Bits from the Board - Advice to New Teachers from the NCSS Board of Directors

By Sue Blanchette posted 09-05-2011 08:41:18 PM


There is nothing more terrifying or exhilarating than facing a class on the first day of school. It doesn’t matter what grade, what subject or what school – the heart begins to pound at all the possibilities for the coming year. Stepping up to the white board as an educator for the first time is a leap of faith, a jump into the unknown. NCSS board members have all “been there, done that” so they offer some truisms based on knowledge and experience in the hopes that a novice teacher will find them reassuring.

From Steve Goldberg: NCSS president   2010-2011

Engagement – Probably the greatest challenge we have as educators is to engage our students. Among the many ways we can do this is to promote an effective “Do Now” activity as a hook. This could be a short document, a political cartoon or a photograph for practice. It could be an item in the news that ties into a topic for that day. If technology allows, showing a brief news clip or the front page of the paper may trigger discussion and then slide into the discussion topic of the day.

From Mert Martens: NCSS board member   2008–2011

Humor helps – Cartoons can be used to reduce test stress. Insert a cartoon into a test to give students a moment of relaxation and break during a test. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself with students. We all make mistakes and most of them are humorous to students. Let them know you have a sense of humor.

From Karen Burgard – NCSS board member    2008-2011

Don’t forget your fellow teachers – Make sure to always think of your colleagues as resources. Ask them for ideas and creative lessons to share with you and offer to share your creative ideas with them as well. This collaboration will take you far in teaching and in life.

From Anton Schulzki: Chair of the 2010 Steering Committee of the House of Delegates/high school teacher

Communication with parents – Set up and maintain a web page for communication with students, parents and administration.  It becomes a great place to post class notes, syllabi, assignments, readings and even a way to turn in work. To begin, try It costs $20/year to do an individual site, a good alternative if your school does not have such a way to communicate with parents.

From Elyse Poller: NCSS board member   2011-2014

This and that –

  • Keep your sense of humor healthy.  It will be more important than anything else you have.
  • Stay focused on the students – get them excited about being at school / learning.  Imagine being them – would you be having fun learning? If not, make some changes.
  • Keep learning – if you don’t, you’ll fall behind.  Take the time for professional development – it keeps you stimulated and growing.
  • Remember that you have many students in your classes, but parents have just that one -  and they might have a blind spot about him/her.  Try to shift all conversations to allow you to work together as a team for the student’s success.  Be sensitive to their point of view while sharing your perspective / experience / needs.
  • You NEVER know what impact something you say/do will have on a student (or colleague), so try to stay positive and supportive.

From Karen Muir: NCSS board member   2008-2011

Engage – Begin by making the connection between what you are teaching and the students’ lives. A supervisor once told me “You have to get them hooked.” Start your class with a hook – an introductory activity that could be a photograph, an artifact, a startling fact, a quotation to engage their imagination and then watch out!

From Beth Ratway: NCSS board member    2008-2011

Primary sources – Primary sources are not hard to find. Try this site for doing historical investigation with primary sources.

From Mike Koren: NCSS board member   2007-2010 and NCSS Middle School Teacher of the Year 2010

Begin to build confidence with parents and your class – Early in the year, send home a positive, hand written note to every parent about their child. Later in the year, if you need to contact the parent about an issue, the parent will likely be more willing to work with you.

From Roxanna Mechem: NCSS board member   2009-2012

The many faces of George – To help your student understand point of view and go beyond a surface understanding of George Washington, try this. Create life-size cardboard “outfits” to represent the various roles of George Washington [farmer, soldier, president . . .]. As students stand behind the cardboard cutout, ask how that role might have influenced his thinking. Soon the students will begin to understand how these roles affected his decisions.

From Syd Golston: NCSS president   2009-2010

Primary Sources jigsaw – Put students in groups of 4, then give each student a separate primary source of similar length. Everyone reads their own, then shares the content with the others in the group to see if they can find a common thread linking the sources.

From Nan Jones: NCSS board member   2007-2010

Strategies to consider – Timelines are a good way to link events and time for the students. Possible topics might include events leading up to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, events in Hitler’s rise to power, events leading to the US Civil War, major events of either the European or Pacific theaters of World War II.

From Michelle Herczog: NCSS board member   2009-2012

Graphic organizers – Using graphic organizers to help students organize information and also develop critical thinking and analytical skills is a good idea to integrate into your classroom. Graphic organizers to help in your classroom might be : cause and effect, chronological sequence, compare and contrast and deliberation organizers.

From Melissa Collum: NCSS board member   2010-2013

Always check the “Mindset List” (the list that tells what happened prior to your students birth) so you can reference what happened in your students’ lives and not yours. Never put the tissue box on your desk;  always put it as far away from you as possible. Find some place other than the “teacher’s lounge” to eat lunch as it is toxic in more ways than one. Never, ever, loan anything from your personal collection of classroom supplies to a student and when you loan items from the “classroom set of supplies” always ask for collateral - the best options are either their driver’s license or one shoe! – you will always get your supplies back! Play rock ‘n roll in your classroom during passing time to calm your nerves and make them think you are cool. Always over plan! Especially when you lecture. Never be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer and let’s find out together. Remember during parent teacher conferences -  this is their child’s only opportunity at an education! Most importantly, thank your students at the end of every class period for attending and learning because without them you don’t have a job.

From Sue Blanchette: NCSS president  2011-2012 and NCSS Secondary Teacher of the Year 2000

Have faith in yourself – There will be good days and bad days, but just remember that everyone had a first year. That teacher down the hall who looks like she has it all together was once a struggling newbie! Make time for yourself or you will burn out quickly.