Things I Wish I Had Been Told Early On...
There are several items I wish I had been told or pushed to do earlier in my teaching career that I believe would have hastened my growth as an educator. Therefore, I will pay if forward as you begin your career!
Read! Read! Read!
Read articles and publications regarding your content area. Being a member of a professional association is a great way to stay abreast of changes or new ideas in your curriculum area. Stay fresh, stay current and stay interested in your field. You will be more valuable as an educator and able to effectively and creatively contribute to your grade level team, content area group, or school in general.
Collaborate, Share, Improve
If you have the opportunity to teach at a school where a Professional Learning Community (PLC) philosophy is embraced... jump at it. Research the work by Rick Dufour in the area of Professional Learning Communities and it will change your life as an educator, as well as the academic success of your students. Teaching teams meet regularly, share expertise, work collaboratively to improve teaching skills, and through the process, improve the academic performance of students. It was a profound, months-long process to work through when establishing it in our school, but the growth and achievement demonstrated by students was undeniable. If you are not fortunate to work in a PLC school, take it upon yourself to participate in study groups, professional development teams, or curriculum committees. Be involved. Be forward-thinking.
Fine-tune Your Skills as a Negotiator, Problem-solver
Throughout my career, I observed many teachers who avoided parental/guardian contact for fear of engaging in conversations that could be emotionally charged and unpredictable. There are very good books and articles regarding initiating conversations, dealing with upset people, communicating effectively, and being persuasive and influential when you speak. Practice having difficult conversations, watch others interact and take cues from effective administrators and counselors whom you observe. Return parent calls as soon as possible. People become more frustrated the longer they have to wait for a discussion. Parents/guardians want the best for their son/daughter...as they see it...so even though they may not be educators in the formal sense of the word, understand their child is the most important person in their world. You are not at odds. You are on the same team.
You are in the "People Development Business"
The most effective administrator I worked for consistently reinforced this philosophy to the faculty. There is more to school than academics. Educators help develop individuals to become contributing members of society. Our work is important. Every interaction we have with a student can be either positive or negative. Think before you speak. Your words will live on long after the conversation ends.
Catherine Nolan, MA; Career Coach
Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success
Montana State University, Bozeman, MT