Stepping into the classroom for the first time can be a little overwhelming, even for the most confident new teachers. In these moments, it's important to remember that you can, and should, ask for help.
A Class Unlike the Others
Rachel T. was an enthusiastic first-year teacher who felt confident that she had the classroom management techniques and subject knowledge to do a good job. She was thrilled when she had landed her dream job of teaching high school English. Her four 9th-grade classes were a little challenging, but they weren't anything she couldn't handle. She found that her students wanted to do well and get along with everyone, including her.
But she was also assigned one class of 11th-grade English students, and it was proving to be pretty difficult. Some kids were disrespectful; others were disruptive. They talked when she was talking—one kid quacked like a duck every time Rachel turned to write on the board. They didn't hand in homework, and few seemed interested in doing the reading required to get a passing grade. To make matters worse, Rachel was unfamiliar with the curriculum, and despite several requests, three weeks passed before she received a copy of the curriculum. The confidence and enthusiasm she had at the start of the year was beginning to wane.
Admitting When You Need Help
At the beginning of the year, the principal and assistant principal had said they were always available if anyone needed help. There were also two curriculum coordinators who could help mentor new teachers. But none of these folks had made an appearance in Rachel's classroom during those first three weeks.
Like a lot of new teachers, Rachel hesitated to ask for help because she was afraid the administration would think she couldn't handle her job. She didn't want to look weak or unprepared. But she knew that if things didn't improve, she couldn't last in the 11th-grade class. Rachel wondered if she was cut out for teaching after all. But, she reasoned, I'm doing fine with four classes out of five. So, she decided it was time to ask for help.
Deciding to Reach Out for Help
A veteran teacher in Rachel's department recommended that she reach out to one of the curriculum specialists, who set up an appointment with her after school that day. They reviewed Rachel's lesson plans, and the specialist made suggestions regarding activities and strategies that might help. Even better, the specialist observed Rachel's class the following day.
Student behavior didn't change overnight, but with the specialist's help, Rachel picked up some new classroom management techniques that proved to be effective. One of the specialist's suggestions, for example, was to start the class on time and engage the students in an activity immediately so that they didn't have time to socialize. Meanwhile, the quacker spent a little time in the principal's office and returned with an improved attitude.
The specialist became a regular visitor to the class, and things gradually improved enough so that Rachel could actually teach the curriculum instead of spending all her time trying to control the class.
What if Help Isn't Available?
In Rachel's case, things worked out well because she found someone who could help. These days, many schools have formal programs with mentors for new teachers and take special care to make sure they get the help they need. But unfortunately, not all schools have these measures in place to help new teachers.
If your school lacks a formal program and you find yourself struggling with classroom management, don't suffer in silence. Contact your principal or assistant principal, and let them know you need help. You won't be the first new teacher to find yourself in that situation, and part of an administrator's job is to support teachers. And don't worry about looking weak; as you acquire more experience, you'll add to your toolbox of classroom management techniques and become more effective.
Teachers Helping Teachers
If your school has no formal mentoring program, another idea is to seek out a veteran member of your department or grade level to ask for advice. Some veteran teachers may be reluctant to offer assistance unless asked, but some try to actively look out for new teachers. Many are happy to take on an informal mentoring role, and they'll have a wealth of insight into not only classroom management techniques but also curriculum, administration, and the culture of the school.
Of course, a successful mentoring experience is built on trust. You want someone with whom you can talk candidly and not worry that your concerns will be shared with anyone else. Veteran teachers may remember that they too faced challenges during their own first years in the classroom and may feel a professional responsibility to help a new colleague. What's important is that if you need help, you need to reach out.
Any new teacher's first year can be a challenge. After all, few beginning teachers enter the classroom knowing all the tricks of the trade. But by reaching out to the resources available—some of which are cropping up online—you'll soon find yourself in a strong position.