Starting my first year as a teacher, there was little orientation to help me get acclimated. The first day, I didn't even know where the bathroom was so I went into the students' restroom.
Much to my surprise, there I found two teenage girls smoking. Not having any training on how to punish them, I hesitated to try to plan what to do next when another teacher came in behind me.
As a 22-year-old and relatively short, I apparently fit right in with the students and the elder teacher proceeded to march all three of us to the dean's office to await our punishment.
While that was certainly one of the most embarrassing moments of my 36-year teaching career, it got me thinking and it was obvious that something needed to be done about this.
At Pasco High School, I served as mentor liaison to all interns and incoming teachers. While we accomplished much through this program, budget cuts for school districts are running rampant and Pasco County could not offer any training for new teachers this year. Teachers are under attack by state legislatures to constantly do more with less and the results frequently lead to new teachers questioning their choice of career.
The Department of Education at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla., wanted to ensure their recent graduates are as prepared as possible before they enter the classroom for the first time. A few years ago, we created a voluntary "Boot Camp" for interested new alumni to get off on the right foot toward becoming successful teachers.
Given my stature, I might not appear like a typical drill sergeant. But the military structure of training its recruits has proven successful and serves as an example for teachers to follow as well.
Most teachers know they'll need the basics: pens, pencils, paper, chalk, markers, etc. But other items can really come in handy in an emergency.
Every teacher should keep a screwdriver for basic maintenance operations on desks or tables, baby wipes for the dry erase boards, tissues and band aids.
Stay Out of the Brig
Teachers are heavily scrutinized by students, parents, administrators and even other teachers. The only way to protect themselves is to document everything.
Conflicts with students should be reported to the proper parties immediately. Parent/teacher conferences should be documented to illustrate the pertinent issues that were discussed.
Chain of Command
It's important when entering a new school to be well aware of who is available to contact when necessary. Find out everything about the principal, secretaries, guidance counselors, custodians, maintenance crew and others to be able to contact the right person for any situation.
Figure out everything about the email system and check it regularly. Respond to emails from parents at least within 24 hours.
When flu season hits, be aware of the policy in place for taking a sick day. The school will need ample time to find a substitute teacher and also to provide him or her with the necessary materials.
Students typically laugh off fire and tornado drills but it's important as a teacher to take them seriously and ensure the students do as well. The drills are necessary so that during a real emergency, everyone will know how to react.
Code of Honor
Teachers need to understand that they are held to a higher standard than other professionals. It is difficult sometimes to discern what is and is not appropriate behavior.
I once heard a gentleman tell new employees that you're a teacher 24/7. When you're hired, you're representing the school district all day, every day, and you fall under the ethics that entire time.
The Boot Camp ended with an outline of some of the graduate programs available to the students if they should ever want to come back for additional education.
We plan to continue our support of our new teachers long after they complete Boot Camp. An alumni mentor group has also been created to help working teachers benefit from each other's experiences so they can grow together. The group already plans to meet at least six times throughout the year for dinner and a brief program.
In a time where teachers take the brunt of so much blame, it's important for us to provide them with the necessary support to succeed. These young educators are responsible for the next generation of young minds to enter our country. It's vital that they know that they are professionals and that teaching is a worthy profession.
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