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Back to the Top Teaching Blog
March 17, 2016 Teacher Preparation: Real Advice by Real Teachers By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    I was fortunate enough to have an amazing mentor teacher in my classroom for weeks when I first started teaching. There is an intense need for quality mentors and cooperating teachers to help mediate between the world of being a student and being a teacher. Even well-intentioned veterans can be unsure when it comes to directing a new teacher. Leading adults is different than leading children, after all.

    The need to improve teacher preparation wasn’t on my radar until this year. I’ve spent the last nine months as a teaching fellow with Hope Street Group. My cohort of talented classroom teachers from around the country led focus groups and gathered surveys to find what will help develop the next generation of teachers.

    Hope Street Group Teaching Fellows

     

    Our findings, reported in On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers, showed that half of United States teachers reported they On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachershad no preparation for dealing with high-need, persistently low-achieving populations. There’s a lack of common preservice curricula that results in new teachers being prepared in disparate ways. Teachers report they want to see more class management and behavior strategies in their preservice work. They also see a need for hands-on experiences, courses on differentiated instruction, more content-based courses, and child and adolescent development coursework beyond what is currently offered.

    Inspired by Genia Connell’s tips for student teachers, I asked the National Teacher Fellows to share their best advice for potential and brand-new teachers. Here they share hard-learned lessons and advice for tackling student teaching and the first years in the classroom, though it’s advice that resonates no matter how many years in the classroom you have.

     

    Cody Norton why I teach

    It is essential that teachers spend time getting to know the community in which they will be teaching. It is not sufficient to drive through the neighborhood during your morning and afternoon commute; you must really get to know the people and environment that inform the daily lives of your students and their families. You must learn about the community's history, where families go to church, where families shop, where families work, where families receive health care, or learn why these resources aren't available or easily accessible in the neighborhood. You must also make yourself visible outside of your school building. If families and children see that you trust your surroundings enough to engage in and with the community, they will trust you.

    Cody Norton Marie Reed Elementary, DC Public Schools

    Freeda Pirillis

    I don't think a teacher should ever forget that no matter what age your students are, they're never too old for a song or too young to work on the floor. It's easy to lose sight of the children in front of you because of standards, but if you can remain cognizant of this, your students will learn to love learning.

    Freeda Pirillis Agassiz Elementary, Chicago Public Schools

    Tim Mullen

    Teaching is harder than I thought. I was stressed in my former career but I have never been so tired every day.

    Timothy Mullen Gwinnett County Georgia

     

    Amanda Ward

    My piece of advice for a preservice or new teacher is to set reasonable expectations for yourself. Teaching is a skill to be developed. A master teacher developed those skills over years of hard work. A new teacher shouldn't expect to be at the same skill level immediately.

    Amanda Ward Bainbridge High School, Bainbridge Island, Washington

     

    Tabitha Pacheco

    Take advantage of mentors — or experienced teachers if your school doesn't have a set mentor program. These veteran teachers want to help, not criticize. Don't be afraid to have people observe your class. Look at the different types of schools: charters, districts, virtual, hybrid/blended, military base school, title one, etc. I didn't even know those were all options when I graduated! The interview process is not just about schools determining your qualifications for a job — do your own research to see which environments will be best for you. 

    Tabitha Pacheco Utah Virtual Academy, Utah

    Jill Cullis

    Observe and work for as many different kinds of teachers as possible in as many different kinds of schools as possible (low- high-performing, rural, urban etc.). The more exposure to different styles the better; it all contributes to a greater depth of knowledge.

    I would also suggest, if possible, the student teacher schedule these observations to be there for a lesson of the type that the teacher would want an administrator to observe. This is the type of situation where teachers generally try to make sure their instructional strategies are in evidence and that's what you want to observe.

    Jill Cullis Gateway High School, Aurora Public Schools, Colorado

    Sarah Giddings

    Scheduling out my entire year during my first year helped with scope and sequence and picturing my year! Leave school at school. No one's life was changed depending on whether or not you handed them their paper back quickly. Take five minutes to stand at the door and smile at every student coming in. Videotape yourself — it’s so humbling.

    Sarah Giddings Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education, Michigan

    Danielle Brown

    Your experience hinges on the things you do and see! Make sure to work WITH students when you can!

    Danielle Brown Colonel Johnston Elementary, Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District, Arizona

     

    Ali Ashley

    Create a narrative vision of what you want your classroom to look and feel like and then plan backwards from there. Shift the focus from rules to feelings. Teachers can start to build a vision for the feelings and culture they want to create in the classroom and then translate it into a more concrete plan. 

    If you are still in college and your coursework starts later than school start dates, ask your cooperating teacher if you can visit a school on day one, week one to see how everything is set up. Often, student teachers show up later in the semester and don't get to see how the foundation for classroom culture and community is built. 

