How does a new grad to get to know hundreds of students?

new grad pd Oct 11, 2021

When I was a new graduate, and in my first year of teaching, we had a whole day of Professional Development for new graduates in similar schools in my area. It was a great day, lots of great advice about behaviour management, taking care of yourself and all the typical stuff new grads deal with, but most of the primary teachers at the PD day were classroom teachers. There was a few of us specialist teachers, language teachers, music teachers, drama teachers, but most of the room was year level, classroom teachers.

The sessions about behaviour management talked about important things we all know about, like setting clear expectations, following through with firm but fair consequences, staying calm and encouraging your students, but every discussion came back to the importance of knowing your students. Behaviour management is mostly about building a good rapport with students. Everyone seemed to agree on that. 

But in the pit of my stomach, I was overwhelmed. New to my school, I had over 300 students to get to know, and I only saw them from 30-40 minutes a week. Six months into my job, my students were still, more often than not, a sea of faces. The students whose names I did know were usually the ‘tricky’ kids. Sure going through the role I could match a students name to their face, mostly, but for too many of my students I barely knew their name, how was I meant to get to know them well enough to build rapport or reliable behaviour management?

Towards the end of the day, we had a Q&A session with a panel of experts. The group was full of experienced teachers, leading teachers, principals, assistant principals and past principals. One brave specialist graduate teacher spoke up. She explained she had over 600 students. How was she meant to get to know them in just one period a week?

You could hear a pin drop. After a moment of silence, one of the panel members finally spoke up. “You can’t.”

They shrugged their shoulders, the others agreed, then a different question was asked, and the experts moved on.

“You can’t?”

I was gobbed-smacked and guttered all at once.

All that wisdom and experience and they had nothing. I was so disheartened.

They seemed to say that it takes a new graduate at least all of their first term teaching to get to know their class and develop solid classroom management strategies. It takes a whole term worth of teaching, experience and time to establish a good rapport with 20-30 students. So how does that work when a specialist teacher may see that class one period a week? For my role, if a classroom teacher spends about five lessons a day or 25 a week with their class, for every one lesson I teach their class… in their first two weeks with their students, they spend about as much time as I will have that class for the ENTIRE YEAR!

I am convinced that if you asked any teacher, even an experienced teacher, how well they know their class after the first two weeks of school, I am pretty sure they would say they are still getting to know them. But that is all the time we get with them all year!

Part of me is angry that school admins are ok with this. That we throw new graduates into this situation, knowing full well that it is an almost impossible task. That they will struggle, and that what we ask from them is so much harder than what is asked of new graduates going into a classroom, without any extra support, mentoring or time release.

When I got back to my school, I spoke to the other specialist teachers and asked them for advice, and they were a little more helpful. They just said, “You’ll get there” and warned me that the first year is the hardest, as each year after that you only have the new foundations students to get to know. And eventually, you get to know them all. They reminded me that we specialist teachers get to teach our students every year, and we get to see them grow and change and follow their journey through primary school. It is a privilege, but it got me thinking about how much time we get with our students.

If it takes about a term to get to know your students and develop your behaviour management as a new graduate, it will take me 6.25 years to spend as much time with that student as a classroom teacher gets in one term!

I think it is a big ask. I believe language teaching really is that hard. It is not just you or me. You are not a lousy teacher. It is just that hard! And specialist teaching is, in my opinion, so much harder for new grads than classroom teaching! 

So don’t feel judged if a classroom teacher breezes in and out of your room, taking instant control of their class and making you feel bad for how little control you sometimes feel you have over their students. Or maybe that is just me! If those teachers have been teaching for more than a few weeks, they are already years ahead of where you could possibly be!

So what do we do? I think what we do is hard, so we need to have fun with it. We need to lower our expectations, and take all the cheats, all the help, all the advice we can get.

We need to firstly focus on making sure our students love learning Indonesian and are growing their love for Indonesia. We need to be modelling and building respect for people who are different to us and provide a window of insight into how different life can be around the world, and how similar all people are at the core. We need to show them what an alternative worldview looks like, so they can begin to see that how they live and think, is not the only way humans live and think.

