13 Powerful Classroom Management Strategies for Redirecting ADHD Learners

13 Powerful Classroom Management Strategies for Redirecting ADHD Learners

“During class this morning, I just blurted out, and then I was so frustrated with myself.  I wish I hadn’t said that.  I’m just so impulsive.”  My daughter who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) said this to me one afternoon as she recounted the day’s events.  She never exhibited ADHD issues until the summer when she developed Tourette’s Syndrome (TS).  Her blurting out, in this situation, was not a tic.  It was her ADHD manifesting itself in impulsivity.  Imagine having been neurotypical for twelve years, and then in a matter of weeks, developing significant brain abnormalities.  It’s very interesting to talk to her because she remembers what it is like to NOT have the brain differences associated with TS and ADHD, and yet now she battles them on a daily basis.

It’s easy to feel like the ADHD child is intentionally choosing their disruptive behaviors and unphased by the classroom management plan.  Often, they are as frustrated by their behaviors as their teachers, peers, and parents.  Students do not want to be unable to find their work or remember to bring their assignments to class, powerless to control the verbalizations, at a loss to stay on topic, and ineffectual at restraining their impulsivities.

ADHD is an overarching term that includes three subcategories: 

  1. Inattentiveness/forgetfulness
  2. Hyperactivity/impulsivity
  3. both 

HOW COMMON IS ADHD?

A bit of a misnomer, ADHD is really a disorder in executive function—the skills that manage the brain.  It usually shows up in boys at an earlier age than girls, and symptoms are usually demonstrated by the age of twelve.   Research has shown a notable increase in diagnoses between 1997 and 2016.  According to the Jamanetwork, in 1997-1998, 6% of children and adolescents in the U.S. were diagnosed with ADHD.  By 2015-2016, 10% held that diagnosis.  In addition, the Center for Disease Control confirms that 10% of children in the United States ages two to seventeen are diagnosed ADHD while the National Institute for Mental Health puts that number at 11%. Subsequently, a teacher can easily expect to have two children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in a typical mainstream class of twenty students. 

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE ADHD BRAIN?

ADHD is a true medical condition that roots in differences in brain development.  There are four areas in the ADHD brain that differ from the neurotypical brain: 

  • The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for organization and self control.  It helps students to focus their thoughts and regulate their behavior.  ADHD students may struggle with impulse control and often can be identified by how messy their desk is and how many items they have forgotten, misplaced, and have strewn about.
  • The Reticular Activating System in the brain is a relay system among pathways entering and leaving the brain.  A difference in the reticular activating system causes ADHD children to struggle with inattention as well as impulsivity and hyperactivity
  • You might see ADHD show up in students’ inability to regulate emotion due to limbic system differences. 
  • Students with ADHD have differences in the basal ganglia of the brain which regulates brain communication.  Deficiency in this area can become evident in inattention and impulsivity

Children with brain differences are not intentionally seeking to disrupt the classroom, but it often feels that way. It can seem as if you call their name a hundred times a day!  Calling the ADHD child’s name to stop a behavior or get their attention is a natural response, but unfortunately, using their name to get their attention and correct them often riles them up.  It stimulates their brain and reinforces the negative behavior that you are calling on them to stop.  Fortunately, there are a variety of strategies for classroom management that can help you redirect ADHD and other distracted learners in your classroom. 

The www.additudemag.com website is a valuable resource for teachers and parents of ADHD children as well as ADHD adults.  I have addressed some of their ideas below as well as some of my own strategies developed over years of teaching.

CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES FOR REDIRECTING DISTRACTED LEARNERS

