As many of you finish up your first semester as Teach For America corps members, you’re likely reflecting on the past few months, lessons learned, and how you intend to adjust your approach in the New Year. Many things have changed since I was a corps member, but I’d love to pass on some of my lessons learned. I’ve focused my advice around my general life philosophy, which is to “show up.” Here are five ways you can show up as a new teacher.
Show up for your learning.
Attend as many professional development sessions offered to you as possible by TFA, your school, and even outside organizations. You might feel like skipping these things because you have a million other things to do. But go—because you can never learn enough as a teacher. Not only will these learning opportunities provide you with valuable information that you can implement in your teaching practice, but they also will give you a better sense of the organizations with which you are associated.
Show up for your students in class and out.
Students need to know you are reliable and 100% committed to their learning and to maintaining a peaceful classroom environment. Even if you are struggling to do these things, always keep striving. Don’t be afraid to set the high academic achievement bar you know these kids deserve (the same one you would want set for your own children).
Outside of class time is another great opportunity to form relationships with students. Pick what works best for your style, but I did things like homework club, college, culture, and community service field trips, and just talking with students at lunch or after school.
Show up for parent involvement.
As a parent organizer, families tell me every day that they wish their children’s teachers and schools communicated more with them. My advice would be not only to make yourself available to families by putting your phone number on the syllabus and worksheets. If you want to reap the benefits of having parents be involved, you have to set up systems for them to be involved with you and your classroom. Do home visits with as many students as possible. Ask parents to volunteer. Throw gatherings for students and families. Call them early and often about both positive aspects and areas of improvement. All of this will require extra effort or time you may feel you don’t have, but it will be worth it.
Show up for your community.
Good teaching is all about relationships, and showing up for your community by learning about the social, economic, and political context will help you form stronger relationships. TFA and your school site may not always do a complete job of orienting you to the context of your school region and neighborhood, but I think it’s important enough to do on your own. As a teacher, you have a unique opportunity to be a public figure in your new community, so that comes with responsibility to inform yourself.
Learn about the school district, school board, and teacher unions so you can connect better with other educators and possibly have influence over bigger issues if you want to get involved. Learn about the social identities of the school population and the broader city, such as culture, ethnicity, race, citizenship, and economic status, so you can connect better with families and students. Learn about city politics because you will want to understand when political decisions influence education. Learn about things that your school may purposefully not discuss, such as gang issues, because those are the things truly affecting students outside of school and you need to have some understanding of them if you’re going to relate to them.
Show up for yourself.
You won’t be able to do any of the above if you don’t take care of your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, and find some balance in your life. Only you know best how to do that, so I’ll leave the specifics up to you.
Thank you for showing up!