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Bruno: Helping New Teachers With The First Days Of School

2474763910_9898b00e9cTeach for America critic extraordinaire Gary Rubinstein has a piece of constructive advice for the organization: have all incoming corps members get their substitute teaching license and spend some time subbing before their take over their own classes.

The logic here is straightforward -- and applies to traditional teacher training programs as well as TFA.

Substitute teaching offers teachers numerous opportunities to make a "first impression" to a classroom full of students. That process of introducing yourself, setting expectations, and establishing norms and procedures is best done effectively in the first days (or minutes) of teaching, but many new teachers don't really start to get good at it until several weeks into the year.

I'd go even further and argue that what new teachers really need to is to see the first day or days of school modeled for them by competent experienced teachers. A certain amount of trial-and-error is probably inevitable for new teachers but, as Gary himself points out, learning the ropes inductively can be very stressful. It's also largely unnecessary.

Ideally, teachers in training would be in the classroom observing a mentor teacher on the very first day of school to see how a veteran makes his first impression with students a good one. Only then would new teachers have the opportunity to practice introducing themselves to their own classes.

Even many traditional teacher preparation programs, however, do not offer this. This is due in part to logistical limitations - many credentialing programs begin after the local K-12 school year has already started and able and willing mentor teachers can be scarce - but these problems are not insurmountable.

So - as is often the case - it seems to me that if Teach for America's training regimen is inferior to traditional programs, it is only so by a matter of degree. Many teacher preparation programs, whether traditional or alternative, should be providing much more concrete support to teachers entering the classroom for the first time.

A combination of better modeling for new teachers and - as Gary suggests - repeated opportunities for practice would be a good place to start. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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While I agree with your logic, I don't think it goes far enough. There are such different expectations for substitute teachers (unless they're long term) that I don't think this would be an adequate preparation for actual teaching. Even shadowing a mentor teacher and student teaching doesn't really prepare you to handle the stress of your first year. If this country really wants to stem the tide of teachers who quit after their first, second, or fifth year, then we need to offer real professional support, mentoring, and reduced work loads in the first few years of teaching. Would it be that out of the question for all first year teachers to team-teach with a veteran?

I didn't mean to imply that modeling and practice with the "first days" is sufficient as teacher training, just that it's important and way under-provided. There's plenty of other stuff I'd like to see given to teachers in training and new teachers including - though this seems to be unsavory for a lot of folks - "ready-to-go" lesson materials and curricular planning guides.

(I would say the #1 factor that made my first year tolerable was that I got an extremely user-friendly set of lesson plans to work with from my work site. I left ed school with virtually nothing of the sort.)

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