Faking It ‘Til You Make It: Tips for Looking Less Like a Rookie Teacher

 “Is this your first year as a teacher?” There are only a few possible answers when a student asks this dreaded question. All of them are wrong. You can tell the truth, thus opening the door to the tests students save for new teachers. You can mumble some vague answer that makes your training program or summer as a camp counselor seem like teaching experience. The best bad response is often a question that changes the subject, like, “Are you working on your math problems?” Then, walk to your desk and shuffle papers until the moment passes.

No matter what your answer, however, the question above can leave you paranoid and wondering how students picked up on your rookie status so quickly.

Part of the secret is that no matter how prepared you are, some aspects of teaching develop with experience. The list below explains some of these – plus a few tips for faking them in the meantime.

Confidence: It’s hard to feel self-assured as a beginner, and nothing messes with your confidence like someone reminding you to, “be confident!” Luckily, there are some concrete things you can do to give yourself a psychological edge. Get to school before your students do. Have materials laid out in advance when possible. Keep your cell phone silent, your private life private, and your language school-appropriate. These actions show you mean it when you say class time is for class activities.

A sense of what can wait until later: Experienced teachers know what to do with the binder they just got from training, the stack of hand-me-down workbooks from a retiring colleague, or the folder of suggested materials from the last faculty meeting. They know some of these things can wait, and in some cases, they won’t get used at all. Beginners are more likely to add everything that might be helpful to a giant pile of things they think they need to do urgently. A quick fix for this is an “Ideas for the Future” box in your classroom closet. Use it to store anything that is potentially useful, but not enough of a priority to keep on your desk.

Procedures for most daily routines: Good routines prevent minor annoyances and sometimes even major behavior problems. Teachers around you have developed procedures for everything from bathroom visits to sharpening pencils. The good news is you can easily copy procedures from other teachers. Just be ready to adapt them to your style and students.

A Few Success Stories Under Their Belts to Keep Them Going: All teachers have bad days, and rookies tend to be harder on themselves than veterans. This is partly because experienced teachers have stored enough good memories to balance out the moments that make us wonder if we’re cut out for this. Just remember that the longtime teachers on your hallway have probably hit similar low points and chose to keep teaching anyway. If that’s not an argument for the rewards of this profession, nothing is.

Teacher lines: Teachers don’t always have time to think of original comebacks, but experienced educators often have a supply of pre-loaded remarks for common situations. It can be difficult to plan these in advance; our best lines usually stem from comments we think of fifteen minutes after we should have said them. Every now and then, however, you can anticipate a scenario and prepare your response. You can start by thinking of what you’ll say when someone asks: “Is this your first year as a teacher?”

P.S. You can now get your copy of Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel!

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