Some things I found super helpful:

  • Have a limited assortment of activities that work for your kids and repeating them for each topic/unit. It saves you explaining how new games work, and cuts down the cognitive load required.
  • Have a well planned out lesson flow and structure.
  • Use fun rewards or special privileges, from sitting in a beanbag, to certificates and little prizes.
  • Take the time to rest and recover from class.
  • Focus on creating a relaxed, happy and fun vibe.
  • Let students see their progress. Interleave and recycle words, phrases and grammatical concepts, so they can see how much they are learning. Build on what you taught them last term so they can see their learning as valuable and integrated. They are not just memorising words and phrases, or reading information off sheets, show your students that they are learning to understand, respond and speak. They are learning to engage with people from another country.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to cover too much content. Some of the best minds in language teaching are saying less is more, even in high school language education. Do fewer topics, and cover more of the curriculum through those topics.
  • Develop a community. Join your association, join the primary teachers’ facebook group and the Edmondo group. Get support. There are so many teachers with so much experience; they won’t judge but are happy to answer questions.
  • Get a language teaching mentor. My mentor had just retired, and she was the best to chat to, to ask for advice, to check my plan and thoughts — a sounding board who took the time to reassure me.
  • Hang out with the other specialist teachers at your school. Laugh, complain and help each other out.
  • Make friends with all the classroom teachers. They want to help you teach their kids, and they do know their students and class dynamics better than you ever will. Ask them for advice, or even just be reassured that a group of students together are constant work and headache for them as well. Use the strategies they are implementing. Show your students that you and their teacher are working together and nothing will get by you! If they are struggling with a particular student or two, then usually that student will be hard work for you too!

Occasionally I find myself wishing I had my own class. Thinking I should throw this all in an apply for a classroom position. But I think there are some perks I have discovered of being a specialist teacher

  • Time to recover! Take a breath after a crazy lesson, and send them on back to their classroom! You do not have to see that group until next week!
  • A variety of students. We get to know all the good kids, all the tricky kids and everyone in between. 
  • We get to know all the children — every single student. As I walk around the school, I look around at the faces and, I know and teach them all! They all know me. They all love Indonesian. It’s almost like being a rockstar sometimes! 
  • I get to be the fun one. To teach the fun subject, and my students love Indonesian. I don’t have to teach math or spelling or all the subjects they struggle with. I get to make our classes fun, engaging and interactive.
  • I must admit that working part-time as a mum is super helpful. Most classroom teacher roles are full time, and most specialist language roles are part-time. I get to make time for my family and also occasionally use my days off to get on top of things, while still teaching. 
  • We also get to be on the journey with our students. We get to see their progress and build on it year after year. When they finally graduate, we may have taught them every year since they were tiny!
  • I also love that I get to engage them in cross-curricular activities. On any given lesson we are diving into geography, history or math. We explore Indonesian art, music, and drama. We play games, learn new sports, taste exotic food, and develop new intercultural abilities. We look at our place in Asia and how we relate to our neighbours. We teach 21st-century skills, skills that will last them a lifetime and put them in place for engaging in this globalised world. We develop empathy for others, engage with the poor, poverty, inequity and social justice issues. We tackle environmental issues, endangered species, poaching, ecosystems, palm oil production and the effect on local tribes. We look at big cities and transmigration, study politics and international relations. We do more than teach them a few sentences in a new language, memorise flashcards, or grammar points.

Because to teach languages is to teach a whole other world — such a privilege.

In the end, the advice my fellow specialist teachers gave me rings true. You will get there. The first year is the hardest, and it does get better. Although it may feel like all teachers expect you to know their class, it is impossible. You can’t get to know your students all as well as their classroom teachers do. But once you do get to know most of them, it will get easier. And then you will get to know all of them, and eventually, it will be ok. But in your first year at a new school, as a new graduate… it really is just that hard. I wish I could help more. I hope if you join up, these resources will lighten your workload, but as far as behaviour management and class control go…

You got this. 

Keep going. 

You will get there. 

And you will be amazing. 

It just might take time.

Deep breath.

It will be worth it.

I am now a few years in and the workload has reduced dramatically, behaviour management is easy and my students love learning Indonesian.

If you are a new grad now, in the middle of a pandemic, after finishing your degree, maybe even placements during remote learning, then you are already a super star. Find your tribe, get to know the other teachers, and have a go. It will get better.

Do you have any advice for new graduate teachers as they start their career teaching Indonesian?

We are about to launch our New Teachers mini course for teachers who are about to start teaching Indonesian. We go through all the basics that are helpful to be on top of when you start teaching and have lots of downloads to help you on your way.

Check out our course for more information.

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