Four years I’d been studying to be a Secondary English and Drama teacher. Four years of reading, writing, thinking, growing and developing an early understanding of what being a teacher meant to me. That photo up there? I’m on the left and my best uni. pals Debs and Zoe are with me. Our graduation happened on a very cold, British October morning and, at the time, we’d already started working as newly graduated educators. I can remember that sinking feeling as we completed our final lectures, workshops and exams. This massive chapter of my life was over and an even bigger one was about to start. I wasn’t a student teacher anymore… I was A TEACHER. It’s exciting and daunting and wonderful all at once isn’t it? A brand new graduate teacher with a wealth of opportunities and so much to learn.
a graduate teacher new and it’s ok to make mistakes
I was lucky though, as a graduate teacher, I had an amazing mentor in my first year out. We’re still great friends now! I learnt a lot from that wonderful guide. I was told that, as a first year, this was the best time to make as many mistakes as I liked. That, being new, I had more than enough permission to get things wrong so that we could figure out what had happened and make a wonderful learning experience from it all. I learnt to try things, to take calculated risks with my planning and to push myself (and my students) to see where the boundaries were. Oh… and no… I wasn’t working in a school with lots of little angels!
How do you know when you’re making the right choices for your students? Well, you learn to measure your impact really quickly and you learn to read the room (those teacher Spidey senses will really start to develop this coming year). If you are clear about where your students are at now, where you want them to be and what that will look like then everyone is going to benefit. As a graduate teacher, half the fun is learning about how that works. That what makes you move from the graduate standards to the Proficient ones.
Find your Cheer Squad
It’s hard to take risks and get constructive feedback if you aren’t confident that someone trusts you and they have your back. It’s important to find that guide on the side, the person who can be honest and fair and help you grow. Finding that perfect mentor can be a challenge sometimes! That’s one of the main reasons that Edufolios has the collaborate feature.
Back in the early 00s there was no Edufolios, in fact, I think we’d just moved away from GeoCities (lol) and it was much harder keep in touch with the people I’d grown with at uni. If I could do this now (and I had my Edufolio), I’d be connecting with Debs and Zoe, using the collaborate tool, so that we could read each other’s reflections. The technology simply didn’t exist when we finished our degrees. As graduate teachers we’d have learnt so much by reading over what we were all doing in our very different schools and, who knows, maybe my mentor would have loved to read and comment too? I’m so glad that this does exist for you now!
The Teaching Standards – They’ll guide you!
Back when I graduated in England, we were amongst the first graduates to be assessed against the brand new Newly Qualified Teacher Standards. Every one of us had to meet these standards by the end of one year of teaching. If we didn’t, we had to go back to uni. and re-train. The stakes were high, and the standards were used to inform every professional development workshop I attended. (There was an entire program specifically for graduate teachers, run by and AST, at almost every site).
Although I felt immense pressure from these standards to start with, eventually they formed a large part of the dialogue my mentor and I would use to inform my progress, to judge those risks I was taking and to help me grow. They were unwieldy, I carried around a ring binder and attached things to the rows and rows of requirements. My mentor would sign them off as I went. We couldn’t look at that data in any useful, sorted way. It was just paper in a folder. An unsearchable archive of conversations and learning.
I wouldn’t receive my full certificate of acceptance into the profession until I met every single one of them. Imagine if I had had the chance to talk about my practice more generally. To start with what I was doing and to use the standards the other way around. To help me delve deeper into what I was doing and what the impact was? I would have been able to sift through the data in there and see how I was tracking as a graduate teacher? To see where my strengths were, what I needed and where I could grow?
Start with your classroom practice…
I guess, this idea of flipping the focus, of starting with your practice and using the standards to help explore what my practice said about me as a growing educator, has had a great deal to do with the creation of Edufolios in the first place. Whatever your experience with them at Uni, those standards are not designed to be used one focus area at a time. They are designed to help you look at your practice holistically and to see what you can see across all seven standards. Rest assured, that with the pro edition of Edufolios, you’re going to have everything you need to write and reflect. To connect and explore what the standards say about your practice and what you can learn about yourself to move forward.
Oh, and you’re lucky! In some states, you only have to meet each standard and not the 37 focus areas! These days, I could do that with one, super solid reflection on one lesson…. I’ve had some practice though 😉 The heatmap tool will show you exactly where your gaps are – as well as where you focus a lot. It’s a handy tool to guide and focus your conversations with your mentor(s) too. There’s no way you’ll have any surprises when it comes to getting sign off.
You can even export this as a PDF, email it to the boss and let them see where all your evidence actually is. Those “link” tags in the “Evidence” column even take them to the specific piece of evidence you’ve tagged. Very simple, very effective and super cool whether you’re a graduate teacher or heading for HA and Lead.
Remember that Perfection DOES NOT exist in the Classroom
That’s where that whole idea we have here of being a “reflectionist” comes from. There are just way too many factors to consider each day, each lesson when it comes to teaching. No matter how good you get, there will always be opportunities to learn and to face challenge. The only way to know how and when those opportunities arise is to stop and think. Think about what went super well and why. Think about what didn’t workand why, use the evidence you see in your student’s work, their relationship with you and each other to support those ideas. Know that, whether you’re a graduate teacher who’s been doing this for 3 months or someone with 18 years, you’re always going to create new learning opportunities by making glorious mistakes. Embrace that and use that to your advantage.
Good luck new members of the team! We can’t wait to watch you grow along with the rest of us. If you’re not graduating this year, and you’ve been out there a while, please feel free to share your tips with our new graduates! New grads, feel free to ask questions here, in the comments, we’re all in this together 🙂