Rookie Advice from a Pro
For most teachers, the first year is the hardest with a mix of creativity and anxiety. I was able to ask Sophia E. Pappas, author of “Good Morning Children” a few questions about what new teachers should expect and do to grow into being innovative and effective teachers. She should know as a veteran pre-K teacher.
Tech Tools: Are many first year teachers afraid of classroom technology?
Sophia Pappas: The comfort level of first year teachers with technology depends on a number of factors:
1. The teacher's prior experience and comfort level with various kinds of technology;
2. Access to various kinds of technology at the teacher's school;
3. The expectations and attitudes conveyed about the use of technology by administrators, fellow teachers, and mentor or master teachers;
4. Access to support in using technology in the classroom in the school and district.
These factors can interact with one another. For example, a teacher may be comfortable with email and Facebook, but not certain about games and research programs that students would use. The district may offer professional development in using technology, but first year teachers may not know about or may be hesitant to pursue those opportunities if their fellow teachers an/or administrator do not place a high priority on technology.
I have not seen any studies done on this issue, but at my school first year teachers who had previously worked with technology were often more likely to seek out assistance and use the school’s available resources (e.g., software and tech coordinator) to bring various forms of technology to their classrooms than some of the more experienced teachers. This distinction may also be a generational issue, as many of the more experienced teachers were older and were not as accustomed to using computers in their everyday life.
TT: Is preparing for a class the key to success?
Pappas: Like any profession that requires you to lead a group of people to accomplish certain goals, effective teaching requires a great deal of preparation. While we may typically think of class preparation in terms of just daily lesson plans, an effective teacher bases those detailed plans on long term plans that reflect individual student needs and expectations laid out for student learning by the state, district, or school curriculum. A teacher cannot meet students’ needs without a clear sense of the end goal, individual students’ strengths and weaknesses, and a commitment to ongoing reflection on student progress.
I would flesh out my weekly lesson plans using my longer term plans –including, for example, a calendar with skills at different stages plotted out and individual student action plans – and then make any adjustments necessary during the week to respond to unexpected circumstances (e.g., an assembly or the absence of students who were scheduled to be in a small group with me). In addition to making those changes, I further plan for such unexpected circumstances by including that task in my daily action plan. All of these actions fall under the larger umbrella of preparation.
TT: Are teaching schools preparing teachers for current technology or do teachers have to learn on the job?
Pappas: Based on my personal experience, I would say that teachers tend to learn on the job. I entered the profession through an alternate route, but took certification classes at a local university in New Jersey. We had one class that dealt with science and technology, but which defined technology in broad terms of “man-made tools.” The class provided me with a framework for challenging my students to think creatively about how to use materials in our environment to solve problems in the real world or in fictional stories.
We also briefly discussed the pros and cons of using computers in a pre-K classroom in a course on various early child curricula. Professional development days occasionally entailed a workshop given by our school tech director, but these sessions were not targeted toward a specific grade level at my pre-K-5 school.
I had to adapt the lesson to the pre-K standards and needs of my students, but the school tech director was easily accessible for ongoing consultation. For example, she introduced us to the school’s email account and discussed the possibility of students using the account to form pen pal relationships. I turned that lesson into whole group shared writing lessons using the school’s Smart Board. We discussed the concept of email compared to other forms of communication. I had my family and friends email messages and pictures to my students. We responded to the messages as a class; and my students understood the rationale and process of email, rather than just how to push buttons, because of those substantive discussions.
TT: Is interaction a must? Any hints on how best to do it?
Pappas: Teachers are the leaders of their classrooms. Any effective leader is responsive to the needs of the group of people she leads toward a particular goal. I would not understand and be able to respond to the needs of my students without constantly interacting with them and their families. Most teachers understand the importance of interaction on some level, but may not realize the importance of a teacher's active listening in these interactions. My interactions with individual students were meaningful because I took the time to listen and observe them to figure out their interests and concerns. Just as we appreciate politicians who speak to the particular questions constituents pose, students respond more positively to teachers who interact with them instead of talk at them.
TT: The biggest surprise that new teachers have during their first year?
Pappas: The importance of structure and organization for my students and me proved surprisingly crucial to my success in the first year. As a pre-K teacher, I had the responsibility of introducing my students to school, which meant the opportunity and challenge of sharing space, materials, and attention with a large group of their peers and brand new authority figures. Structure became crucial to facilitating a smooth transition that enabled them to be productive and safe. The establishment and maintenance of that structure consisted of several steps:
1. Design procedures and routines for every aspect of the day, answering questions before the students even enter the room such as how will students enter the room in the morning and get ready for breakfast? How will students let me know if they have a bathroom emergency during circle time?
How will students transition from lunch to independent reading time?
2. Maximize time spent with children by incorporating state pre-K learning expectations into those procedures and routines (e.g., using our morning welcome routine as an opportunity for students to develop their oral and listening skills by engaging each student in meaningful, albeit brief, conversations tailored to each student's needs AND their cognitive/early math skills by requiring students to count five seconds when they wash their hands and hit the paper towel dispenser three times using clearly written numerals with dots as a reminder);
3. Create lesson plans for teaching each procedure and routine throughoutthe first few weeks of school;
4. Observe children to assess their ability to follow the routines and procedures;
5. Reflect on both ways to reinforce and re-teach the procedures and routines to individual students or the class as a whole AND possible ways to modify the procedures and routines in a way that better meets students' needs, is more efficient, and seizes additional learning opportunities by using observational data of students to differentiate the incorporation of state pre-K expectations into those structures;
6. Implement those changes;
7. Engage in reflection on routines and procedures on an ongoing basis;
My own organization was equally as important, given the complexity and number of tasks I had to perform both within my classroom to meet the diverse needs of my students, and with regard to administrative paperwork for my school, district, and state. I developed daily, weekend, and long term action plans for myself that reflected each responsibility. I included in these plans reflection on progress and shortcomings in my performance that prompted me to engage in critical self-reflection on an ongoing basis.