  1. Use the student’s name in your lesson.  Calling the student’s name to redirect them is not helpful because it rewards the brain for the negative behavior.  However, calling their name in the context of the lesson is an appropriate, purposeful strategy for redirecting without specifically calling them down!  This natural use of their name within the context of the lesson draws their attention to the lesson, but does not reward the brain for a negative behavior.
  2. Circulate around the room while teaching.  The closer you are in proximity to the ADHD student, the more likely you are to have their attention.  By moving while you teach, you are in physical proximity to engage, instruct, and redirect your students.  Pausing at their desk reminds them to focus or reengage without a word having been spoken or attention being drawn to them.
  3. Provide or allow the child to use a fidget.  Fidget spinners were all the rage a few years ago.  But do they really help?  It depends on the child and the teacher’s implementation in the classroom.  Many children genuinely benefit from a tactile stimulant in their hands.  There are a variety of fidget objects that are worth exploring.  I have noticed with my older students that play dough and putty help many of them to have busy hands and focused minds.  Squishy balls, flipping bike chain toy, sensory rings, mini gear shifters, pencil end fidgeter, and other kinesthetic objects are options for keeping busy hands active so that their brains can be engaged.
  4. Gently touch the student’s shoulder.  This strategy draws no attention to the child and doesn’t interfere with the lesson;  yet it provides a quick reminder to resume the desired behavior.
  5. Send the student on an errand.  Sometimes you have real errands on which you can send the student.  However, sometimes there’s not a legitimate need for an errand runner at the same time that an ADHD student needs to move.  Make arrangements outside of class with another teacher to receive your “messages”.  These “messages” may be nothing more than an envelope holding a blank piece of paper, but the student doesn’t have to know this.  They just know that they get a legitimate excuse to leave the classroom and move their body!
  6. Start a discussion about a lesson to make it more interactive.  Sometimes they really need to talk rather than listen!  If you are teaching and they are getting distracted, engage them with some questions and let them answer on scratch paper or with a partner.
  7. Establish eye contact and speak while looking at them.  This nonverbal approach to communication tells the other person that you think they are important.  When you look at students, you engage them without having to speak their name.  It’s so much easier to focus on someone who is focusing on you. 
  8. Ask your entire class to stand up.  What?  Stand up!  Sometimes students need to move and increase the oxygen to their brain.  Even if you don’t want to segue off of your line of thought, you can continue teaching while students stand.  I do this all the time when teaching college students.  Having them stand reengages them in the learning.
  9. Use a secret signal with the ADHD child.  If a child has to be redirected constantly, they will eventually get embarrassed and try to save face by intentionally drawing attention to themselves.  By creating a secret signal with them, you build relationship, but you also accomplish redirecting them without drawing attention to them.  The secret signal could be a certain phrase, or a movement.
  10. Build a relationship with the child.  You have heard it said that students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Building a relationship with a student gives you voice with them.  If you have a relationship, you can say hard things to them when necessary and they are better able to receive it because they know it comes from a place of care and concern rather than criticism and frustration. 
  11. Put a red and green sticker on children’s desk.  Red means “stop”.  Green means, “good job”!  As the teacher circulates around the room, s/he stops at the student’s desk briefly, only to point to the sticker and give the student eye contact.  This allows the teacher to redirect without even using the student’s name or breaking the flow of the lesson.
  12. Provide frequent movement breaks.  Go Noodle  https://www.gonoodle.com/  provides a variety of movement breaks at no cost for elementary aged students.  Stretching, cross-laterals, and yoga are great brain breaks for younger and older students alike.
  13. Offer a different form of alternative seating.  Offering a substitution in their seating can redirect an off task learner. The goal is to redirect instead of directly confront.  If you have a variety of seating options in the classroom and the child is off task, you can refocus them by moving them from a Hokki stool to a stability ball, or some such change. I highly recommend www.wittfitt.com for support in classroom design and high quality seating alternatives.  I address alternative seating further in the article “Favorite Tools for an Effective Learning Environment” as I focus on specific tools that can help your ADHD learners.

The bottom line:  Redirecting ADHD learners is a powerful key to classroom management because it avoids head-on conflicts and student meltdowns.  Through implementation of these redirection strategies, great educators create a environment that is effective and enjoyable.  Furthermore, learning improves because we are more effective in keeping children on task and out of the principal’s office.  When we redirect we distract students from the problematic behavior and replace it with a better alternative.  By using redirecting strategies, the 6.1 million ADHD students in the United States and their teachers, both have less frustration and more success in the classroom!

