BY ASHLYNN WITTCHOW
Planning for the school year as a new teacher can be overwhelming under the best of circumstances, let alone during the third year of pandemic learning. Many teachers are returning to their classrooms for the first time in over a year, and for early-career teachers, this presents unique challenges. New teachers, particularly those who completed their student teaching in entirely virtual settings, may not know what to expect as we move back into in-person spaces. The added uncertainty of quarantine protocols and potential returns to virtual learning may make this first year seem even more daunting.
Though it may feel intimidating, we believe that it is still possible to plan for success as we continue to navigate unprecedented times. With these realities in mind, we can help you plan for an effective and meaningful first year of teaching.
Arranging the physical space
In the fall, many first-year teachers are stepping into physical classrooms for the first time. While virtual classrooms present their own unique pedagogical challenges, the return to in-person spaces may be a challenge for many students and teachers alike. Breakout rooms and chat boxes have radically changed how we conceptualize discussion, collaboration, and class participation. What do these look like in our physical classroom? Though we may be relieved to see our students in person again, we can’t just mute all mics when faced with a rowdy classroom, as tempting as it may be.
In our physical classrooms, the arrangement of the space can significantly shape our culture of classroom discussion. We have a ton of options when it comes to arranging the space — rows, small groups, pairs, horseshoes, etc. — and each arrangement comes with pros and cons. Rows may seem too regimented and teacher-centered, but groups may become chatty and difficult to manage. While I love a good horseshoe configuration, I’ve been in classrooms where the physical size of the space makes them a challenge, if not an impossibility.
As we move back into physical spaces this fall, you may also be contending with the challenge of creating seating charts and arranging desks to maximize instruction, while also adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols. As much as we may wish to place our students in small groups, this may be a challenge given social distancing requirements. Even if we’re in the same physical space, we may need to fall back on remote discussion strategies in order to remain safe.
In all cases, it’s important to have a plan, but be flexible. Remember to let the space work with you and your lesson, not against it. In my own classroom, my students learned to expect new seating arrangements depending on different instructional goals. When we were focused on Socratic discussion, they might walk in to find the desks in a horseshoe. When they collaborated on inquiry projects, they could be found in small groups. They might be partnered for writing workshops, or they might be in rows for standardized testing. (Over the years, I became very quick at rearranging desks between classes and my students came to expect the unexpected.) When it comes to arranging the physical space, find a plan that works for you and your students!
Building classroom culture
Even after years of teaching, I’m always nervous to meet my students for the first time. The first several days sometimes feels like a revolving door of new faces, and as an introvert, it can be exhausting. I want to make sure I remember my students’ names, interests, and quirks — a daunting task when rosters contain hundreds of students. Yet, forming these personal connections lays the foundation for building a strong community of scholars. As Courtney Brown, Director of the New Teacher Network, shared in her article on classroom culture, “creating a positive classroom climate is key to a productive school year.” Taking steps to establish a positive classroom culture ensures that you’re building your school year on solid ground. Check out some of the activities below, which can help spark ideas for how you might approach getting to know your students:
Invite students to share information about themselves via surveys using Google Forms and/or other software. Surveys can be a great way of collecting a variety of data, including gauging your students’ prior experience and level of comfort within your content area.
Write a letter introducing yourself to your students. Then, invite students to write their own introductory letters in response, giving them the opportunity to share what’s important to them, what they’d like you to know, and what a successful school year might look like in their eyes.
Students get to know each other by producing Humans of New York-inspired narratives. After sharing age-appropriate models from the Humans of New York database, you can invite students to interview each other and create a digital Humans of Our Classroom showcase using Google Slides. This will encourage students to move beyond facts about their classmates and find interesting stories to write up and share with the whole group.
Memoir & Poetry Writing
Invite students to explore their identities with creative writing. Consider 6-Word Memoirs and Themed Poetry Collections as ways to introduce mentor texts and writing protocols while simultaneously getting to know your students.
