by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

The new school year is just a few weeks away for many school districts. Now is a good time for mentors to make contact with new teachers to offer a listening ear and a conversation that leads to the new teacher being better prepared for the start of school.

Teaching Secrets: 10 To-Dos for New Teachers from Education Week offers good advice that we can share with the new journalism teachers we are mentoring. Writer Marsha Ratzel, who teaches middle school math and science in Blue Valley, Kansas, and has served as a disrict-wide technology and curriculum coach, hits on some of the true basics of making a successful start as a teacher.

I’m going to take her 10 tips and add some journalism-teaching suggestions.

1. Find your curriculum and read through it several times.
That may be more of a challenge for media teachers than teachers of subjects like English and history. Sometimes media teachers inherit a program or come into a school district that doesn’t have a curriculum for media classes. Although that can seem liberating to a teacher who would like the autonomy of developing his/her own teaching approach, developing a curriculum can be very time consuming. A mentor can be a great resource for helping new teachers find out what district and state curriculum standards are for teaching media.

2. Find all your supporting materials, both student and teacher copies.
Some media teachers inherit a program that will have a class set of media textbooks and a range of resource materials. Other new teachers will find the shelves to be bare. A mentor can offer advice on a collection of books and materials that would be helpful resources. If the new teacher doesn’t have school funds to purchase those materials, the school media center may be able to purchase those materials and let the teacher check them out.

3. Ask to look over last year’s yearbook.
I was pleased to see this item on the to-do list for new teachers. The yearbook is a helpful way for new teachers to get an overview of the school — the students, the faculty, the curriculum and school activities. If the new teacher is going to be advising the yearbook, the adviser will also appreciate the mentor helping narrate some of the aspects to consider in analyzng last year’s book, such as the deadline schedule and printing costs.

4. Create a birthday list for the class.
Recognizing every student’s birthday in a regular classroom (i.e., high school literature class) wouldn’t be the norm. But recognizing birthdays can be a team building activity in a media class. But I’d suggest that rather than the teacher organizing such a list that the adviser ask for a volunteer or two from  the staff to compile the list and be in charge of helping with the birthday recognition. Having a once-a-month birthday celebration would be eaiser to plan and not be as distracting.

5. Determine some sort of impartial method for calling on students during class.
Production classes aren’t typically everyone-is-sitting-at-desks-waiting-to-be-called-on kind of class. But the point here is well taken. Getting everyone to participate is a real teaching skill.  You don’t want one or two students, even if they are the editors, to dominate all class discussions. [If you’ve watched the Harry Potter series, you know Hermione Granger, who was ready to answer every question in every class.] Students who would prefer not to participate need to be encouraged. A mentor can guide a discussion with the new teacher to identify ways to promote getting all students involved.

6. Figure out how you will capture students on the first day of school.
The mentor can help the new teacher rehearse the game plan for that first day. The new teacher may not realize how demanding that first day (first week, first month) will be with what can seem like an assembly line of students passing through the classroom door every hour. So how can the new teacher cover the needed requirements that first day but capture what will be the special nature of the course. And by having students participate, the new teacher won’t wind up hoarse by fourth period from trying to lecture hour after hour.

7. Design some method to manage and keep track of daily paperwork, especially for absent students.
Veteran teachers know that this is almost an art form. Leeping up with all those assignments is particularly important for media classes. If a student is absent on a deadline day, the adviser needs to have a system so that other students will be able to find the absent student’s story or layout. Daily paperwork acutally may be digital and not paper.

8. Make an appointment to sit down with important building specialists.
One of the specialists mentioned in the article was the media specialist. This person can be a great resource for a new adviser — a source for possible stories, perhaps the person supervising some of the school’s computers, and able to help with resource materials (see #2).

9. Introduce yourself to the school secretaries, the nurse, the bookkeepers and the paraprofessionals.
Important for all new teachers but verrrry important for new media advisers. The school secretaries and the bookkeepers will be key contacts for the adviser. The secretary may be assisting with setting up yearbook group photos or being the check-with perspm when the students leave campus to sell ads (if that’s allowed at the school). Whereas most teachers have little contact with the bookkeeper, media advisers will need to set up and handle publication accounts for ad sales, yearbook sales, paying for media critiques, etc.

10. Decide where and when you will fight your battles with the kids.
Another topic for a guided conversation between the mentor and the new adviser. We can’t just give them a checklist of issues to address — even if we have a really good list that worked for us. We need to let the teacher make decisions about which are issues to take on. However, we can have that discussion to help the new teacher see why some issues really are important and may be better to establish initially than to try and change later. One I notice with the teaching assistants I work with is getting the attention of the class before starting to teach. I’ve found that some new teachers think they would be too heavy-handed to call for the class to stop checking Facebook or listening to their iPods and come to attention. But then those same teachers are frustrated because students are talking when they are trying to teach or may miss directions because they weren’t paying attention.

What additions do you have to these 10 tips?