Kylah Clark-Goff

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2698633

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd.shtml

One Simple Change That Will Improve Your Teaching Today

Clock with words Time for change on its face

One Simple Change That Will Improve Your Teaching Today

I was new to teaching, the school, and the district, and was very excited about the teaching opportunity.  I quickly made friends with another first grade teacher and welcomed a new group of students to my classroom.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was in deeper water than I was equipped to handle.  There were a variety of serious issues in the class, but one left an indelible mark on my memory.  A defiant little boy sat at the front of the room and frequently yelled out, “I’m going to kill myself” as he flung himself out of his chair. Having no idea what to do, I reached out to the other first grade teacher who had befriended me. She helped me when she could, but she was very busy with her own class and a variety of family demands.  I began to get migraines, severe and often.  The excitement of the new opportunity diminished to simply surviving. By November I was thoroughly disillusioned and plotting my exit strategy.

I didn’t know the one thing that would have turned my teaching around and can make all the difference for you: 

ASK. FOR. HELP.

“Sometimes asking for help is the bravest move you can make.  You don’t have to go it alone.”

The misperception of asking for help

New teachers often develop the misperception that once they have their own class, they are on their own and shouldn’t need help.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  The reality is that you don’t step out of clinical teaching as experienced, accomplished teachers.  Growing into a seasoned professional is a journey and your first few years of teaching are part of that learning process.  In the learning process, the first and second years of teaching could actually be viewed as extensions of clinical teaching.  At this beginning stage of teaching, the teacher is also a student, constantly learning through a continual process of trial, error, and reflection.  This is the stage of development when you need to be less critical of yourself and give yourself a lot of grace.  You want to be a reflective practitioner and honestly examine your teaching, but in that reflective process, you must give yourself permission to make mistakes and ask for help so that you can grow and develop in your skill level!

The importance of asking for help

Teaching is an incredibly stressful and taxing job.  The learning curve is steep and it’s too complex to master quickly.  So unless you want to make a lot of messes that your principal or assistant principal has to clean up, it’s very important that you ask for assistance.   Whether it’s as serious as a lawsuit or as common as hindering student achievement, by asking for help you can avoid a disaster and experience effectiveness in the classroom!

Another reason that asking for help is important is because it will give you confidence in yourself and what you are doing, and it will give your school leadership confidence it you.  That go-it-alone novice teacher can really worry a principal or instructional coach.  When they see you asking good questions and implementing strategies that you have developed in your meetings with them, they will feel more confident in your teaching.

A third key reason for seeking guidance is to keep you in the teaching profession!  Our country needs more matured teachers in this country, not teaching drop outs.  When you compare the years 2000 and 2016, there are currently 1/3 fewer teachers with over 20 years of experience.  Ten percent of our teachers have less than 3 years of experience (NCES).  Constant turnover isn’t healthy for the development of the profession or for kids.  Ask for help so that you can persist in teaching rather than plan your exit strategy. 

The fear of asking for help

When I was hired for my first teaching job, the principal took me on a tour of the classrooms of my grade level co-workers.  I was struck immediately by a common factor.  They all had paper boxes stored above the lockers in their classrooms.   These boxes were labeled by theme and filled with teaching materials. When I went to set up my classroom, I showed up with a load of neatly painted and labeled paper boxes—with not one thing in them!!!  I was determined to look like I knew what I was doing, even though I didn’t.  New teachers often possess a very real fear of being perceived as incompetent, and no one likes that feeling!!

When new to the profession and trying so hard to prove that the principal did the right thing in hiring them, the last thing new teachers want to do is give any indication that they don’t know what they are doing.  Naturally, new teachers are out to prove themselves. This desire to prove that they are a good teacher and know what they are doing can easily make a beginning teacher reticent to ask for help. Furthermore, if a new teacher has already had some struggles and is under principal surveillance, the fear of losing their job can squelch any willingness to take risks or ask for support. 

Another source of fear for beginning teachers also the “should syndrome”.  Believing things like, “I should be able to handle this on my own” and “I should know what to do with this child” can keep a teacher from admitting their need for assistance.  Unrealistic expectations of self make novice teachers reticent to pursue support, slowing their development and shortchanging them of the assistance that could help them develop into master teachers.

When is the right time to ask for help?

Ask for help before you make a costly mistake.  There is an old adage that “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.”  Most principals of inexperienced teachers do not agree.  Principals don’t have the time to do damage control for new teachers’ mistakes, nor do they want to do so.  When your error could endanger a child or put the school or district in a bad light, it’s better to ask for help.  Mistakes aren’t bad; they actually are critical to growth and development.  Sometimes it’s our mistakes that are our best teachers.  Yet there are some mistakes we cannot afford to make, and that is when we ask for help.

