Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin your teaching career, whether you are a student teacher or in your first paid teaching assignment.
Find a mentor.
Regardless of whether your school district assigns you a mentor as part of a formal mentoring program, it’s useful to have someone to provide guidance and the benefit of experience. There’s more to successfully navigating a new position than just knowing where the coffee is; find a veteran colleague who is well-regarded by peers and make a new friend. An experienced educator may serve not only as a tremendous resource for materials and ideas, but also as part of a much-needed support network. Be sure to appreciate the guidance you get from experienced educators.
Recognize your probationary status.
Understand that the first couple of years of teaching are the legal equivalent of a “test drive.” Under the statutes governing teacher contracts, you are a probationary employee (see page 9). As such, you will likely be scrutinized more carefully than a veteran employee. It’s easier legally for your district to make a change to your employment while you are on probationary status and, as the term implies, they’re trying you out.
Your contract can be nonrenewed at the end of the school year for any reason (or no reason) while on probationary status, as long as you are not the victim of illegal discrimination under federal law for reasons such as race, sex, national origin, or religion. This means that even if you think you’re doing a good job, if your principal doesn’t like you or you aren’t regarded as working well with others, you may find yourself seeking employment elsewhere. As a result, we suggest:
Avoid antagonizing your principal, if at all possible. This may not be the time to complain loudly in a faculty meeting. The person with the most influence on the decision of whether your employment is continued is your campus principal, so be mindful of the balance of power.
Make a concerted effort to work well with all of your colleagues, from your fellow teachers to the classroom aides to the principal’s secretary. A successful career in a district begins with what is perceived as a “good fit” between you and the rest of the faculty.
Deal with parental complaints professionally and promptly.
Many parents are wary of new teachers, knowing that your experience is limited. If you fail to address any concerns they raise, their next stop is likely to be the principal’s office. “Too many parental complaints” is a reason often cited when probationary teachers are not invited to return to their employing districts.
Pay attention to any red flags regarding your performance.
Even if the concerns are not documented in writing, if your principal or another supervisor comments critically on your performance in any regard, whether it’s cutting it close on your arrival time each morning or maintaining discipline in the classroom, take heed and make appropriate adjustments.
Seek out and obtain training to enhance your skills.
TCTA provides members with free online professional development, which can help you meet certificate-renewal requirements. If any problems with your performance are noted, your supervisors will likely be pleased if you immediately seek out training to help you improve.
Remember your role.
Though you may look young and, at the high school level, may not be much older than some of your students, remember that you are their teacher, not their peer. To behave otherwise is a significant mistake that could result in loss of your current position or even your certificate. Specifically:
Do your internet surfing at home.
Many teachers are surprised to learn that their online activities on school computers are not private. Any use of school equipment should be directly related to your employment.
Remember that the web is a very public forum.
Though you don’t check your constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door, most teacher contracts contain language that can mean your personal life may have some bearing on your continued employability, especially if your conduct can be considered to diminish your classroom credibility.
Many students delight in learning details about their teachers’ lives beyond the classroom, and the discovery of anything you wouldn’t want your school board to see can pose problems. Keep that in mind as you tweet or post updates on Facebook, Instagram or other online platforms that might reveal too much information to an unintended audience.
Be prepared for anything.
It’s tough duty to be the center of attention all day every day, and expecting the unexpected helps. Your days will be much easier if you have a headache remedy, nail clippers and safety pins in your desk drawer (but remember, never provide aspirin or other medication to a student without official approval).
Use your planning and preparation period wisely.
Not only does this opportunity potentially ease the burden you will shoulder in grading papers, preparing lesson plans, etc., it also offers you a chance to decompress a bit before resuming your role as teacher. Avoid the temptation to participate in gripe sessions in the lounge if they occur at your school; not only are your remarks likely to be repeated to others, but it can be demoralizing for you to listen to complainers.
Know that everybody starts off as a novice.
Experience counts, but so does the enthusiasm you bring to your new profession. As you build on your student teaching success, keep in mind that each school district, campus and student will present unique challenges, as will being the “teacher of record” and the added professional responsibility that post entails. If you have trouble, seek out the help you need without hesitation.
Go to your mentor.
If you are having trouble with issues that your teacher training may not have fully prepared you to address (student discipline comes immediately to mind), a talented veteran can give you amazingly helpful guidance.
Take advantage of the training opportunities offered by TCTA. Both our website, with its free online training, and our meetings at the local and state levels offer you the opportunity for professional growth. Log in at members.tcta.org to get some CPE, and connect with local CTA leaders to learn more about local and state meetings.
If you think an employment-related legal problem may be developing, call TCTA’s Legal Department at 888-879-8282 immediately. Our legal staff is experienced in helping you address concerns identified by your supervisors, suggesting ways you can enhance your position, and helping you remain employable if your first position is not a good fit.
Make sure TCTA has your personal email address.
We will send you the latest information about issues that may affect your future as an educator, especially during legislative sessions. We highly recommend that you send us your personal email address so we can reach you year-round.
Check the TCTA website regularly.
You’ll find helpful information on issues ranging from student discipline to duty-free lunch that can answer questions and better equip you in the classroom. We also include important news in eUpdate (our emailed newsletter) and on social media.
Refer to this Survival Guide as needed.
While this publication does not substitute for the advice of an attorney, it does provide up-to-date information on education-related topics that is essential for Texas teaching professionals. Keep it in a handy place — you will find yourself reaching for this publication throughout the year.