Novice English/language arts teachers have a great deal to learn as they take on new schools, new students and new curriculum. Mentors and cooperating teachers across the state of Connecticut have taught me what it means to best support our newest colleagues. Here are three of the many lessons I’ve learned:
1. Always remember the needs of the novice.
Stop for a moment and recall yourself as a novice teacher. How would you describe your student teaching experience or your first year? What challenges did you face? How did you feel? Remembering our own experiences helps us garner the empathy necessary to be effective support teachers. It also reminds us that although we are now experienced and use structures and strategies to enhance our work, on any given day we may experience some of the same concerns as our novice colleagues. How will I establish a positive classroom environment when I have particularly challenging students? How will I engage all learners? Will I have time to make it to the bathroom today?
As we remember the needs of the novice and ourselves as new teachers, let’s be honest: we have made our fair share of mistakes. In fact, we may have learned more from those mistakes than from our initial successes. Over time, making thoughtful (and sometimes not so thoughtful) choices and reflecting on the impact of those choices has improved our decision making and outcomes for the students in our classrooms. Sharing this truth will help our novice teachers set realistic goals for professional growth and provide assurance that with guided support and reflection, they, too, will build expertise and confidence.
2. Embrace a positive attitude that demonstrates your passion for teaching.
It’s important that we ask ourselves: Do we still embrace a positive attitude for teaching? In what ways do we demonstrate a passion for teaching English/language arts?
Something interesting happens when we strive to be more specific in our reflection here. As we reflect, we might wonder: what does a positive attitude and passion for teaching look like or sound like? How might we see evidence of it in a classroom filled with students or in a hallway between classes? What does it look like in a professional learning community or a data team meeting? How is this evidenced in our interactions with our colleagues? The next time you are in the teacher’s room or a department meeting, pay attention to your own words and actions and those of your colleagues. Where do you see evidence of a positive attitude or a passion for teaching? Perhaps you’ll be surprised by what you discover, and, hopefully, pleasantly so.
As support teachers, the messages that we send about teachers and about our students are heard loud and clear. Our novice colleagues are watching and listening. Let’s continue to demonstrate the positive attitude and passion for English education that we hold so dear and that we hope to engender in those newest to the profession.
3. Believe there’s an opportunity for you to learn as much as your novice teacher.
We know that it takes time, hard work, and continuous reflection to become an effective English/language arts teacher; the same is true of becoming an effective support teacher. While you will find initial successes in this support role, there will likely be challenges, too. You may find yourself working alongside a novice with a different learning style, a novice who lacks a depth of content understanding, or even a novice who feels she doesn’t need the guided support of an experienced teacher. When you face a challenge and feel unsure of how to proceed or are not initially successful, what will your problem-solving strategy be? Will you seek the help of a colleague? If so, how will you collaborate in a way that is respectful to the novice you are supporting? Remaining actively engaged in the process provides an opportunity to develop and apply new learning to ensure that the teacher you’re supporting will be successful. Ultimately, we hope this willingness to learn and improve practice, whether it’s in the classroom or as a support teacher, will continue to inspire our learning partners, too.
Remember the novice. Embrace a positive attitude. Be open to learning. The three ideas shared might seem simple, but it’s something else altogether to put them into practice. In the spirit of on-going learning and continuous improvement, I invite you to watch for evidence of how these three ideas show up in your practice as you support novices and then reflect more deeply on what you notice. What does it make you wonder? What next steps will you take?
Carly Weiland Quiros (firstname.lastname@example.org) serves as the CT-CTE RESC Liaison and is a Professional Learning Specialist at EdAdvance in Litchfield, Connecticut.