A second time to ask for help is when you consistently feel overwhelmed.  Recognizing that you are in deeper water than your equipped to handle is a clear sign that it’s time to ask for help.  Even the most amazing veteran teachers have bad days, so don’t let a few here and there trouble you.  However, when you see a pattern and feelings of being overwhelmed start to paralyze you, it’s time to reach out for support.

Seek out support when you are ready to receive help.  There is no point in asking for help if you are not willing to learn from the person you are asking.  A teachable spirit is one of the most important characteristics that make for a successful beginning teacher.  When you get to the end of yourself and realize your teaching is all about your students and not about you, that is the right time to ask for help because you are truly able to receive it.

The right way to ask for help

Asking for support in your work shouldn’t be like going through the drive through at Sonic. You are asking for something more complex than a cherry limeade!   You cannot get what you need by running into someone’s classroom or office with a rushed request while on your way to teach a class.  Schedule an appointment in person with whomever you are asking for help.  Go to that meeting with a notepad, a pen, and a list of specific questions or concerns.  Decide what you want to get out of the meeting before you ever get there. 

A second critical thing about that meeting is to honor their time.  Educators are extremely busy and their time is valuable.  When you go into that meeting, make the meeting as concise as realistically possible.  They will appreciate that you were careful with their time and will be more welcoming when you need to meet with them again. 

A third part of asking for help the right way is to go to the meeting with a self-focus and the expectation of success.  Whereas it’s typically important to be student-centered, a coaching meeting shifts the focus.  Be careful not to let the opportunity of assistance turn into a whining session about someone or something other than what you can control:  YOU.  Focus on what you can do to deal with the someone or something. 

The last thing that is essential about the way you ask for help is the “thank you”.  After you have implemented or tested whatever direction came out of the meeting, email the support person.  Thank them for their time and assistance and give them some feedback on your implementation of whatever you got out of your conversation.  This will generate their investment in your success. 

Who to ask for help

As a new teacher, it’s easy to know that you need help.  A bigger challenge is figuring out who can help you.  Depending on the size and location of your school and your district, there are a variety of professionals who typically are more than willing to lend an ear and a helping hand.  Educators as a whole are sharing and caring people.  They want each other to succeed, because teacher success means student success and they are there for the kids. 

With so many qualified and helpful people that you could approach, who do you ask for help? 

Your principal

Build rapport with your principal by connecting with them when you have the opportunity.  Let them know when they were helpful to you with a student or made a point in a faculty meeting that helped you understand an expectation.  However, the principal is not usually in the best place to be your primary support person.  That is why they typically assign you a mentor.  Use your principal as a guide to know with whom you should connect for support in different areas. 

Your fellow grade level or content area teachers

Your fellow grade level or content area teachers are essential for help with planning.  If you are struggling with what to teach, when to teach it or how to communicate in a fresh way, ask for their input.   Don’t hesitate to ask for a copy of a lesson or a scope and sequence they are using.  Ask for a copy of their classroom management plan and any other materials that will give you ideas.  However, be careful to ask for permission to use their materials and ideas, give them credit for these items, and always shower them with appreciation.  In the beginning you will feel like all you ever do is ask for help, but one day you will be able to give back. When you are new, all they expect you to give back is appreciation and your respect of their time.  Remember that your co-teachers are extremely busy and coaching you to greatness is not their job. 

Your mentor

Oh the difference a great mentor can make!  If your principal assigns you a mentor, lean on them for emotional support.  Also seek out their input for how to obtain resources you need and information about the structure of the school and the way things work.  Mentors are often selected because they are good role models.  Ask for the opportunity to watch your mentor teach, and to have them come and watch you teach and give you feedback.  I would suggest getting a copy of your district’s assessment instrument and asking them to use it to evaluate you so that the feedback is directly relevant to your future success.  Remember to show considerable appreciation for all the free coaching your mentor provides.  Whether you put a chocolate bar on their desk or give them a hand written note, a little appreciation will help them to feel like there support is a gift rather than an expectation.

