This page serves as a repository of helpful tips I either learned on my own or picked up from other teachers during my pre-service, student-teaching, and substitute experiences. It is my hope that pre-service and new teachers find this page as a useful launch page for ideas and that it helps alleviate first-day stress!

#NTChat (New Teacher Chat)

For additional tips, check out the New Teacher Chat Wallwisher for Preservice and New Teachers. Feel free to add your own suggestions to the board. Consider joining us also for a weekly conversation on new teacher development with other new teachers and mentors on Twitter using the hashtag #ntchat. We meet online every Wednesday at 8PM Eastern. Don't forget to check out the New Teacher Chat Wikispace for previous transcripts in the archives!

Diigo and Amazon Reading Resources

If you are looking for additional reading material, feel free to browse through my lists of bookmarked websites and articles on New Teacher Resources, How To Build A PLN, and Twitter Tutorials! Some of my favorite books are also listed in the Amazon widget below.

Important Things To Remember...

If I had to boil down my personal advice to the two most important ideas, it would be...
  • Professionalism
  • When you walk through that classroom door on your first day, an amazing transformation occurs. You become more than a student merely observing and interacting with students and your cooperative teacher. You become a professional who is starting to build a strong foundation for your educational career. Professionalism involves the appropriate physical appearance; a consistent set of ethical behaviors; clear, high, and realistic expectations for yourself and others; and an optimistic and positive attitude. These are critical ingredients for starting your pre-service experience on the right foot and most importantly, for building a good foundation for your career.

  • Playground for Learning
  • Aside from cultivating these important skills, consider your pre-service experiences as a large playground for learning. Failure is an important ingredient for a successful pre-service experience, so don’t expect to get everything right on the first try. Learn to accept mistakes as opportunities for reflection and improvement. The purpose of practica and student teaching is to provide you with a safe outlet to explore different issues related to education and to experiment with different ideologies, strategies, techniques, and methods. Use this opportunity to find and hone your teaching identity. Work on building your knowledge- and experience-bases, and then continually strive to explore, experiment, reflect, advance, and improve your teaching philosophy, practice, and skill-sets.

Organization Tips

  • If your teacher preparation program does not already advise it, create an information binder for your cooperative teacher with copies of your contact information, student and cooperative teacher responsibilities, code of conduct and guidelines. Make an extra one for yourself for reference.
  • Create at least two laminated sheets with your contact information for your mentor. Give them to your mentor -- one to keep in school and the other to keep at home. It will come in handy during emergency situations, unexpected changes in school schedules, and other inopportune events. Do not give anyone an excuse in not being able to reach you!
  • Use a small notebook to record your observations, thoughts, and questions that will occur throughout your daily routine. Use the voice-recording program in your cellphone or smart-phone to send yourself short voice messages as an alternative if you find that you do not have a lot of time to jot things down in your notebook.
  • Set a time before or after your pre-service hours to go through your notes and flesh out longer reflections from the material. It is best to set a time and follow it consistently to make reflection a daily habit.
  • Consider setting up a blog to post your written reflections. The blog can serve as a portfolio later down the road that will house your posts, uploaded lesson plans, funny anecdotes, student work samples, etc.
  • Print a small batch of business cards with your name, subject, and contact information. You'll never know when a networking opportunity may pop up and something with your name to leave behind might come in very handy for future employment applications.
  • Consider bringing a small digital camera with you to class. Make sure that you first check the school handbook for technology and photography policies and and that you obtain permission from the administration and your mentor to take pictures in the classroom. After you cross these barriers, take pictures of things in your mentor's classroom (and those of other teachers in different fields, see example here) that you find inspirational and would like to recreate in your own classroom. Don't forget to take pictures of your own work too so you can include samples in your blog and/or portfolio.
  • When taking pictures of students in action, err on the right side and make sure their faces are not in the picture unless you have explicit permission from the students' parents that they can be photographed.
  • Purchase a portable drive to save your lesson plans, handouts, and other teaching paper materials. Relying on sending the files through email can sometimes be unreliable, especially if the files are too big or restricted by the network server. You can also aim for paperless by converting files to PDFs and using a digital dropbox. (Drop.io is another alternative.)

