The only way schools are going to survive is to support new teachers. The current education crisis has seen a mass exodus from teaching with nearly 50% of new teachers leaving within the first five years, universities unable to entice college students to enter the teaching field, and veteran teachers saying “I’ve had enough.”
Every year there are new teachers in your building. They may be fresh and shiny from the education school, brimming with ideas and ideals. Or they may be transfers or new hires from other buildings or districts.
Odds are with the number of teacher openings that are being filled with emergency licenses and other pathways to teaching, you will also have many new teachers with no teaching experience at all. They too have the shiny glow of expectations.
Inevitably the new-teacher shine becomes a little tarnished as the newness wears off and reality sets in. Whether you asked for it or not, administrators are going to rely on more experienced teachers to fill the gaps and serve as mentors for these new teachers.
It’s a tough spot for everyone
Before you immediately say, “I didn’t ask for this!” know that you are absolutely correct. You didn’t ask for an educational environment that is short on teachers. You didn’t ask for extra duties and more expectations. And yes, you are in an unfair, overworked situation.
But I encourage veteran teachers to also remember that these “newbies” are also in a precarious situation. They have stepped up to fill spots that desperately need filled, and they need to be viewed as essential team members and treated as equal colleagues.
Many new teachers are afraid to ask experienced teachers for help because they don’t want to look like they don’t know what they are doing. When a new teacher seems to be struggling, don’t just assume they will figure it out.
Let’s be honest, none of us knew what we were doing when we started. It was one big con job for the first couple of years. Do your best to make them feel welcome and reassure them that they are not alone. I encourage you to help them out.
Ways to show support for new teachers
Here are a few suggestions of how you can show support without sounding like you are judging or trying to tell them what to do.
- “Have you been shown how to do attendance on the computer, put in grades, make electronic lesson plans, or anything else that others just assume you know how to do.” You can save them hours of time by offering to show them.
- “I remember when I started teaching, I had so many questions. I didn’t even know where the bathroom was. Is there anything I can help you with?”
- “Teaching is really hard, if you need someone to talk to I am available.”
- “I always find the days before a long break to be challenging. How is it going for you?”
- “I noticed you don’t seem like yourself today, is there something you would like to talk about?”
- “I couldn’t help but hear so and so say such and such to you when he left class. It is hurtful when students are rude like that. It’s really hard not to take that personally.”
Tips to support new teachers
Think back to what it was like when you were the “new” teacher trying to learn the ropes, find your people, and fit in.
These are a few things you can do to make the year easier for the new teachers in your midst.
If these seem like obvious things to do, congratulations on being an aware and compassionate colleague. Keep on rocking it.
If in the business of school, these are things you’ve not thought about doing, then I encourage you to take a moment to help a new teacher feel welcome and a part of the team.
Include new teachers
Being the new teacher on the block can be lonely. Everyone seems to have their own group and to fit in. While you and your colleagues are catching up, new teachers are often feeling left out.
Inviting them to join you for lunch is a great way to include them and for them to get to know people. Look around at your next meeting and see who is sitting alone (we ask our kids to do this right?) and then ask them to sit with you.
I hope this seems obvious, but look around and see if you have teachers who are eating or sitting alone and invite them to join you. While they may just need some personal or down time, don’t assume that. They may secretly long to join the group but are too shy or insecure to barge in.
Introduce new teachers to everyone
Often new teachers are introduced en masse at a faculty meeting, however, that doesn’t really let the new teachers know who anyone is. All they notice is a sea of faces staring at them.
Offer to show them around the building and introduce them to the custodians, cafeteria staff, administrative assistants, counselors, and anyone else they should know.
As a veteran teacher, you know how important the support staff is. These introductions will make the new teacher more comfortable and also decrease the chance that another adult will mistake the new teacher for a student.
It’s also a nice idea to introduce them 1:1 to fellow teachers. Don’t assume your colleagues have introduced themselves to the new teachers.
Some schools have strong mentor programs, but many do not. New teachers are often shown their room, given a few supplies, a brief instruction, and are then left alone to figure it out on their own.
In some cases, they may have had a new teacher training and been given so much information they are lost and confused. They feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.
In other cases, they’ve been hired after school started and are turned loose into a classroom of students without any new teacher training at all.
New teachers don’t necessarily know what questions to ask because you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s where a helpful colleague comes in.
Remember what it was like to be inexperienced or not know the routine at your school. Grading systems, how to take attendance, online learning platforms, schedules, safety drills, teacher policies, and so much more that you take for granted are all brand new to your new colleagues and any help you can supply will be greatly appreciated.
Check on new teachers regularly
Some new teachers may be shy or intimidated by you as an experienced teacher. They may be afraid to ask questions or admit they don’t know how to do something.
Don’t assume it is lack of interest or them being standoffish. Instead, initiate conversation by peeking inside their room for a quick hello in the morning or stopping by after school to see how their day went.
Sure schools often have PLCs, team meetings, and staff meetings, but none of those offer individualized support to new teachers. Over the years, I learned more about my new colleagues through a casual after school conversation that led to great discussions and learning on both of our parts.
Teach new teachers to say no
New teachers are often seen as fresh prey for administrators who need to fill extra-curricular and coaching positions. These new teachers are often afraid to say no. However, new teachers are also the ones who need the most time to prepare for classes.
Some teachers also have a hard time saying no to students as well. If you notice a new teacher struggle with the need to please others and the result is harmful to themselves or their classrooms, gently stepping in helping them learn to say no is a skill that will serve them well in their teacher role and their life.
Encourage new teachers to say no when they need to.
Remember you can say no
And while we’re at it, don’t forget you can say no too!
All of these tips are ones that won’t take much extra time and will go a long way to building a supportive environment and help the school as a whole.
However, some school administrators are piling on unpaid mentorships. Some are asking veteran teachers to go way beyond support for new teachers. They are asking experienced teacher to teach new teachers how to teach, make lesson plans, and many other tasks that go beyond the scope of regular teaching duties. You should not be asked to do two jobs, teacher and trainer, without getting paid.
If that is something you want to do, great! But if you are feeling put upon by your administration, I encourage you to advocate for yourself. If you feel bitterness, anger, or frustration with the situation, the new teacher will notice and this will create ill will. (The exact opposite of what administrators hope will happen.)
So for the good of everyone, remember, you too can say no thank you!
Support new teachers when you can
As a veteran teacher, you may long for the days you remember when new teachers came to their new job from a teacher college with student teaching under their belt and a strong grasp of lesson planning.
I’m afraid those days are long gone. But let’s be realistic. Those of us who graduated from schools of education, still came to the new job with a thousand and one questions and doubts. We all needed support.
As an experienced teacher, ask what you can do to make a new teacher’s life easier. To survive, schools depend on the support new teachers receive.