Encourage a growth mindset by inviting students to set SMART goals for the upcoming school year. For an artistic take on goal setting, you might invite students to create vision boards to help them visualize the end in mind.
While we hope one or more of these culture-building activities has sparked your interest, it’s also important to remember to engage authentically with your students. Make sure that your classroom culture reflects your personality as a teacher. What works well for your team leader down the hall might not necessarily work for you, and that’s okay! As G. Faith Little writes:
Ultimately, though each of our classrooms might look a little bit different from the outside looking in, positive classroom environments tend to share certain qualities. When I close my eyes and imagine this classroom environment, I see a space that is warm and welcoming, a space where my students feel safe expressing their authentic selves. I also see a space where high expectations are maintained for all students through differentiation. The ideal classroom is warm, yet appropriately challenging, and it’s important to set these expectations up front, particularly after a year of virtual learning, when many students may have felt particularly isolated and disengaged from school.
Establishing classroom structures
After more than a year of virtual learning, returning to in-person classroom routines may be difficult for many students. It’s important to establish and maintain consistent classroom structures and routines that work across in-person spaces and virtual platforms, while also factoring in possible quarantines and temporary returns to virtual learning. Here are a few things you might want to consider as you plan for the school year:
Plan for Student Behavior
Have a plan to proactively respond to student behavior, and use our Understanding Off-Task Behaviors resource as a guide. There are four types of behavior that have a negative impact on the classroom environment — it’s important to be able to recognize what each type of behavior looks like, as well the motivations behind it, so we can act proactively as opposed to simply reacting.
Plan for Material Management
Make sure you have a plan for managing the materials in your classroom. How will students turn in their work? Will student work be entirely digitized via Google Classroom or another online learning platform? If students are receiving printed materials, how will these be stored and submitted? Having a plan for how materials move through your classroom will save you a headache when it comes to the end of the marking period.
Plan for Curriculum
Some of our classroom structures are linked to our curriculum and planning. Check out a sample curriculum planning template — according to Courtney Brown, “these templates help new teachers thoughtfully organize and plan their curriculum while examining classroom rituals and routines, assessment strategies, and more!”
Though this is just the beginning of everything you may want to consider as you plan for the new school year, try not to overwhelm yourself by overplanning or becoming too cemented into a particular routine. My mentor always liked to remind me to be prepared to modify and adjust, a lesson that I’ve taken to heart in the years since. This year, like the last, will likely demand a great deal of flexibility and ingenuity, so be prepared to modify and adjust, but most importantly, be prepared to give yourself grace!
If you’re interested in learning more about planning with successful instruction in mind, check out our upcoming online course, Designing Coherent Instruction. This professional opportunity is intended to support new teachers in strengthening their instructional core, increasing strategic planning skills, and ensuring that lesson objectives align with instructional methods and assessments. Within each module, we’ll delve into the key competencies of the Danielson Framework, examine the key look fors, and offer promising practices and practical strategies that can be implemented in-person and online.
By KATIE NAGROTSKY
At its best, co-teaching is wonderful for both teachers and students in what can otherwise be a somewhat lonely profession. Don’t get me wrong — I love kids and being with students. But a good co-teaching relationship can provide inspiration, support, and opportunities for education and reflection in ways that teaching alone cannot.
The benefits of a co-teaching relationship were especially important to me as a new teacher. I had so many questions every class period in my first few years teaching ELA. Luckily, I got to work with English as a New Language (ENL), Special Education, and teaching artist colleagues who all brought their own unique perspectives and styles to our shared middle school classroom. They helped me to see that there were many ways to approach teaching, and apprenticing with them as a new teacher taught me the most about how to improve.
My Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) special education colleague Tracy was gifted at figuring out the flow within each individual lesson and ensuring that students could access the curriculum in various ways. When I struggled with pacing, she knew how to rearrange and prioritize parts of our lessons to adjust on the fly. I was interested in using a variety of texts in class, and incorporated related videos and images whenever I could. My colleague Erin recorded many of our written texts in English and Spanish so that more students could listen and understand, and then be more actively involved in class. I wanted to learn more ways to help students write about performances, but Khalid, the teaching artist I taught with, was a professional tap dance artist and could demonstrate the shuffle in real time! He also knew how to organize decades of history into a unit that somehow felt cohesive and allowed enough time for kids to get up and move in forty two minute periods. After teaching with these talented teachers for many years, I really began to miss them when I had to teach alone!
There are, of course, some challenges that inevitably arise when you start co-teaching with someone for the first time. Here are some of the things I wish I knew in my first year that might help you forge and strengthen relationships with your co-teacher.
Share your teaching values and what you want for your classroom
Though time is always a concern in schools, it is important that you and your co-teacher find space to articulate what you each believe about teaching. You may be partnering with a more experienced teacher who has valuable knowledge to share, and a different perspective on the classroom and school culture. Everyone has different approaches and styles — don’t assume that your co-teacher is going to know what you value or what your classroom pet peeves are if you don’t share them. It’s not too late to have this conversation if you haven’t had a chance to yet. Being explicit about what you think learning looks like and how your teaching styles compare can save you from misunderstandings later on.
Set up a regular check-in
School gets so busy, and it can be really easy to skip a meeting or give up your set appointment with your co-teacher. Often a special educator might be supporting or pushing into multiple classes and co-teaching with multiple teachers. Content area teachers have to attend grade level meetings. And everyone has many other obligations during the school day. If you don’t have a shared prep time, look at your schedule and figure out a realistic way to meet regularly, even if it’s for a quick 20 minute check in on the phone or on Fridays before you leave school for the weekend. Protect that time as best you can! You can’t co-teach well without communicating with one another about your plans for lessons and talking through how you think students are doing.
Be explicit about your roles and responsibilities
If you assume that your co-teacher understands who is grading what or that you will lead one group during book clubs and they will lead another, you might end up frustrated. Figure out how you want to share the work and make an effort to have an honest discussion about who will accomplish what. Students can tell when the relationship isn’t equitable and they know when one teacher is pulling more weight than the other.
If you’re not finding the time you need to co-plan, think about planning one or two lessons out of every week that employ parallel teaching or stations, so that you aren’t overwhelmed by trying to figure out the logistics of how to co-teach every day in a new way.
These are by no means the only ways to think about building a co-teaching relationship, but I have found them helpful in my teaching, and I hope you will find them useful in yours. For more nuanced guidance and support with navigating co-teaching as a new teacher, please reach out to us at the New Teacher Network!
By COURTNEY BROWN
The numbers are daunting: approximately 50% of teachers leave within their first five years of teaching. This rapid turnover negatively impacts districts, schools, and students. All over the country, schools and principals are left scrambling to find teachers at the last minute, and school culture, curriculum, and instruction suffer from a lack of continuity. Statistically, this high turnover disproportionately affects schools primarily serving students from low-income families and students of color.
What can we do to address the issue of teacher attrition? How do we help teachers not simply stay in their jobs, but become committed, successful, practitioners? Certainly, a strong supportive school culture helps, and we recognize that ongoing mentoring, strong preparation, and a repertoire of instructional moves go a long way in helping new teachers experience success.
Research shows that teachers who are well-prepared and well-mentored are much more likely to make a long-term commitment to the profession, and increase their effectiveness while doing so. At CPET, we specialize in offering new teachers ongoing, individualized mentorship as well as ready-to-use resources they need to be successful in the classroom.
Engaging with a community of peers
The New Teacher Network at Teachers College (NTN@TC) is a community of practice for individuals in their first three year of teaching. NTN@TC provides a custom blend of in-person and online collaboration, personalized support through customized professional development workshops, on-site coaching, and a dedicated online community. Since its establishment in 2014, nearly 250 Teachers College graduates have connected to the network. Though some network benefits are limited to Teachers College alumni, all new teachers can benefit from our in-person workshops and conferences, many of which are tailored specifically for the experiences of first- to third-year teachers: