New-Teacher Polish: 4 Changes You Can Make

By Sarah Guthery and Amy Corp
Dr. Guthery is an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University Commerce, where her research and teaching focus on new-teacher training. She also supervises new teachers in schools.

Dr. Corp is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University Commerce. She teaches courses in elementary education. She mentors student teachers to integrate and use hands-on activities like makerspace. Previously she taught as an elementary teacher in Texas, Michigan, and Georgia.

The beginning of the year is exciting and wonderful, but are you feeling overwhelmed? As you look around, sometimes you may feel like everyone has it together except you. Based on our experience in training new teachers, we have noticed four high-impact changes new teachers can make to look more polished and organized.

1. First 5: Teachers are the most visible to parents in the first and last 5 minutes of the school day. You want to be sure you present a confident, calm presence. Morning routines are crucial to having your class run smoothly (Freiberg, 2002). Create a system that students can navigate independently for attendance, unpacking bags, turning in homework, and collecting notes from home. Ideally, your class can run without you for 5 minutes in the morning, and you can focus on greeting parents and students.

2. Last 5: At the end of the day, make packing up homework and backpacks the second-to-last thing you do. It is too chaotic to pack up bags, distribute homework and last-minute notes, and be out the door just as the bell rings. Instead, pack up 15 minutes early; then you can read aloud or play a class-review game in the last 5 minutes, to end the day on a calm note. Should anyone drop in early, their only impression of your classroom is a smooth, organized environment.

3. Bulletin boards: Often your bulletin board feels like one more thing to do, but it really is an opportunity to communicate the character of your classroom. As you plan your unit of instruction, identify one activity that you can feature on your display. As you teach, document group work and active learning lessons by taking pictures for the bulletin board. Ideally, your bulletin board is a display of student learning during instruction. Bulletin boards can create a classroom atmosphere that celebrates both student collaboration and instructional achievement. Display your students’ high-quality work, because praise from peers, parents, and administrators is motivating for both you and your students.

4. Kick the clutter: Many new teachers inherit plenty of resources that have been gathering in their room for a long time. Keep it simple: Leave some clean, empty spaces on the walls and countertops. Complete the professional look by using identical organizers for students’ desks and worktables. Many students concentrate better in a room without clutter, improving the workspace for everyone (Brennan & Parsons, 2014). As part of the end-of-class routine, encourage students to be responsible for their own area by using the organizers.

As you prioritize all the things on your to-do list, consider what areas are framing your principal’s and parents’ judgment of your practices. Often a small change in a high-impact area can be as transformative as hours spent reorganizing. From our experience observing in classrooms, these practices can make a novice teacher look like a polished practitioner.
Reference
Brennan, N., & Parsons, J. (2014). Teaching children with ADHD. Canadian Children, 39(2), 37–38.

Freiberg, H. J. (2002). Essential skills for new teachers. Educational Leadership, 59(6), 56–60