“Hey, Doc, I have a Few Questions about Being a First Year Teacher”
By Anthony Fredericks, Ed.D.
The following is an excerpt from Dr. Frederick’s most recent release, Ace Your First Year Teaching
Right about now you have some concerns and worries about this new year that is fast approaching. Yup, you and all those other beginning teachers have a ton of queries that you need answered. As I’ve chatted with beginning teachers around the country, here are some of their most frequently asked questions:
- What if my students don’t like me?
Guess what, not every student is going to like you. By the same token, you won’t necessarily like every single student who takes up residence in your classroom. Look back on your own educational career. Did you like every single teacher you had in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college? Most likely, no! The same will hold true in your own classroom. It’s important to remember that good teaching is not a popularity contest – it is about changing lives for the better. If you go into education to be everyone’s friend, then you’re in it for the wrong reason. If you go into it to make a difference, then you’ve chosen the right reason. Face it, teaching has nothing to do with the number of “Likes” you have on your Facebook page; but it has everything to do with changing lives for the better.
- What if I make a mistake?
Terrific! That’s what good teaching is all about. It’s how you handle the mistakes that’s more important than the mistakes themselves. You’ll make lots of mistakes—hundreds or them, perhaps even thousands of them. Every teacher does. I’ve made a million or so and continue to do so. I even announce that to my classes, “If you want to be perfect, go into the ministry or accounting, not teaching.” I recognize the fact that I’m imperfect and, in fact, I celebrate it. If I make a mistake in a class I let students know and then I set about to fix it. Perhaps I’ve shared some erroneous information, showed the wrong video with a particular lesson, or erred in computing a student’s grade. I fully admit my error to students and show them I’m willing to correct the mistake and make things right. My teaching philosophy has always been based on one single maxim—something I discovered long, long ago when I was in the same exact place you are right now. That is:
I’ve been learning new things for a long time now—and will continue to do so—as will you. Please don’t try to be the “perfect teacher” right out of the box. You’ll frustrate yourself and pile more stress into your day than you need. Know that you might make a mistake or two on the first day, on your second day, on your one millionth day! That’s O.K.—you’re a human being and you’re only being human by making mistakes, but you’re being a teacher when you use those mistakes as learning opportunities—learning opportunities for you as well as for your students.
- What if I don’t know the answer?
Great! You now have a most wonderful learning opportunity! When students ask me a question where I’m not sure of the correct answer or I simply just don’t know, I usually respond with something like, “Hey, you know what, I’m just not sure of the answer to that question. Let’s find out together.” First, I admit that I’m not the fount of all knowledge. I want to send a positive signal to students that teaching, for me, is also a learning process. I know a lot of stuff, but it’s not possible for me to know everything about everything. The same goes for you. Admit to some of your shortcomings, celebrate them, and you’ll be creating a very positive bond with your students. But, it’s the second part of my response that I encourage you to adopt (“Let’s find out together.”). Here is where you send a most incredible message to students:
Teaching and learning is a partnership; it’s a joint effort by two parties to satisfy a curiosity or discover an unknown. By letting students know that I’m by their side in this intellectual quest—that I’m willing to share part of the load—I can help solidify a partnership that can reap untold benefits later in the year. In many cases, I’ll brainstorm with one or more students for ways in which we can work to find an acceptable answer – there’s work to do for me and work my students need to do as well. We’ll come together at a later date to discuss the results of our investigations until we arrive at a satisfactory response.
Get more insight into how to ace your first year teaching with Dr. Frederick’s new book, Ace Your First Year Teaching. To learn more, you can contact us here or give us a call at 317-352-8200. We look forward to hearing from you.
About the Author
Anthony Fredericks, Ed.D. is a nationally recognized educator well known for his practical teacher materials and stimulating and engaging conference presentations. A professor of education at York College of Pennsylvania, he is an award-winning and best-selling author of more than 150 books. Check out his other Blue River Press titles, Ace Your Teacher Interview and Ace Your Teacher Resume (and Cover Letter).