Monday, August 17, 2015

New Teachers

When I was an elementary principal in a small rural county in West Virginia, my employment term was 5 days before the teachers arrived and 5 days after they left.  Of course new teacher hiring most often took place in the summer outside of my contract, so it was not unusual for me to have to come down off the ladder from painting or roofing or other odd jobs, get cleaned up and go to the district office to interview and select new teachers.

In those days, virtually every hire was a truly “new teacher” – wet behind the ears, just birthed from one of our state colleges or universities, ink still wet on the diploma. Rarely did we get teachers with experience. Being an elementary principal, the applicants were usually female and most often they made the long drive into Pocahontas County accompanied by their fathers.  Often after the interview, I would escort the candidate outside to her car, whereupon I would meet daddy and could expect to be interviewed by him.  

“What is this community like?” “Is it safe?” “Where do single women generally find lodging?”  “What is there to do around here where young adults might meet others?”

It was all an expected part of the interview process, because just as we were checking them out, they were checking us out. They had to feel comfortable living in a small town where a drive to the movies or shopping for clothes was more than an hour away. Given that the small town was partly bordered by the Monongahela National Forest, it helped if they were comfortable with hiking and biking and camping and wild animals and country boys with pick-up trucks. 

This week, we held our new teacher induction here in Calvert County and when I gave the welcome to the 40 or so newbies, I asked how many were fresh from college here for their first teaching job. Only 2 raised their hands. 

Wow, that’s amazing. I’m trying to figure out.  In making my rounds, I found some who were residents but who had been teaching in neighboring counties. Others with experience in other locations had relocated to Calvert County due to a spouse’s assignment and had been subbing for us for a while. I found others who had taught before, but left the profession and were transitioning back after some time in the private sector.  

In the end, I have to conclude that the maturity of our new teacher work force is a benefit to the students. Many new teachers are outstanding right out of the box, but experience is a great teacher. If you are good when you are in year one, you benefit from experience and post-employment training that new folks don’t have. 

Being new to Calvert County means there is still much to learn for our new hires, no matter how many years of experience they bring. Our procedures, our local initiatives, our assessments, our means of evaluating performance all are important to their success.

One thing I hope they all have is a Growth Mindset. That is, for the teacher and his/her students as well, they all are willing to work hard, stretch themselves to the point of making the occasional mistakes, accept constructive criticism and learn from those mistakes. That’s what brings about true growth and true excellence. 

Welcome to the new school year. 

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