NOT your mentor

Even your mentor is limited in the time and expertise that they can offer you.  In some cases, your personality just won’t mesh with the mentor you are assigned.  Either way, study the make-up and structure of the support personnel in your school district.  This will allow you to seek more specific help from sources who are experts in areas where you are encountering the biggest learning curve.  Seek out your campus Instructional coach, campus counselor, behavior specialist, diagnostician, technology specialist, curriculum coordinator, RTI director, or any of the PT, OT, speech, or other special education personnel.  Your principal, teammates, and mentor are of critical importance, but enlisting specific support from the specialist to whom you have access on the campus level will get you the specific helps that can transform your teaching experience.

Just ASK!

For beginning teachers who are developing their skillset and perfecting their craft, developing into a strong, effective educator is a process.  Professional development is not a solitary process.  You are not alone!  When you realize that asking for help is a strength, and you do so in a strategic way, you will improve your teaching.  By considering the right time to get help, ways to seek out his support, and persons who will have the skills to give you maximum input, you can improve your teaching today!

“Help comes to those that have courage to ask for it.”

Kylah Clark-Goff, Ph.D.

Six Important Reasons NOT to Quit Teaching After Your First Year

When new teachers are honest they will admit that this is the biggest question that runs through their minds:

“Did I choose the wrong profession?”

which is often chased by a second:  

“Should I quit?”

If this is you, never fear.  You are not alone!  These questions reflect valid feelings that are a normal part of first year teaching.  By the time you get to late October, these feelings are almost unavoidable.  The overload of lesson preparation is coupled with Meet-the-Teacher night, your first observation, sickness, and compounded fatigue.  Fortunately, it’s also time for Homecoming!

During the first weekend of November, the university where I teach celebrated Homecoming.  Of all the participants who attended, I was bombarded by the first year teachers.  They were visibly exhausted, and greeted me with the comment, “I’m soooo tired, Dr. Clark-Goff!!!”  They were desperate for sleep, friends who could relate, and professor support.  At that very moment I could do little but give them a hug and a listening ear while reminding them of two essential tips that I want to share with you: 

  1. Keep in touch with each other.  Text, email, facetime, whatever works for you.  Going through your first year simultaneously with other first year teachers will help you know you experiences aren’t uncommon, you are not crazy, and you are never alone!
  2. Share your successes too.  It’s normal to share your struggles and ask for help, but it’s critical to take note of a success each day.  You need to say it and your new teacher colleagues need to hear it.  Some days your success may be super small, but I guarantee that you can find a success in every day.

None of these former students indicated that they were ready to pack it up and transition onto another career path, but they did echo a few of the comments I have read on Facebook groups for first year teachers.  Here are some common feelings I frequently see posted in these groups, and I wonder if you feel this way:

  • I am extremely overwhelmed and literally exhausted all the time.  Someone please tell me that this gets better!
  • I wonder if I chose the right profession.
  • Is this ever going to get better, or will it always be this challenging?
  • I’ve been floundering all year.
  • My students have learned nothing and I’m terrified of what their test scores may show.
  • I’m tired and frustrated.  Are my feelings about teaching normal?
  • I’m struggling with classroom management.  I’ve tried a host of approaches and I’m at a loss of what to do next.
  • My mentor is nice, but isn’t really providing the support I need.
  • I would do what I am supposed to do if someone would tell me what that is.
  • When I am observed, all I hear is what I’ve done wrong.  Maybe this isn’t the career for me.
  • I feel like I’m not doing the kids justice.  How am I going to survive this year if I am constantly in tears?
  • My feelings range from quitting to exhaustion to a desire to change the world.  Will I ever achieve the control, knowledge and pleasure in teaching that the more veteran teachers possess?  If so, how long will that take?

Do a few of these comments sound familiar?  You may relate to the majority of them.  The fact that first year teachers share such comments publicly shows that you are not alone. What you feel is real.  However, don’t get stuck in the difficulty of your reality.  Look for a positive in every day and document it by sharing it or recording it.  Successful first year teachers keep connected, and intentionally seek the positive in each day.

How can there be a positive when teaching is so incredibly difficult? What if you relate to the hopelessness expressed by these first year teachers?  Why give teaching another year?  Why go through this again?  There are plenty of less demanding jobs to be had.  So why not make your first year of teaching your last?  Let me give you a few quick reasons to think twice before giving up on teaching.

