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Essentials for the New Early Childhood Teacher

Essentials for the New Early Childhood Teacher
Amber Tankersley, PhD
October 10, 2018

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Editor’s note: This text-based course is an edited transcript of the webinar, Essentials for the New Early Childhood Teacherpresented by Amber Tankersley, PhD.

Learning Outcomes

After this course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify important background knowledge for a new teacher.
  • Identify key tasks to complete as a new teacher.
  • Name three important things to plan for a successful transition into his/her role as a new teacher.

Introduction

I'm happy to talk about something that I deal with on a daily basis as I prepare students to go out into their new professions. I'm excited to share information for new beginning teachers and possibly for those who mentor or provide training for new teachers because it's certainly a community of people that help prepare our early childhood workforce in a variety of settings. In my job, I prepare my students to go out into new practicum and internship situations and help orient them into our preschool program when they're doing their student teaching. All of those experiences are great, but they don't always prepare you for that first job when you are stepping into a new facility, program, or classroom and you are the teacher or the new early childhood professional in that situation. I really like to orient new people into our program. I also like to help other people see what needs to be done to help these new professionals in their new role. There's certainly not a handbook that prepares you for becoming a new teacher or a new early childhood professional. At the end of this session, you will be able to identify important background knowledge for a new teacher, or what I like to think of as what you need to know. In addition, you will be able to identify key tasks that you need to complete as a new teacher, or what you need to do. Also, you will be able to name important things to help you plan for a successful transition into your role as a new teacher, or what you need to plan. Putting these all together will help you make sense of a new job before you get the new job, as you're beginning, or even half-way through the first month of a new job. This will also help you figure out what you should be digging for and trying to find out to make you more successful as a new teacher and a new early childhood professional.

What You Need to Know

Background of the Program

So you've just landed a job in an early childhood program or a school. Hopefully, this information will help ease your nerves and help you settle in a little bit. It's important to realize that you won't be told everything that you need to know about your new school or your new program in the orientation or in a handbook that you may be provided. There are a lot of things that you have to seek out on your own, make the best of what you're given, and roll with it so that you can be very successful in this new role. We'll start with what you need to know. Whether you're seeking a job or in a new position, I would suggest that you seek out information and find what you need to know. We don't always know what we need to know. You have to ask a lot of questions. There are people that tell you there's no such thing as a bad question or a dumb question. That's really true because if you don't know something, you have to find out and you're going to have to ask somebody to get that answer. Here are some things that you need to find out about or ask questions about if you don't know.

One is the background of the program. You need to be well versed in the history of the program. Hopefully, when you're applying for a position, you do some of this research beforehand to find out if it's a good fit for you. But if you've already been hired and are working in the program, this information becomes important to you in a different way. It really helps set the tone for all your other planning and all the other questions that you're going to end up having. Find out about the history or the mission of a program and their philosophy. Great ways to discover this information are through the organization, school, or the program's website. Read the handbooks and brochures that they may provide. It's a good idea to get an idea of who they feel they are and what type of image they portray to the community or to the families. It will help you settle in and feel at home in a program when you really understand their purpose. You can also ask questions of current employees including what they feel the mission is or what they see is the mission. This will give you an idea of how well that idea permeates through the organization.

Another thing about the background of the program is to learn a little bit about the staff. It's important to figure out who's who, who you're going to be working with, who is in charge, what's the hierarchy, who's the school board president, who's the principal, who's the assistant principal, or who's the director or on the board of directors. It's important to understand that hierarchy and you may find a list of who's who and what their roles are, but it may be important for you to get a little bit more information to understand their roles and to figure out how their roles impact what you do in your day to day dealings.

Another thing that you may need to do a little research on is about the curriculum that the program or the school uses. This will be different in every single setting. I prepare my students to go out and ask a lot of questions about what type of curriculum is being used in a particular setting. I can't prepare my students to be well versed in all the different types of curriculum that are out there, but I can prepare my students to ask the right questions to find out what they believe in, what they think is important for young children to learn, and how they go about implementing that. This helps them have an idea of how they're going to work within a particular curriculum.

