New teachers are often interested in advice from those who have been there. In this guest post, educator and writer Kevin Nelson offers some ideas focused on tech and teaching that those new to the field might find helpful. We always welcome feedback and additional ideas, so don't hesitate to weigh in, comment, and share! – KW
Teaching is one of the toughest professions out there, as most people realize. What is even tougher is to be a newcomer in this profession. I remember how overwhelmed I was in my first months on the job … so much new information to learn and process, so many situations for which one simply cannot be prepared.
Looking back now, I can appreciate the experience of being a novice, with a fresh perspective and an open mind. As I have been growing more experienced, I have tried my best to preserve this open-mindedness and embrace all the new and exciting things that happen all the time and change our lives. Such an attitude has proved to be ever more useful, as the pace of time seems to accelerate and new technologies get introduced more often than ever.
I firmly believe that it should be the goal for every new teacher to take full advantage of new technologies. So, as the new school year approaches, I would like to share some technology-related tips with my younger colleagues:
1. Consider a professional presence in social media
As a young person, you are likely to already be an active user of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But now that you are a teacher, you can leverage these platforms as a professional. However, don’t re-format your existing profiles where you catch up with your friends to accord to your new professional needs. It would be a critical mistake to mix the personal and the professional.
So, it is best to create a separate account in one or several social media, where you will be present as a professional exclusively. There, you can post subject-related and teaching related content. If you teach science, post articles about new scientific findings. If you are an English teacher, post some interesting comments from literature and linguistic scholars, as well as your favorite bits of prose and poetry. There is always a way to let everyone know how passionate and devoted to the subject you are teaching you are. Even a PE teacher can post YouTube videos with exercises, for example.
2. Build connections
Find your colleagues and befriend / follow them. Don’t be shy to post comments and engage in conversations … this is an essential part of building your presence. I would not suggest following students on social media, as they are not likely to have separate accounts for their personal use versus their “scholastic” use, which means that, even if they allowed you to follow them, you would then be likely to see content you are probably better off not seeing!
One of the main functions of social media is to facilitate communication between people. So, make use of it. Here is what you can do:
– Whenever one of your colleague posts something interesting about your subject or school, consider commenting and engaging in discussion. This can help you to reveal your unique voice and establish your personality in the school environment;
– If you need to be absent, touch base and connect with your students by sharing your expectations (and encourage them to be nice to the sub!).
– Consider encouraging parents to follow you, to stay up with what’s going on in class, and ask questions if they wish.
Just remember to keep it school-related and stay within the frame of professional ethics.
4. Start a blog
It is true that the job of a teacher is not the one that leaves you with a lot of spare time. But admit it – you sit down and have a conversation about something that happened today with an imaginary partner every now and then. So why not make something more constructive of it and put it in written form? It does not have to be something fancy. You don’t have to be a pro webmaster. Services like Blogspot or WordPress can provide you with all the necessary tools.
Think of it as a semi-personal journal where you simply write about your job-related experiences, impressions, and ideas. Obviously, you can share your blog posts on your social media.
5. Interact with students about your online activities
You can be 100% sure that your students will gossip about your social media presence and your blog. Actually, it would be ominous if they didn’t: this would mean that you are not interesting enough to talk about. Anyway, being gossiped about behind your back is not a very pleasant thing. Instead, why don’t you ask them for a feedback? Of course, you should not be authoritative or judgmental about it, and it is your duty to inform and convince them that they can speak their minds freely. Furthermore, you can ask them to guest-post for your blog and encourage it using the means that you have as a teacher! But, once again, always stay professional about it.
6. Take advantage of online conferences
Online conferences should be nothing new to you. Thanks to the modern technologies, you can also attend professional development conferences staying in the comfort of your home or office. Back in the offline era teachers would have to spend quite some money and time just to get to one of those conferences. The older teachers actually envy the younger generation who can just plug in and participate in a distant event without actually traveling there. They didn’t have such opportunities at the dawn of their careers.
7. Be aware of purchased custom writing
If you try and google something like “write my paper for me”, you will see pages upon pages of search results with websites who offer custom writing services for a reasonable fee. You might even have at least considered using their help when you were a student yourself.
It is true that such services are more popular among college students who have a little more money to spare and a lot more written tasks assigned to them. Still, these websites also advertise services for high school students. This means that there is a demand for those services. While you cannot ensure that student won’t use these services, an open discussion about the realities of these services, and cons vs. pros of using them, is worth considering.
8. Make use of an LMS or similar tool
LMS stands for “learning management system”. These are widely used in most colleges. Many K-12 schools are also using some form of LMS, or at the minimum, a platform where teachers can have their own web page.
Basically, the LMS is a supplement to your classroom. They often include the following features:
– a forum-like environment where participants can ask and answer questions, individually or collectively;
– a variety of assessment tools;
– a way to locate and organize all available resources: links, videos, worksheets, etc.
Note that costs of an LMS can range from free to being quite costly. You should always start be learning what your school has to offer you in this regard.
9. Don’t overdo it
As you can see, new technologies can improve the school experience a great deal. They can make it both more effective and fun for students and teachers alike. However, it by no means should mean that you have to try and implement every single innovation you come to know about. You should not get carried away and use technology just for the sake of it. If you are using a particular app or website, make sure that it serves the educational purpose in the best way. If you find out that it doesn’t, than there is no point in using it.
10. Consult your school's technical staff
Today, pretty much every school tries its best to reinforce the implementation of innovative technologies and methods. However, the actual policies regulating this implementation are always individual. Some apps may be restricted to use at school, some websites may be either restricted, or not considered as authoritative sources of information.
Sometimes, you can check it yourself. But normally, a school should have an IT person who is aware of such details. This person should be ready and willing to answer all your questions and to provide help. It is also a good idea to ask these people about what other teachers use in class and how well it works for them.