Tips for New Teachers: Landing & Keeping Your First Teaching Position

So you’ve decided to join the grand adventure of educating today’s youth? Welcome! I am so glad you’re here! The modern education system is not without faults and the role of educators seems to continuously increase in scope often without corresponding compensation. Despite these bureaucratic frustrations, teaching is one of the most fulfilling careers available today. I could try and describe it to you, but we’ll just let you see for yourself! Now that you are ready to embark on your newest career venture, I’ve compiled some tips to help you navigate the process of scoring and thriving in your new position.

How to Nail Your Teaching Interview

A teaching interview is like any other professional interview, you must prepare as if you already have the position. It all comes down to doing your research! What are the student demographics of the school I am interviewing for? What courses are they enrolled in? Does the school offer special programs such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Academies? What is the school known for? Do they have a killer football team or an award-winning JROTC program? Taking the time to research the details about your potential school shows employers that you have a genuine interest in their campus while allowing you to determine if the school would be a good fit personally.

Stay updated on the latest educational research

This is especially important if you did not receive an initial degree in teaching and are venturing into the field as a second career or alternative life plan. These types of teachers are referred to as Alternative Certification Teachers and while they are often experts in their field, they tend to struggle with the foundations of educational practice. Staying updated on effective instructional practices, culturally responsive teaching, and the social-emotional development of students will allow you to better understand their needs in the classroom.

Remember, our own experiences as students do not necessarily reflect best practices as teachers.  

Here are some great websites and databases that will allow you to streamline your research.

Learn how schools and teachers are evaluated

Learning how schools in your state are evaluated will help you understand why certain decisions are made on your campus. Oftentimes, schools will have a five-year plan with goals that are directly correlated to state evaluation systems. These systems determine how a school receives funding, and how much they receive. Additionally, many states have implemented performance pay systems where teachers are evaluated based on a pre-determined set of principles and assessment scores. Understanding this system allows you to focus on improving specific skills and content that is essentially ‘more valuable’ in the long run.

Congratulations! After implementing these tips, you’ve been offered your first teaching position. Here is some advice on how to set yourself up for success on this new adventure.

How to Keep Your Teaching Position

Ensure you have the proper certifications

All districts should have a certification specialist [hopefully, a team], that is dedicated to helping new educators obtain the necessary licenses to keep that teaching job you just landed. Reach out to your specialist and remain in contact with them consistently throughout the certification process. Next, collect all the required documentation to obtain your teaching certificate such as transcripts, test scores, and applications. Then, take your subject-area exams prior to starting your position. Summertime is great because you will often have more time to study. If you are an Alternative Certification Teacher, wait to complete the additional professional practice exams at the end of your first semester. This way, you can learn from your mentor and professional development trainings prior to taking the exam. Alternative Certification is a marathon and not a sprint, but it is also a game of strict deadlines. For the least number of headaches, be sure to plan ahead and stay on track throughout the process.

Create a classroom management plan

Classroom management is based on relationships, expectations, boundaries, and consistency. Before creating a plan, evaluate what is important to you when it comes to how your classroom is run. Do not assume that students will automatically know how you want them to behave. Remember, each teacher runs their classroom differently. Additionally, while there are some behaviors that may push your buttons, those same behaviors may not bother someone else. Create clear boundaries and expectations for your students. Then, craft age-appropriate consequences when the expectations are not met, or boundaries are violated. Finally, be prepared to remain consistent. If you allow a student to violate a boundary without consequence, you open yourself up to additional frustrations. Furthermore, in what seems like an oxymoron, great classroom managers understand that plans may need to be adapted based on the students in the room. Do not be afraid to adapt your plan as your classroom community develops.

A good rule of thumb? Be firm but fair and remember, you can write the perfect plan but if you do not establish relationships with your students based on mutual respect, the plan will fail.

Learn your standards

At this point, most states in the U.S. have crafted standardized learning targets for each subject area in K-12 public schools. Additionally, many states also have standards in literacy that are expected to be applied in all courses. These standards are often available through your state Department of Education website, and it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with them. While I am staunchly against “teaching to the test”, I also understand the importance in setting both yourself and your students up for success by creating lessons that are aligned with state learning objectives. It is the unfortunate world in which we currently live. However, there is beauty in this frequently frustrating reality. Standards and the assessments that measure a student’s mastery of them, provide a roadmap for what to teach and to what level of mastery students should achieve. Do they need to be able to identify an important vocabulary term or evaluate the significance of multiple historical events? Are they being measured on their ability to graph an algebraic equation or simply memorize a formula? Content specifications are essential to planning a curriculum that manages time efficiently and emphasizes exactly what students will need to find success in your course.

Learn how you will be evaluated

While I already discussed this briefly in the interview section of this post, it deserves additional attention. While teaching can be defined as a gift, a heart, or a calling, it is also a profession and like such, your success as a professional will be evaluated. These evaluations often determine your salary and your employment. The roots of teacher evaluations are complex and could be an entirely different post [or a novel] but the barebones understanding is this; teacher evaluations are based on the professional practices your district and school prioritize. If your district is highly invested in closing the achievement gap for struggling readers, you may be evaluated on how effectively you use reading strategies in your instruction. If your principal places high value in school culture, they may pay special attention to how you build relationships with your students or manage your classroom. Understanding how you will be evaluated will ease anxieties when it comes to observations and help you plan learning experiences that are aligned with your school’s mission and values. How can you do this? Meet early and often with the specialist assigned to teacher evaluations as well as your mentor. Additionally, ask other experienced teachers if you can observe their classroom practices or lesson planning strategies. The rule of thumb here is do not be afraid to ask for help!

Wow, that was a lot of information! As you can see, once you have nailed that interview and landed your teaching position, the next steps are focused on learning about how the education system works and determining your priorities within that system. Teachers will never be able to do everything that is asked of us but understanding what your organization values as well as what matters to you most as an educator, will be key in setting yourself up for an enjoyable and successful school year.

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