Knowing about a program's history, mission, philosophy, and their curriculum may also help you make sure that you're a good fit for the program. Early in my career, I interviewed at a program and it was one of the first interviews I had ever had. I was newly married and certainly needed a job. I went on this interview and I learned a lot about this program that I didn't know and I didn't feel a good fit. I knew that it didn't fit with what my beliefs were regarding early childhood and while I enjoyed the experience and it was a great opportunity to figure out how to go through an interview experience, I figured out that that wasn't the place for me. Hopefully, as we interview and as we visit programs, we find our fit. We figure out where we fit the best to make sure that we're in a good place for us so that we can do the best that we can for the children that will be in our classrooms and in our programs.

Regulations

Another bit of information that's really important to understand is the regulations that come about from the program that you are working in. Regulations will be different depending on if you're in a public school system, a private school, an early childhood facility, or a preschool facility. There will be many different types of regulations, but there are certain places that you will most likely find this information. You will find a lot of great information about what you're supposed to do, including policies and procedures, in the staff handbook. You may also find a lot of great information in the handbooks that are provided to families. Many programs will post their family handbooks on their website so that families have easy access to it. That helps you know what the families are told about the program so that you can explain policies to families, back up what a program or a school has specified as their regulations or their policies and procedures to the family, and understand what is expected of the families. Another set of really important documents is licensing and accreditation handbooks. These documents give you more information about the rules that the entire program has to follow in order to stay operating. These may be the district or state licensing guidelines and provide a lot of information that you need to be familiar with.

Some of the regulations that you may find in these essential type of handbooks are information about your health. You might find regulations about what type of information you need to provide to show you are a healthy individual that can work with children. It may also cover topics such as:

  • When would I not be able to come to work because I was sick? 
  • What are the exclusion criteria for employees?
  • What are the initial requirements?
  • Do I have to have a TB test?
  • Do I have to have a background screening?
  • Do I have to have a medical physical exam?

These are all things that you would find within those handbooks and in the regulations. You will also probably find information about what a facility or program does in the event of an emergency, such as a fire, tornadoes, intruders, power failures, missing children, or severe weather. It's important for people to understand the procedures and policies related to emergency plans because people are entrusting us to take care of their children and teach their children. We need to make sure that we can fully do that. Knowing the regulations related to the fire code can be really important. It's important to know the fire code for the facility that you work in because it may impact your room arrangement. Can I put furnishings within so many feet of a door because it might block an exit? Thinking about the decorations that I have in my classroom, can I have things hanging close to my door? If it's not fire retardant it might impede children being able to exit in the event of an emergency. You really need to be aware of and understand the reasoning behind some of the regulations. You may need to prove that you are first aid and CPR certified. If you aren't, you may have to get training in order to satisfy that requirement for a facility that you're working in. Something that is certainly not happening in early childhood childcare programs is medication administration. Often programs don't have a nurse that you can send children to for their medication throughout the day if they are on antibiotics or something. We have to go through training to make sure that only certain people can administer medication and there are steps and procedures that have to be followed. Those are things that you will probably be told, but it's good to have an idea of that up front, even before somebody starts training you. You may have additional training that you have to do, such as modules or face-to-face meetings to make sure that you do understand the regulations that are involved in the program that you're working in. In the state that I work in, people in licensed facilities often have to meet with the licensing surveyor to make sure that they understand the licensing requirements. I think this is a good idea because it does help you clarify why we do some of the things that we do in our business.

Key Policies & Procedures

Let's look at some key policies and procedures. These may be building specific or program specific.

Forms

One thing that's important is to figure out all of the forms that you may need to fill out, whether it's to get an email address or get keys made for a classroom or for a storage shed. It's helpful to know who to go to, know the types of forms that may be required of you, and to be very efficient and on top of getting those completed and turned in in a timely fashion.

