At the end of my first semester as a first-year teacher, I boarded a plane to see my family for the holiday break and smiled. With the way I was walking down the aisle, you’d have thought I was an all-star athlete that had just won an important game. I was tired, but I was feeling incredibly accomplished and deserving of a break. I made it, I thought.
On the plane, I sat next to a man who asked me what I did for a living. As I attempted to share the hardships and successes of being a teacher, he paused me to ask a critical question that I will never forget: “How do you plan to improve next semester?”
What!? I thought. Has this guy been listening to me? I’d just finished the most grueling six months of my life and he asked me about preparing for next semester? My response: “I’m actually not sure.”
He then shared his philosophy of continuous improvement and how focusing on what’s next defines a great leader. In that spirit, I’d like to share five tips to help you prepare for a successful second semester:
1. Reflect Purposefully. Organize your thoughts by answering three essential questions (a t-chart with three columns works great for this exercise):
- What should I keep doing based on what I know was successful last semester?
- What should I stop doing based on what I know was unsuccessful last semester?
- What should I start doing based on what I know my students need moving forward?
Try to limit yourself to putting only 3-4 things in the start doing column. Seriously, you only have so much time and don’t want to overwhelm yourself.
2. Stack the Deck. What items on the start doing list get you most excited about second semester? Start there. Fuel your work by doing something that you know will help you get an early win. I’m all about setting the bar high; however, your first step needs to be something that you are excited about and that will be a guaranteed success. It will build momentum for both you and your students going into second semester.
3. Dissolve Bad Habits. Look at that middle column of your reflection. You likely developed some bad habits during your first semester of teaching. Maybe you allowed yourself to be distracted by your email during class time or chatted in the teachers’ lounge during your planning time. At the end of every day during my first semester as a teacher, I’d straighten all of the desks, write the objective on the board, go make my copies for the next day, and begin prepping the materials. In my second semester, I had my last period class do some of these tasks. I created more student jobs, fine-tuned routines, started making my copies for the next day the morning before, and even set myself a timer during my planning periods, so I’d stay on track. What can you commit to stop doing to save yourself time?
4. Lean Forward and Listen. The second semester is a unique opportunity to make up for lost time and build relationships you didn’t develop during the first semester. It requires that you lean forward and listen. Think of the three most challenging students you had last semester. What do you really want to know about them and what will help them learn? To find out, you might need to reach out to a past teacher of theirs, or simply schedule a lunch meeting with them. Be purposeful in letting each of these students know that you are excited to see them, that you want help them achieve their goals (even if they are unable to articulate these just yet), and that you are committed to improving as their teacher. These conversations define the relationship you have with students.
5. Plan for Rejuvenation. Teaching is hard. You know this now. So take time to plan for your rejuvenation. Hopefully you’ve discovered what helps you re-energize— either between classes or from week to week. If not, start there. If so, put time on your schedule to purposefully rejuvenate. Maybe it’s a run after work, trying your hand at a new recipe a few times a week, or heading out for tea with friends. No matter what they are, scheduling these activities will help you feel resolved to have time for yourself and will prevent the all-too-common need to talk about/think about needing a break (which can drain time and energy). You know you will need breaks, so plan for them now.
Teachers, you don’t hear this enough: you’re doing the most important work of our time. You accomplished great things last semester, and your students are better because of YOU. Now, use these last few days before students arrive to reflect and plan for an even better semester.
Calvin Stocker supports Teaching Excellence’s internal and external initiatives to provide exceptional coaching, professional development, partnership engagement, and certification compliance for novice teachers. Calvin aspires to continue strengthening TE’s partnerships with Teacher2, Uplift Education, KIPP Houston, and Spring Branch ISD in an effort to transform the impact of a teacher in year one and beyond. He is continuously humbled to watch first-year teachers endure challenges while providing all students across Houston with the education they deserve.