Read About Best Practices in Reflections on Beginning Teaching

Introduction/Overview

This module explores beginning teaching. New teachers will have an opportunity to examine major issues, such as assessment, classroom management, instructional practices, and professional relationships. They will also learn how these issues impact their students, and how reflecting on the past can help in planning for the future.

A teacher may be considered a beginner at many points in her career. For example, even a veteran teacher “starts over” when she begins a new grade level, works with a new team of colleagues or administrators, enters a new classroom or subject area, or joins a new campus. The art and science of education requires constant examination and modification to find the perfect balance between theory and practice and to have the greatest impact students.

Teachers who grow in the profession relentlessly reflect on their practices. Beginning teachers, especially, must reflect on their theories, practices, classroom routines, and their overall development as professionals. This module will guide them through the process.

Theory vs. Practice

I have encountered challenges. I have felt sweat trace down my nervous back as I desperately tried to find my way in dark and unfamiliar cities . . . In my life, I have labored to complete difficult tasks, overcome self-doubt, and conquer personal inadequacies. But nothing prepared me for my first year of teaching.

(Morgan L. Donaldson, Reflections of First Year Teachers on School Culture. 1999)

College classrooms echo with the theories behind best-practice instruction, but nothing adequately prepares a new teacher for her first day in a classroom with real, live students. Even beginning teachers with the best preparation often struggle when theory meets practical application.

What role does theory play in the world of students and standards? Theory is, and always will be, the cornerstone of teacher preparation and subsequent decision-making. That said, it is important to match theory with practice in the classroom.

Assessment

All teacher-preparation programs stress that assessment drives instruction. How does a beginning teacher handle student assessment? What assessment tools does she use? What does she know about her students and what does she do with that information? Gathering and recording information is one thing, but utilizing it to assess is another. Successful teachers put theory into practice by using the information they gather to guide instructional practices in the classroom on a daily basis.

Classroom Management

“Effective teachers manage their classrooms. Ineffective teachers discipline their classrooms.

Harry Wong, 2001

How does a beginning teacher manage discipline? A new teacher is sure to start school with a grand plan and a strong theoretical base. But her actual course of action often differs greatly from her plan and theories.

It is important for new teachers to know and utilize assertive and positive discipline procedures and routines. It is equally important for them to provide their students with choices. But ultimately, a teacher’s success in the classroom is determined by what works for her at the moment, not by what works in theory. New teachers often experience frustration when their first attempts at discipline do not work. They go through several “systems” before finding something that works for them and for their students. Effective teachers find methods that work and stick to them. They modify their methods to meet the needs of the students, but the theories grounded in practice will shine through.

Instructional Practice

Instructional practice and content go hand-in-hand. If a teacher is hired as a fifth grade math instructor, he must know not only the subject matter, but also how to teach it. Think of a medical student who spends several years memorizing important information and studying techniques. He learns what to do and why to do it. But once he begins his internship, this student is thrown into the “real life” application of the theories he’s learned and he discovers that real life is nothing like medical school. The same is true for teachers. Teachers sometimes lose sight of (or find it difficult to sustain) the strong instructional practices they studied when preparing for a teaching career. Without a strong hold on instructional practice, it can be difficult to make the right choices when a student’s success is on the line.

Relationships

Engaged teaching necessarily becomes a deeply personal endeavor. Though it presents many challenges, the relationship between teacher and student remains the focal point of schools.

Morgan L. Donaldson and Brian Poon, 1999

In addition to building relationships with students, teachers build relationships with other teachers, school and district administrators, aides and paraprofessionals, mentors and coaches, counselors, school psychologists and nurses, parents, custodians, secretaries, lunchroom personnel, volunteers, and community stakeholders. Defining and developing these professional relationships can be difficult. Not all members of the school community will become personal friends, but these relationships must be nurtured to allow for constructive criticism and active planning.

Hopes and Dreams vs. Day-to-Day Life in the Classroom

Harry Wong believes there are four stages in a teacher’s career:

  • Fantasy – A new teacher believes that all students want to come to school and learn. She believes that teaching consists of leading fun activities and she doesn’t doubt her ability to positively influence each and every child.
  • Survival – The new teacher soon realizes that she has been fantasizing and often wonders how she will make it through each day. A teacher in this stage relies on instinct; she’s lost sight of the theories and effective teaching practices she was taught.
  • Mastery – A teacher in this stage utilizes effective and reflective practices. She examines her teaching and student learning, and she makes changes accordingly. She is accountable for her actions and she makes a difference.
  • Impact – A teacher in this final stage has taken her classroom practices to the next level. She knows how to change the lives of her students by opening doors for learning.

Wong, H. and Wong, R. T. The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc., 2001.

All teachers share a common dream of significant student achievement. Once teachers reach the Impact stage, they begin realizing their initial hopes and dreams for their students. Harry Wong’s stages suggest that teachers do not simply progress in their careers; they go full circle. What does that mean? It means that good teachers are not finished products—they are works in progress. Teachers who are informed and who reflect on their day-to-day practices make decisions that lead their students toward higher learning.

Planning for the Future

Exactly what is reflective practice and why is it so important to planning for the future? Teachers who reflect on their teaching and their students’ learning make discoveries based on successes and failures. These teachers are acutely aware of the effects of their practices and work to refine them through reflective journals. When planning for the future, good teachers consider the following areas:

Procedures and Routines

Clearly established procedures and routines allow for optimal student learning. Careful planning, thorough modeling, and consistent implementation enable teachers to successfully establish effective classrooms, use time wisely, and minimize conflicts and interruptions throughout the school year.

Instructional Practice

Beginning teachers should always reflect upon the curriculum and ask themselves the following:

  • In which areas am I confident?
  • In which areas do I struggle?
  • Am I well versed in district, state, and national standards?
  • What resources can I access for more information?

Assessment

Assessment drives instruction. As new teachers plan for the future, they must remember that a plan is only as strong as the action behind it. Effective teachers use their reflection notes as working documents to guide practice and drive future research.