Passwords/codes

You may need passwords and codes for your email, to get into doors, to disarm alarm systems, or to use the phone. I remember trying to transfer a call and I didn't know what buttons to push because nobody trained me on how to use the codes on the phone. Those are things to be aware of. It's easy for us as new employees to say, oh I don't know that I'm new here. But after a while, you do have to know those things. The copier may have a code. Be aware of things that people may forget to tell you because it seems so commonplace and every day to them. Mention it to somebody who's training you or to a coworker and ask, "How do I get a code?" 

Enrollment procedures

Be aware of enrollment procedures. It may not be your job to enroll children into the program, but it is a good idea to at least know the process because you may be asked the process by a family. You may be asked the process by somebody that meets you and knows that you work in a particular facility. Knowing the enrollment procedures is a key aspect of what you do in your job.

Guidance policies

Be aware of the guidance policies. Knowing what is acceptable within your everyday work with children in terms of guidance is important. Is there a token system? Is there a system of time-out? Does the program primarily use redirection? Be aware of the guidance policy so that you can adapt and set that for your work with the children.

Dress code

Be aware of the dress code. Dress codes can vary tremendously between programs and facilities and schools. Be aware of what is commonplace where you work. Is it acceptable for everybody to wear jeans on Fridays? Or is there a scrub top that everybody wears and you pick a color and you wear the same color every day? Being aware of those types of situations within programs is really important.

Program-wide routines

Be aware of program-wide routines. Again, the schedules and the routines that happen in a program sometimes seem hidden at first because you're not in the mix. You're not in that day to day flow of having to understand what classrooms go to lunch at a certain time and how many children can be on the playground at the same time. It's important to know about routines like outside time on the playground and if a classroom of two-year-olds can be outside at the same time that I have my three- to five-year-old preschoolers out. Be aware of what the nap time policies are if you're in a facility that has a nap time. Be aware of the meal policies and procedures and the times when they happen. You're going to have to coordinate the transition of being served meals or moving to a cafeteria. Often there are shift changes for support staff. Find out when assistants come in and out of classrooms and when administrative assistants are available. Be aware of those routines so that you can accommodate that in your day to day work. Find out if and when you get a break and how long of a break. 

Communication

Communication is another thing to really look into early on because you'll want to communicate with families. It's very important to know what the rules are related to your use of social media, especially your use of social media identifying yourself as a staff member or identifying yourself as part of a program or part of a school. Some questions to ask include:

  • Are there regular emails that are sent out?
  • Can you email families individually?
  • What are the policies for that?
  • Do you have to send a copy to an administrator so that they know what kind of communication is being sent back and forth?
  • Is there a program-wide newsletter that all staff contributes to? 
  • Is there an option for you to have a newsletter in your own classroom?

When I started working where I am now, our preschool teacher did a daily newsletter, every day of the week for two sessions of preschool. Most of what she did all day long was fix and create things for a newsletter. We decided that a weekly newsletter that highlighted different aspects of the week seemed like a much better fit. If you are new and your program doesn't have a newsletter, I wouldn't go in thinking, I'm going to do one every day. Start small, if there's not a newsletter in place, and build it so that you don't become overwhelmed or bogged down with just doing the newsletter every day. It's also important to figure out what's the best way to communicate with families. It may be through phone calls or through text messages. Some programs and schools use a lot of text messaging, while others still feel that that's probably not the most appropriate way to communicate with families.

Photos

Be aware of the photo guidelines. Is it permissible for you to take photos of children in your classroom or in the program for your personal use? Is it permissible to use those pictures for displays within the classroom or within the hallways of the program? Make sure that you truly understand what the use policy is so that you don't misstep and assume that you can take photos of all the children and use them however you want.  

Budget

Be aware of budgeting issues and how you get funding for things in your classroom. Find out about the fundraising policies. Are you able to participate in a fundraiser just for your classroom for a particular material or item? It's good to find out these things before you choose to embark on a fundraising activity.