Six Reasons To NOT Give Up on Teaching After Your First Year

  1. Your best days in teaching are yet to come.  Do you remember what we said in “Five Honest Reasons New Teachers Need Support” about you not being able to learn it all before you got to your classroom?  The first year of teaching is really an extension of clinical teaching in terms of all you have to learn.  You are still a teacher in the making.  There are things you simply cannot learn until you are in charge of your own classroom and your own students.  Give yourself time to learn your craft, and permission to make mistakes. With any skill, you have to practice it for thousands of hours in order to master it.  Keep practicing!
  2. If you change professions, you are going to have to endure another first year all over again.  It may have different trials and tribulations, but you will still struggle because it is your first year in the job.  It’s easy to romanticize having someone else’s job.  Don’t buy the lie that the grass is greener on the other side.  Get gritty, dig deep, and grow in your knowledge and skills.  You were made for a purpose—your purpose—not someone else’s.
  3. It gets better!!!  As one of my former students said, “Your first year is going to be a tornado.  You have to learn to accept that this is going to happen and you have to ride it out, because next year you are going to be Pecos Bill!”  I’ve never met a teacher who said that the second year got harder. You refine your craft and eventually, there are more good days than bad ones.  With time, the bad days are few and far between. 
  4. You went into teaching for a reason.  You have a calling.  Piles of grading and office referrals may have caused you to lose sight of it, but you have one.  Take some time to reflect on the reason you started this journey of teaching in the first place.  Maybe you became a teacher because you wanted to make a difference. Perhaps you had an amazing teacher and you wanted to be that person for someone else.  Hold onto your reason, write it down, and read your reason…daily. 
  5. You have the power to improve your teaching.  You may have heard about folks being “born to teach.”  Though teaching is a skill that comes more naturally for some than others, teaching is a learned behavior.  There are many ways you can improve your teaching, develop your classroom management skills, and take steps to grow into effectiveness.  Take time to reflect on and evaluate your own teaching.  Seek out the most effective teachers on your campus and during your conference period, to watch them teach.  Ask them to come observe you and coach you on how you can improve.  By taking initiative, you have power.
  6. You’ve had plenty of tough times, but few of the good ones.  The second is easier than the first—by far.  By the end of it you really feel like you have a solid grasp on your profession.  If you never teach for that second, you endure all the struggle but miss out on the accomplishment. You invested years in a college degree and certification.  Don’t get impatient now!  Commit yourself to two years before even thinking about a career change. 

My first year of teaching was tough.  I had to create my own curriculum and I genuinely struggled with classroom management.  When I was completely frustrated with students’ behavior, I would change the seating arrangement.  That happened a lot!  My Friday nights were spent at school preparing the next week’s lessons.  My evenings were spent preparing materials. I had one child who I held through many a seizure, and another who defiantly hid under her table.  But if I had given up on my calling after that first year, I would have forfeited a whole incredible career!  Don’t miss out on all the great experiences in education that are to come.  Growing into greatness requires more than one school year.

Admittedly, life is too short to spend a career doing something you hate.  I wouldn’t want you to continue in the teaching profession if you don’t really love your students and feel like you are making a difference.  Yet when you are physically exhausted and emotionally depleted at the end of your first year of teaching is not the time to make a career change.  I encourage you to not even entertain the consideration of resigning until you have completed two full years of teaching. 

The veteran teachers I saw at homecoming today have taught long enough to feel the confidence bred by experience and success.  They are established and content. That achievement comes with time and effort.  It really does get better!  In the meantime, make connections with strong, positive veteran teachers and other beginning teachers.  Associate with and observe the very best teachers in your school.  Also, whether it is first year teachers with whom you took college coursework, or other first year teachers in your district, reach out to other new teachers.  The veterans and the newbies both need you just like you need them.

Resign?  Leave teaching?  Quit after your first year?  Becoming a teacher is no mistake; it’s a calling. Leaving too soon:  That would be a tragedy.

Kylah Clark-Goff, Ph.D.

“When someone asks why anyone would ever become a teacher, remind them why it’s worth it.  Every job has its ups and downs, but not every job can change a life.”