Preparation Tips

  • When meeting with your mentor for the first time, draft a few personal learning goals you would like to achieve during your time in his or her classroom. Share these with your mentor and ask for his or help in providing you with opportunities to accomplish your goals.
  • If time permits, offer to meet with your mentor a week before your first day for a quick lunch or drink of coffee to get to know each other. If your mentor's schedule does not allow for it, come in early on your first day so that the two of you can talk, get to know each other's communication styles, and share expectations regarding your pre-service experience.
  • Establish right away a standard meeting place, day and time when the two of you can come together to plan lessons and units, discuss and evaluate your progress, and address questions that you may have. Share your plans with your practicum supervisor so that he or she can also join in on the meetings at his or her convenience.
  • It may be useful to jot down 2-3 major key ideas on a post-it note or send these ideas in an email the day before the meeting so that your mentor is aware of the agenda and can prepare accordingly.
  • Acquire a copy of the school calendar and take note of school-wide events, testing dates, after-school program and club meetings, and holidays.
  • Sit down with your cooperative teacher to map out your curriculum in a large blank calendar printout and pre-plan your observation dates. Use the dates to gather your resources ahead of time and invite the school administrator to sit in on your observations and provide additional feedback.
  • Ask for a copy of the student handbook from the front office and familiarize yourself with school policies and the school map. Ask your cooperative teacher also for a copy of teacher protocols for emergencies, fire-drills, school assemblies, testing dates, and half-days.

Building Connections Tips

  • A smiling and friendly face is always a good sight for everyone to see!
  • Stand by the door and greet the students as they come in and out of class every day.
  • Introduce yourself to the students on the first day (do not wait for your cooperative teacher to take the initiative) and prepare a brief 10-slide photo essay or slide-show to share with them as a getting-to-know-you activity.
  • If you are uncomfortable with a slide-show, write a 2-minute biography about yourself beforehand and use it as your introduction.
  • Establish high, consistent, and realistic expectations for you and your students right away!
  • Obtain a copy of the classroom seating chart from your cooperative teacher to familiarize yourself with students' names. Better yet, ask your cooperative teacher to arrange the charts yourself.
  • Use index card placards, Popsicle sticks, sticker labels or name-tags for students' names. Make up with your own system to recognize faces and learn students' names as quickly as possible.
  • Prepare and distribute a short paper or online questionnaire for students to find out their hobbies and interests, favorite things, learning preferences, after-school activities, etc. If possible, pair questionnaire results with a digital photo of the student and put them all together in individual student manila folders for your own reference throughout the field-experience period.
  • Use the files for Back-To-School Night, parent-teacher-student conferences, and as a building block for student portfolios.
  • Arm yourself with 2-3 small community-building activities for the first week. (Refer to Tom Barrett's 14 Interesting Ways to Get To Know Your Class Slideshow)
  • Send an email or a newsletter out to the parents introducing yourself, your learning goals, and what you intend to contribute to the classroom. If there is more than one pre-service teacher at the school, suggest getting together to write an introductory note with brief individual bios and pass it on to the school editorial staff to include in their school newsletter.
  • Introduce yourself and make friends with the teachers next door, your team department, the janitorial custodians and support staff.
  • Spend some time alternating eating and hanging out between the teacher's lounge, meeting rooms, and individual teachers' classrooms.

Assessment Tips

  • Pre-assess what your students know when introducing new content. Examples of pre-assessments include open-ended questions for writing prompts, fill-in graphic organizers, brief quizzes, or discussions. Before-and-after concept maps are also a great tool to see what they are learning.
  • Break down large assignments into smaller chunks and provide a checklist of assignment deadlines.
  • Give students choices in their learning by providing them with tiered activities and learning menus.
  • Use rubrics with clear expectations and show samples of varying levels (excellent, average, improvement needed) if available.
  • Consider creating rubrics together with students or use peer-grading techniques.
  • Talk with your students frequently and ask for their feedback--they'll let you know what you need to do to help them learn best.
  • The sky is the limit when it comes to assessments, but you must match your assessments to the objectives!

Teacher Development Tips

  • While your own pre-service experience will shape your development and lead you to various areas on which to further focus on, I recommend also paying attention to the following:
    • incorporating art and literacy skills in your content curriculum
    • strengthening your differentiation skills and assessments for student achievement and performance
    • developing culturally-responsive teaching methods and;
    • integrating digital literacy skills and more technology use in your classroom practices.
  • Schedule observations with other teachers who work with the same students that you have. Look at how their classroom management and methods work or do not work with the same group of individuals. Ask for suggestions to improve your methods.
  • Schedule observations with other teachers who teach different subjects or are in different teams. Try to take 1-2 new ideas that you would like to implement in your own classroom.
  • Ask your students to fill out periodic questionnaires about your teaching and your classroom. Ask 1-2 students to write you a letter of reference and keep these in a portfolio.
  • Research professional teacher organizations in your content area or specialty. Take advantage of existing college student chapters or student discounts and join 1-2 of these professional organizations.
  • If money is tight, consider signing up for one or more of the professional organization's free electronic newsletters.
  • Build a professional learning network (PLN) with other pre-service teachers and mentors in your school.
  • Build an online professional learning network (PLN) using social media like Twitter.
  • Join Nings and participate in the threaded discussions.
  • Search for free educational webinars on topics of interest. Browse through the open course-ware (ie. Academic Earth, Open Learning Initiative, or MIT's OpenCourseWare) offered by other colleges online to help supplement your learning.
  • Browse through and be inspired by the ideas on TED Talks.