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Supporting New Teachers: A Plea to Administrators

There are things we can all do to support the “energy, fragility, knowledge, and drive that new teachers bring to the teaching profession.” In “How Can You Help?” from Tensions & Triumphs in the Early Years of Teaching (NCTE, 2006), the authors offer their “two cents” of advice on what they have come to believe are the best ways to support new teachers. The suggestions here are among those they offer to Administrators:

Make time for regular professional study and conversation a priority.

blog-TensionsTriumphs-groupshot-webTo bring our beliefs to life and continue to grow, we need time for collegial conversation that will help us consider ideas from professional literature and our preservice experiences in the context of our new settings.

We need support in evaluating programs and practices so that we can teach within and beyond existing systems without selling out.

Simply put, we need time for talk, opportunities to build “critical and longstanding relationships” (Nieto, 2003, p. 78) with our colleagues as we work to define and redefine ourselves as educators. . . .

Not only do we need time for professional conversation, but we also need time and support for experiences that will promote productive talk.

Make it possible for us and our experienced colleagues to visit exemplary schools, view professional videotapes, and read professional literature. Provide financial resources to pay for books and trips to national conferences. Build in plenty of time for reflection about implications for our classrooms. Think beyond typical structures to consider creative uses of time in your schools. . . .

Create an atmosphere in which it is safe to take risks.  

pg12Carmen-and-kids_webIn many of our situations, it was not customary for teachers to risk exposing vulnerabilities about their own teaching. The prevailing feeling seemed to be that teachers should already be there. As a result, some of us experienced an enormous barrier to sustaining and building on our visions of great teaching: We did not feel safe enough to risk examining our own practices—to trust that we could try and fail and try again.

Administrators, your leadership is key to creating an atmosphere that encourages risk-taking. In such an environment, teachers are delighted at the sound of the principal’s footsteps coming down the hall. It means that one more interested teacher-learner is about to join us and our students.

In such an atmosphere, testing issues are put in perspective, and teachers work to address those issues without feeling pressured or humiliated by the public announcement and reification of scores.

In a risk-taking environment, there is room for talk as teachers share data from children’s work, read professionally, try new ideas, and then read and try again. A risk-taking environment is one that reveres teachers as experimenters, thinkers, and learners, allowing us to build knowledge so that we can make better instructional decisions for ourselves.

Join us as co-learners. . . . 

When you participate fully as learners, you provide important demonstrations about what it means to be an educator who can’t stop learning. . . .

Read and discuss professional literature with us. Jump in and get involved regularly in our classrooms. Take risks with us to try out new ideas with our students. Show a genuine interest in ideas they are pursuing or books they are reading. Engage us the same way.

Become a part of and contribute to the exciting buzz of children and teachers learning with one another.

We will welcome you as a colearner. We will look forward to your presence in our classrooms and professional study groups as we teach, reflect, revise, wonder, and learn together. . . .

Epilogue-beach-photocropRT-300web This text is excerpted from Tensions & Triumphs in the Early Years of Teaching: Real-World Findings and Advice for Supporting New Teachers (NCTE, 2006), by Susi Long, Ami Abramson, April Boone, Carly Borchelt, Robbie Kalish, Erin Miller, Julie Parks, and Carmen Tisdale.