5 Candid Reasons New Teachers Need Support – and Why It’s Time to Talk About It

After a decade of teaching university students how to be teachers, I’ve come to a daunting realization.  Pre-service teacher graduates are simply not fully equipped to be classroom teachers.  They are mid-process.  Traditional educator preparation retains the final semester of their college career for a teaching internship called clinical teaching.  This is the culmination of years of preparation and is designed to be the time that theory meets practice and pre-service teachers hone their skills before they graduate and get their own classroom.

Passing certification exams and completing a semester of clinical teaching finalizes the educator preparation process.  Yet what I’m recognizing is that this “finish line” is actually a new “starting line” in the process of learning and support.

I’ve only done part of the job if teaching my students ends when they walk out of my classroom and across the stage at their college graduation.  Developing educators are most ready for what I have to teach them when they walk into their own classroom and enter the teaching profession.  That is when they really need me.  And with this blog, I’ll be able to be there.

My story

I absolutely love teaching; it’s a natural fit.  I never seriously considered doing anything else.  I had the advantage of acquiring teaching skills by watching my mom, a classroom teacher of 20+ years.  When helping with bulletin boards in the summer, I experienced the initiation into the profession by stapling through my finger before I ever had my own classroom.  I inherited teacher vests with apples and ABCs appliqued on them.  How could I not be a great teacher?

I attended an excellent private liberal arts university with an impressive educator preparation program.  I had lots of field experiences in a variety of classrooms and contexts.  My clinical teaching placements were in both public and private schools.  I taught letter sounds to kindergarteners, and Hank the Cowdog in fourth graders.  By the time I crossed the stage at graduation, a principal had taken a chance on me.  Knowing that I grew up in a teacher’s household and the quality of my educator preparation program, he hired me to teach kindergarten. 

The opening moments of my first day of teaching are etched permanently in my mind.  Upon the last parent exiting the room, I closed my classroom door and faced 25 kindergarteners, and not one great thing my professors had said came to mind.  All I could think was, “What in the world do I do now?” 

Do you remember that moment?  The terror, the excitement, the heavy sense of responsibility?  Despite my experiences and credentials, nothing could have prepared me fully for what I had never faced until that moment.  For the first time, I was completely responsible for a room full of students—their safety—their educational development—and every other tagged on task that came with the title “teacher”.  That is the moment when it all got very, very real.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!!  My professors weren’t there, nor were my classmates, supervising teachers, or even my amazing mom. 

As a new teacher, do you ever feel that way?  Do you feel like you’re on your own; it’s you and them in a classroom, you are at a loss, and you ought to know what you are doing without asking everyone for help? As fun and creative as teaching can be, the responsibility of educating children is too big and heavy of a task to do without support.  All those things you learned in college seem a like a lifetime ago.  So where do you go for help?  Where do you get fresh ideas?  Where do you find encouragement?  I hope you will use this website as a valued resource and share it with friends.  I hope you will contact me and tell me what you are going through so that I can provide relevant feedback and support.

Why do new teachers need support?

