Tips for Future Teachers: Choosing Your First School

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You just graduated from your Ed school program with lots of ideas about curriculum, classroom management, lesson planning, differentiation, etc. but now you have to find a school...what should you look for? How can you distinguish between the different schools and their philosophies, especially if you are in a huge hiring hall with lots of other applicants?

As a current professor of a course designed to prepare future school building leaders but also a former high school math teacher, I can tell you that the number one most important thing to look for in a school is the level of support from the administration (principal, assistant principals, mentors, etc.) As a brand new teacher, you will need lots of support especially in your freshman year! Teaching is no longer a profession where you close your door and teach your students with little input from anyone else. Rather, it is a collaborative profession where you have the ability to continually grow and learn from your colleagues and your supervisors. You don't want to select a school that has a struggling administration or a weak (or nonexistent) school philosophy. In conjunction with a great teaching staff, the school leaders shape the mission of the school and provide the support and resources to carry out that mission.

Even the best-prepared first year teacher will struggle at a school that has weak leadership. You should spend your first year teaching learning how to craft lesson plans, do backward-planning to meet instructional goals and getting to know your students so that you can figure out the best way to teach them. You should not be spending your time constantly worrying about classroom management because of an uninvolved or unsupportive administration - obviously many aspects of classroom management are the responsibility of the teacher, but you should have a strong support system (deans, mentors, principal) that will help you navigate disciplinary issues and give you the support you need to put strong routines in place that will alleviate many classroom management issues. Similarly, you should not spend your entire first year reinventing the "curriculum" wheel. It is important that you plan your lessons thoroughly and learn the ins and outs of your course(s) but is it NOT necessary that you create every activity or assessment from scratch. Your administrators should partner you with more veteran teachers that will give you resources and share their broader content knowledge. When you interview at a school ask the administration if there is any type of "buddy" system where you will have the opportunity to collaborate with more experienced staff members. Also ask if there is time in the school day specifically devoted to professional collaboration among teachers. This should ideally be part of your scheduled day and not time that you have to find on your own in order to collaborate.

Any administrator will have a prospective teacher come in for an interview and probably a "demo" lesson before hiring. Although I know this will be a stressful experience for a first year teacher, try to pay close attention to the atmosphere of the building that you are visiting. Do students seem overall to be happy with the environment and their teachers? Even though this sounds simple it's actually so important - are students and teachers smiling? Are teachers kind to students in the hallways and in their classrooms and does genuine learning seem to be taking place? Your first impressions of a school are very important and you should trust your instincts. The type of school and administration that you encounter in your first year of teaching can be crucial to your future teaching career and the development of your skills, so be sure to make an informed decision using all of the available information at your disposal. Good Luck!

Danielle Longyear taught high school math (9th-12th grade algebra, geometry, trig and AP Stat) in a low-income, public high school in Brooklyn, New York as a New York City Teaching Fellow. She got her masters in Mathematics Education from Brooklyn College after doing her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University. She also completed her school administration degree from Baruch College in NYC and is currently teaching a School Building Leader course at Hunter College as an adjunct professor in their School of Education.