You can begin teaching before you actually get a job. Begin by putting a curriculum in place. Decide what subjects or grade levels you wish to be teaching – even if you have not yet been hired. Every article and book you read, every shiur on chinuch you attend, can be turned into a lesson on how to bring a particular concept to life for students. Meet with more experienced teachers, ask to read their materials and build your own library of sheets and interesting data.
Once you get a job, remember that your first years are a rehearsal for the rest of your career. Develop good curricular habits; be cautious but do not automatically shy away from controversy. Try not to be too technical. Create your own curriculum. Many teachers began their careers by copying other people’s curriculum. Be a creator, not just an instruction-follower. This does not mean that you cannot use other people’s lessons – but try and see yourself as a producer of a curriculum, not just a consumer.
If you have time, observe master teachers, take notes on everything they say and do and figure out what you can emulate and recreate as your own idea of originality. Make the school your home. Put down roots in the school community – go to students’ gatherings and performances; sit next to your students’ parents. Learn all you can about the community your school serves. Call parents and make them your allies. Especially call them to praise their kids and to learn more about them, which a lot of times does not happen at all.
Figure out a way to distance yourself from the pain. That first year can really be tough so find a way to pull back from that, to be able to think critically about it and to not be swallowed by emotion. Do not forget that you will also have successes. And save exemplary student work. You can use it in future years as prompts to use with students.
Much of the first year of teaching can at times be painful. You will need to devote some time to yourself. This will help you to recharge and feel more productive in the classroom. Teachers have to be forgiving of themselves. It is quite all right to think and say, “I don’t know how to do this yet and that’s okay I’m going to learn, I’m trying to stick it out for the long haul. If I don’t get it this year, I’ll get it next year or maybe I’ll get it the year after that.”
I think that this is an important point. Teaching is a craft. You will B’ezrat Hashem become better at it. Remember that you are constantly learning. Set clear expectations for all students. Do not feel sorry for them. They do not need your pity; they need you to give them understanding, tools and knowledge to navigate their way through the education system and through life. Do not ALWAYS excuse them from homework or higher level skills or more challenging work. If these students are ever going to catch up, they need clear and consistent guidance and they need to know that YOU think they can achieve and succeed.
Teaching is full of successes and failures. There is much to be learned not only from the successes but especially the failures. If you are not making mistakes, it means that you are not taking risks. When you fail you have to reflect on what occurred and learn from it.
Being a teacher is not an occupation that exists within you only when you are on location. Being a teacher permeates every fiber of your being all of the time. It is something that never leaves you. Your soul must come to life in your classroom. It is in your classroom that students will experience the world, a world that opens possibilities for their developing hearts and minds. How do you make this happen?
Courage: Always do what is in the best interest of the students. You are preparing them for a future that we can only imagine. Do not shortchange them because of external pressures.
Continuous Learning: We are living in an era of rapid changes. Knowledge is constantly evolving. Model lifelong learning for your students along with the notion of generating new knowledge. Do not teach the same subject in the same way with the identical facts and information and in the same manner for 30 years. This is NOT conducive to the changing of the times and the generation. You will need to revamp, to come up with new methods and new ways to draw the attention in the classroom.
Teachers can be agents of change and growth. You should not assume that you do not have the power to cause a child’s soul to blossom. Teaching from textbooks can help but teaching from your heart will make a difference.
It is also important to hold fast to the hopes and dreams that most people bring with them to teaching: a desire to help young people, a passion for learning, a sense of hope and optimism for the future, and a belief in the capacity of people to grow and work together. These are all essential for success in the classroom. Good teachers develop over time as they create successful curriculum and learn their craft. But your core values remain a guide to keep you on course and they will make themselves felt in endless ways in your classroom.