  1. They don’t feel prepared for the task at hand.  I recently listened to Texas’ Commissioner of Education and representatives of the Texas Education Agency at a conference. They confirmed what I see in my job as a university professor who teaches pre-service teachers how to teach:  there is a desperate need for increased support for new teachers. We can’t expect beginning teachers to do this alone!  The commissioner reported that 2016-2017 data shows unequivocally that a significant majority of first year teachers believed that their teacher education programs did not prepare them to be successful for their first year of teaching. 
  2. There is disparity between the preparation and the practice.  There is a tremendous gap between the traditional educator preparation program (or alternative certification experience) and the responsibility of being a classroom teacher.  That gap was what hit me when I closed the door and faced those 25 kindergarteners.  It’s a harsh reality check that every first year teacher encounters head on when there is no one there to own the responsibility of the situation.  No supervising teacher.  No professor.  No one.  Just you.
  3. The point of readiness is after the preparation.  Whereas my college students need to learn what I am teaching them about pedagogy, their greatest recognition of their need, their point of readiness to learn, is not until they have their own classroom.  Their time with me is too early for them to fully internalize what I teach.  Why?  They cannot wholly grasp or appreciate what I teach because they live in a student environment with a student mindset.  They are focused on the homecoming float and an exam in their history class. 
  4. Dual credit does future teachers no favors.  Students who would have entered college as freshmen a few years ago can now enter college as sophomores or juniors.  Instead of having a couple of years to mature, they come into upper level coursework and responsibilities on the first day of their university experience.  They were sitting in a high school class three months prior to admission to an educator preparation program and are expected to shift their mindset to that of a teacher. 
  5. There’s no way to simulate being a new teacher. Unfortunately, we are unable to replicate the first year of teaching.  Subsequently, clinical teachers are limited by the lack of opportunity to apply the newly learned information.   At most, they retain complete responsibility for the teaching aspect of the classroom for a week or two during clinical teaching.  It is a big step to be tasked with completely planning and implementing lessons, and grading assignments.  Yet, these are some of the more straightforward aspects of the job.  The struggle often lies in the ambiguity, weight, or the unrelenting pressure of the “other jobs as assigned”.  There is a much bigger picture for which clinical teachers have not held responsibility.  They have not faced the sizable and critical task of establishing the procedures and routines of the classroom.   They have not had sole responsibility for the RTI referrals, building classroom climate, or implementing IEPs and 504s.  Clinical teachers do not carry responsibility for benchmark and standardized test scores.  The buck never stops with the clinical teacher when it comes to appeasing the parent of that extremely high-need child or finding a way to connect with the beginner ELL. 

It’s only the classroom teacher who holds the responsibility of fulfilling the bus duty requirement, filing the CPS report, gathering data on benchmarks and disaggregating that data into a useful format and plan for individual student development based on that data.  Limited responsibility as a clinical teacher means that when that clinical teacher finally has their own classroom, there are a host of things for which they will be responsible that they have never before had to juggle. 

Why is it important to address the struggles faced by beginning teachers?  Supporting new teachers is one of the key ways to facilitate a new teacher’s ability to improve their skills more quickly so that they experience a greater degree of success and are more likely to persevere in teaching.

Our teachers:  You are incredibly important and valuable to our children and our communities.  Society needs you, our new teachers!  You often have more energy, enthusiasm, willingness to try new things, ability to change, and technological savvy than veteran teachers.  Your perseverance in the classrooms of America is critical!  Giving up, checking out, and moving on may sound like your best option, but please don’t.  Give yourself a second year.  If you give up too soon, you will miss out on an amazing career; and a whole lot of kids will miss out on someone who grows into a fabulous educator. 

Our children:   When novice teachers receive support and develop teaching skills at a quicker pace, student achievement is strengthened.  All of our children deserve great educators, but becoming and effective teacher is a process.  To keep qualified candidates in our classrooms, educator preparation programs, school districts, and states must ramp up the support provided to first year teachers, thereby improving new teacher retention and effectiveness.  That is what you will find here:  support, encouragement, advice, and research-based best practice put in terms and contexts that are meaningful, useful, and applicable to your classroom today. 

Our country:  Honestly, we are at too critical of a juncture in education in the United States to permit new teacher attrition to continue at such an alarming rate.  Recent numbers show that 44% of new teachers leave teaching in their first 5 years.  (Will,2018)  The lack of perseverance within the teaching profession is yielding an acute teacher shortage.  While improvement in working conditions and increases in pay are essential, a third dimension lurks below the surface.  There is an urgent need for professors to improve education in a practical way on a daily basis in the classrooms across America by translating educational research in an accessible, relevant way to teachers in the field. First year teachers need reminders of instruction they received in college coursework because that content has finally become relevant and even critical. 

Point of readiness

When attrition among teachers looms at the current rate and you dread Sunday night because Monday morning is coming, is this website going to make a difference to a teacher?  I think so.  Because there is a point of readiness among new and first year teachers that gives you the desire to learn and grow like never before.  You are at the ideal point of readiness to take on learning that might not have been relevant to you before.  You are in a situation in which you can apply this information and grow into a substantially stronger teacher daily. 

You may have been in one of my classes, or you may never have even heard of me, but I have that same point of readiness.  I’m ready too.  I’m ready to hear from you and help you unlock keys to teaching that will empower and equip you to be effective in your own classroom.   We are strong professionals who have an incredibly challenging task and this is a place we can meet so that you not only survive but thrive in your classroom!

Kylah Clark-Goff