    I always share my organizational systems with my student teachers. Teachers are often inundated with all that needs to get done on top of teaching so I’d encourage preservice teachers to ask as many questions about organizational systems as they do about instructional practice.

    Ali Ashley Perez Elementary, Texas

    Amanda Zullo

    Prior to and during our clinical teaching experiences we had to keep a journal. The journal was turned in weekly and assessed based on our reflection of what was happening in the classroom. It is something I continue to do. It has helped me gradually transform my practice. I wrote more about it in my blog, "What My Program Did Right."

    Amanda Zullo Saranac High School, New York

     

    Robyn Howton

    1. Start building a professional library of books on pedagogy, resources, and inspiration. Find out who the experts are in your field. I always give my student teachers a copy of something by James Burke.

    2. Create and organize a place to electronically store the lesson plans you write and the resources you create or use with them.

    3. Cultivate mentors in the field to be your thought-partners and guides as you navigate the first few years of your career.

    Robyn Howton Mount Pleasant High School, Wilmington, Delaware

    Lauren Stuart

    Know the standards! For middle school teachers of all subjects it is important to have a mastery of the college- and career-ready standards and how they can be applied in all subjects. 

    Lauren Stuart El Rodeo School, Beverly Hills Unified School District

     

    Terri Vest

    My hint is to be flexible. Nothing in a classroom ever goes exactly as planned and that's a good thing. Learn from the differences between what you plan and what happens, both successes and challenges. I've been teaching 35 years and every day is an adventure in learning for me as well as for my students.

    Terri Vest Twinfield Union School, Vermont

     

    John Clark

    My first year I spent every night scouring online videos and adding content from the textbook to bare-bones slideshows provided to my class. What paid off was as I looked through those videos to insert into my lessons, is that I was also getting a deeper understanding of the material and a better idea of how to present it. Nine years later I'm still able to use portions of those presentations and videos that I collected in the first year. The work was so complete, with coverage of every unit, I was later able to share this "portfolio" with new teachers to help them out. I ended up serving myself and serving others in the process, which is something not a lot of first year teachers can say.

    John Clark Deltona High School, Florida

    The advice offered here is not just for new teachers; every educator can find wisdom in listening to great teachers around them. If I could leave you with one piece of advice, always keep learning and listening from teachers, no matter who you are or how high you climb.

    What's the best advice you received when preparing to teach?

    I was fortunate enough to have an amazing mentor teacher in my classroom for weeks when I first started teaching. There is an intense need for quality mentors and cooperating teachers to help mediate between the world of being a student and being a teacher. Even well-intentioned veterans can be unsure when it comes to directing a new teacher. Leading adults is different than leading children, after all.

    The need to improve teacher preparation wasn’t on my radar until this year. I’ve spent the last nine months as a teaching fellow with Hope Street Group. My cohort of talented classroom teachers from around the country led focus groups and gathered surveys to find what will help develop the next generation of teachers.

    Hope Street Group Teaching Fellows

     

    Our findings, reported in On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers, showed that half of United States teachers reported they On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachershad no preparation for dealing with high-need, persistently low-achieving populations. There’s a lack of common preservice curricula that results in new teachers being prepared in disparate ways. Teachers report they want to see more class management and behavior strategies in their preservice work. They also see a need for hands-on experiences, courses on differentiated instruction, more content-based courses, and child and adolescent development coursework beyond what is currently offered.

    Inspired by Genia Connell’s tips for student teachers, I asked the National Teacher Fellows to share their best advice for potential and brand-new teachers. Here they share hard-learned lessons and advice for tackling student teaching and the first years in the classroom, though it’s advice that resonates no matter how many years in the classroom you have.

     

    Cody Norton why I teach

    It is essential that teachers spend time getting to know the community in which they will be teaching. It is not sufficient to drive through the neighborhood during your morning and afternoon commute; you must really get to know the people and environment that inform the daily lives of your students and their families. You must learn about the community's history, where families go to church, where families shop, where families work, where families receive health care, or learn why these resources aren't available or easily accessible in the neighborhood. You must also make yourself visible outside of your school building. If families and children see that you trust your surroundings enough to engage in and with the community, they will trust you.

    Cody Norton Marie Reed Elementary, DC Public Schools

    Freeda Pirillis

    I don't think a teacher should ever forget that no matter what age your students are, they're never too old for a song or too young to work on the floor. It's easy to lose sight of the children in front of you because of standards, but if you can remain cognizant of this, your students will learn to love learning.

    Freeda Pirillis Agassiz Elementary, Chicago Public Schools

    Tim Mullen

    Teaching is harder than I thought. I was stressed in my former career but I have never been so tired every day.

