your everyday life just a little better. Little things, like telling you when and where to get a good parking space, when and where to go for important meetings, or putting in a good word for you with the head secretary, head custodian, and cafeteria manager (the people who really run the school).

Coaching is also vital. I’ll never forget when my career as an educator made a turn for the better. It was when a veteran teacher decided to help me by coming to my class and teaching my students for an hour. I watched this teacher take my class, that I had determined were spawns of Satan, and turn them into well-mannered, engaged angels. I learned more in an hour watching that master teacher than a thousand words of advice could have taught me. Seeing is believing.

 

Building Relationships – With Parents

Another bad decision I made when I was a new teacher is that I had the frame of mind that I needed to handle all of the problems myself. I felt that I needed to deal with whatever issues I had in my classroom or with my students alone. I thought that if I asked for help, that I had somehow failed. Don’t go down the painful path that I did so many years ago. If you find yourself experiencing academic or behavioral issues with your students, use your most valuable asset and resource: the parents! However, I strongly urge you to establish relationships with your parents BEFORE there is a problem. Build relationships with parents at the beginning of the year. Build relationships with parents when things are going well. Don’t let your first phone call to the parents be a call to deliver bad news—it may not go well, but if you have already established a good relationship with the parents and later on down the road you need their help with an issue, then you will see that you have 100% cooperation from the parents; and the next day at school you’ll see that Johnny has made a miraculous change!

 

Finally, I want to leave this thought with you: when you begin your career as a teacher and you walk into that classroom and look out at your students, know that ten or more years from now those children looking up at you WILL remember you and they will talk about you to their friends and relatives, their spouses, and even their children. There’s a saying that people may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel, so what will your students remember about you? What will they say about you? As their teacher, you have the power to influence what they will think about you and what they will say about you because when you touch the lives of those children, you literally touch the future. Wield your power wisely, educator.

 

So, in closing, let me remind you of what the Wizard told those four adventurers so long ago: all you need to do is use your brains, listen to your heart, have courage, and if you ever need some good advice you can always find it back home at the University of Montevallo!

 

Dr. Alvin Taylor,
Assistant Professor
Department of Teaching, Leadership, & Technology
College of Education

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 After half a decade spent turning a troubled Mississippi school district into a star school system, Dr. Alvin Taylor is now imparting his hard-earned wisdom to students at the University of Montevallo. With more than 20 years of experience, Taylor steadily built his career as an administrator in middle and high schools before leading the dramatic changes of the failing Meridian, Mississippi school system in 2011. The achievement earned him the 2014 “Citizen of the Year” distinction from local newspaper The Meridian Star.