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NEA:National Education Association

Great Public Schools for Every Child


What Do New Teachers Need?


Thirteen Things to Keep in Mind

From NEA's A Better Beginning

Still remember your first year of teaching? And the help you needed? Would you like to make it easier for the beginning teachers in your school? Here are some things new teachers need from their colleagues.


Back in 1987, Arizona teacher Kathy Wiebke remembers, new teachers were left on their own as they greeted the incoming Class of 2000. "It was: 'Here's the key to your room, here's the Xerox machine, here's the books. Now go at it."

Wiebke's colleague Ellen James, a new teacher that year, was assigned to a portable classroom on the outskirts of campus. Though her colleagues were a "great resource, very supportive," James describes her first-year experiences as terribly isolating. "It was a whole lot of learning from mistakes," she says.

Bridgeport, Connecticut, teacher Mary Lou Weiner agrees. She still gets butterflies when she recalls her first year of teaching 20 years ago. "There was no support," says Weiner. "It was just me and 36 fifth graders. The one in the last seat, near the cast iron heater, had a mustache." It's not that other teachers weren't friendly. There simply was no system in place for Weiner to share, vent, or cut through that feeling of isolation in her classroom.

Most new teachers today still feel isolated. And whether they stay in the profession for the long haul depends a great deal on their ability to "sink or swim" during their vital first year. Many things can help new teachers "swim," and mentoring is certainly one of the most important. Other things that can help new teachers succeed include:

bulletAdministrative support

bulletAdequate resources

bulletCollaboration and cooperative teaching formats

bulletProfessional development

bulletTips on instructional techniques and management routines

bulletKnowledge of what to expect

bulletAutonomy

bulletParticipation in decision-making

bulletPerformance feedback

bulletEmotional support

bulletObserving experienced teachers

bulletDiscussing their teaching experiences with others, both with teachers and non-teachers

bulletHandbooks with succinct, key information

Source: A Better Beginning: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive (NEA 2000). This publication, which is available for download as a "pdf" file, also includes case studies of successful mentoring programs, a "tool kit" offering survey templates, sample contract language, sample mentor training program outlines and agendas, and an extensive resource list.