    Timothy Mullen Gwinnett County Georgia

     

    Amanda Ward

    My piece of advice for a preservice or new teacher is to set reasonable expectations for yourself. Teaching is a skill to be developed. A master teacher developed those skills over years of hard work. A new teacher shouldn't expect to be at the same skill level immediately.

    Amanda Ward Bainbridge High School, Bainbridge Island, Washington

     

    Tabitha Pacheco

    Take advantage of mentors — or experienced teachers if your school doesn't have a set mentor program. These veteran teachers want to help, not criticize. Don't be afraid to have people observe your class. Look at the different types of schools: charters, districts, virtual, hybrid/blended, military base school, title one, etc. I didn't even know those were all options when I graduated! The interview process is not just about schools determining your qualifications for a job — do your own research to see which environments will be best for you. 

    Tabitha Pacheco Utah Virtual Academy, Utah

    Jill Cullis

    Observe and work for as many different kinds of teachers as possible in as many different kinds of schools as possible (low- high-performing, rural, urban etc.). The more exposure to different styles the better; it all contributes to a greater depth of knowledge.

    I would also suggest, if possible, the student teacher schedule these observations to be there for a lesson of the type that the teacher would want an administrator to observe. This is the type of situation where teachers generally try to make sure their instructional strategies are in evidence and that's what you want to observe.

    Jill Cullis Gateway High School, Aurora Public Schools, Colorado

    Sarah Giddings

    Scheduling out my entire year during my first year helped with scope and sequence and picturing my year! Leave school at school. No one's life was changed depending on whether or not you handed them their paper back quickly. Take five minutes to stand at the door and smile at every student coming in. Videotape yourself — it’s so humbling.

    Sarah Giddings Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education, Michigan

    Danielle Brown

    Your experience hinges on the things you do and see! Make sure to work WITH students when you can!

    Danielle Brown Colonel Johnston Elementary, Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District, Arizona

     

    Ali Ashley

    Create a narrative vision of what you want your classroom to look and feel like and then plan backwards from there. Shift the focus from rules to feelings. Teachers can start to build a vision for the feelings and culture they want to create in the classroom and then translate it into a more concrete plan. 

    If you are still in college and your coursework starts later than school start dates, ask your cooperating teacher if you can visit a school on day one, week one to see how everything is set up. Often, student teachers show up later in the semester and don't get to see how the foundation for classroom culture and community is built. 

    I always share my organizational systems with my student teachers. Teachers are often inundated with all that needs to get done on top of teaching so I’d encourage preservice teachers to ask as many questions about organizational systems as they do about instructional practice.

    Ali Ashley Perez Elementary, Texas

    Amanda Zullo

    Prior to and during our clinical teaching experiences we had to keep a journal. The journal was turned in weekly and assessed based on our reflection of what was happening in the classroom. It is something I continue to do. It has helped me gradually transform my practice. I wrote more about it in my blog, "What My Program Did Right."

    Amanda Zullo Saranac High School, New York

     

    Robyn Howton

    1. Start building a professional library of books on pedagogy, resources, and inspiration. Find out who the experts are in your field. I always give my student teachers a copy of something by James Burke.

    2. Create and organize a place to electronically store the lesson plans you write and the resources you create or use with them.

    3. Cultivate mentors in the field to be your thought-partners and guides as you navigate the first few years of your career.

    Robyn Howton Mount Pleasant High School, Wilmington, Delaware

    Lauren Stuart

    Know the standards! For middle school teachers of all subjects it is important to have a mastery of the college- and career-ready standards and how they can be applied in all subjects. 

    Lauren Stuart El Rodeo School, Beverly Hills Unified School District

     

    Terri Vest

    My hint is to be flexible. Nothing in a classroom ever goes exactly as planned and that's a good thing. Learn from the differences between what you plan and what happens, both successes and challenges. I've been teaching 35 years and every day is an adventure in learning for me as well as for my students.

    Terri Vest Twinfield Union School, Vermont

     

    John Clark

    My first year I spent every night scouring online videos and adding content from the textbook to bare-bones slideshows provided to my class. What paid off was as I looked through those videos to insert into my lessons, is that I was also getting a deeper understanding of the material and a better idea of how to present it. Nine years later I'm still able to use portions of those presentations and videos that I collected in the first year. The work was so complete, with coverage of every unit, I was later able to share this "portfolio" with new teachers to help them out. I ended up serving myself and serving others in the process, which is something not a lot of first year teachers can say.

    John Clark Deltona High School, Florida

    The advice offered here is not just for new teachers; every educator can find wisdom in listening to great teachers around them. If I could leave you with one piece of advice, always keep learning and listening from teachers, no matter who you are or how high you climb.

    What's the best advice you received when preparing to teach?

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