Thursday, September 18, 2008

Induction and Orientation for New Teachers

By now new teachers are in at least in the second weeks of school, and we like to think that they are settling in comfortably.

Experience, however, suggests that many are still in something resembling panic mode: student work is piling up, conferences and parent/guardian events are looming, and they are holding onto their curricula by the skin of their chattering teeth. Each day brings its little pleasures, but it also brings the possibility of stepping on one of the little landmines with which school cultures seem inevitably to be littered.

More and more schools have introduced some kind of mentoring program, but the multitude of things that new teachers must learn are often left to trial and error. In the old days--my old days, at least, which were a long time ago--new teachers had about an hour's head start on the veterans before opening faculty meetings began, and the on-the-job training that accompanied the first weeks in a new school was supposed to toughen us (if anyone thought about it at all). Most schools are doing better than this, but I'm a big fan of serious, thoughtful, and detailed induction and orientation programs.

Maybe the horse is too far out of the barn by now, at least for this school year, but I think the essential elements of a great program that really prepares teachers for life in a new school include:

* "Electronic induction"--giving new teachers access as soon as possible after hiring to the school email system and other important digital resources that will be essential to his or her life and work; this would absolutely include a curriculum map, if the school maintains one
* Pre-service inclusion--making sure that new hires are included in any summer meetings or planning sessions that will be in any way relevant to their work
* Access to texts and materials--delivering to the teacher early on any textbooks or other teaching materials that he or she will be using
* Access to handbooks and manuals--delivering to the teacher any student or employee handbooks that would help explain the culture and policies of the school; I would modestly recommend the manual we use at our school as a model (after the link, look for the download link to "The Teacher's Guide to Life and Work" in the upper right-hand corner of the page)
* An orientation program that focuses on school culture and values, unique aspects of the instructional program, and lots of "nuts & bolts"--no opportunity to introduce new faculty to key people in the school community, including students and parents/guardians, should be lost
* Dedicated guided prep time--giving the teacher the opportunity to develop lesson plans and activities for the first days and weeks of school working directly with a mentor, co-teacher, or department leader
* A mentor, or at least a close contact whose experience has been similar to the new teacher's, and who will be working geographically near the new teacher during the year

The school that is wiling to take the time and trouble to support a program that includes these elements and works hard to see that they are well carried out will have gone a long way toward easing the transition of new teachers. If the program has the elegantly simple goal of eliminating surprise from new teachers' lives, those little landmines we all remember will be reduced to mild bumps that are part of a gentle acclimation process rather than terrifying or demoralizing jolts .

As for the student work and parent/guardian events, I'll get to some of that in a later post.

1 comment:

physnicks said...

So,to get all "techie", I would add -- being part of their own social networking site with a mentor(s) as referee. Then they can ask questions of each other or of their mentors in a space away from the "powers that be" in a non-threatening way. They can also ask questions when they wake up panicked in the middle of the night and know that someone will answer when they have time. They can also plan some much needed social outings together and bond together even when their classrooms are on opposite ends of the building and their schedules conflict.