Field trips and visitors

Field trips and visitors can be interesting. It's best to look and see if there's a policy in place and find out how you schedule a field trip. Is it permissible to take a field trip off the campus of your program or school or is it something that you can only walk to. Figure out what the policies and procedures are there for inviting visitors in. Do they have to have a background screening? Can we invite anyone? It's also important to find out if there are any prearranged field trips. One of my friends who was teaching in a new program found out at the last minute that there was an entire program-wide field trip to a pumpkin patch that she wasn't prepared for. Had she have known, she probably would have prepared for that a little bit better. It's good to know up front if there's something that the entire program or all classrooms of a certain grade participate in.

Holidays and parties

Holidays and parties are another fun aspect of programs and schools, but can also be a little tricky because of social and cultural appropriateness of parties. Make sure that it is permissible to celebrate holidays within the classroom. Do you have to celebrate every holiday? How may they be celebrated? Can you have parties? Do you have a party for each holiday that comes your way or is it just a Valentine party that you celebrate friendship and everybody passes out Valentines to the children in the classroom? Know how these are handled in the program that you work in. I worked in a program where we didn't celebrate Halloween because it was not culturally appropriate for every child. We also found that children were really excited about Halloween and we didn't want to fuel that crazy excitement and try to contain children for several hours during a day. Instead of a holiday or a Halloween party, we did a pajama party. It gave the kids a chance to dress up and do something different, but it wasn't as overstimulating as a Halloween party would have been.

Lesson planning

Think about what are the policies and procedures that are related to your lesson planning. Are you required to write lesson plans? Are you required to follow a particular curriculum? If so, within those lesson plans and within that curriculum, are there certain standards that you have to address in a certain time frame? Or are there certain standards that you're addressing that you're using? Is it a program that uses a commercial curriculum that has standards that go with it or are you following your state standards or district standards? Those are things that you have to find out. Is there a particular format for your lesson plan or can it be any format that you find that works best for you? Are there restricted activities such as using food items in an activity? What about using consumable materials, is there something that's restricted? Am I allowed to do crafts? It's also good to find out if those lesson plans need to be submitted or posted somewhere. In the program that I direct, our lesson plans, either by our lead preschool teacher or by our student teachers, are put in what we call The Book. This is a notebook that houses the daily activity plans and the lesson plans for each activity that's listed. When our licensing specialists come in, they know to look at that. It serves as documentation for us as a written record of all of our lessons. When I was in my classroom, the program I worked in required us to post our lesson plans. I posted my lesson plans on a bulletin board outside my door. I would often have families ask, "What are these?"  I would then explain to them that they were my lesson plans, including the fabulous things that their children were learning in the classroom. Families really were interested in that. It's good to know what you are required to do and it also gives you some ideas of some things you might do if it's not required to submit them or post them. You may choose to do that to share with people the awesome things that you're planning and the great things that children are doing in your classrooms.

Important Program Events & Dates

Another bit of information about what you need to know is important program dates and events. Find out if your program closes for particular holidays, such as a spring break or a fall break. What holidays are you closed for or that maybe you get out for a half a day? Are there open houses that you are required to be in attendance before school starts, or maybe midway through a semester or through a school year. Are there dates set aside for parent/teacher conferences? It's good to look at a calendar for the program to see if those main dates are in there. If not, ask about them. There's probably something that didn't make it on a calendar that you're going to need to know about, such as when the book fair is so that you know how to get your kids down the hallway without everybody wanting to stop and look at the latest books that are available. If there are program-wide field trips that programs or schools are participating in, find out the days for those. Are there dates that you have to do a bulletin board or a display? That's always a scary thing when you realize, oh hey it's your turn to do the bulletin board and you didn't know it was your turn to do it. That can be a little shocking. Find out if it's time for you to do the newsletter or time for you to do a display. Are there community events that your school or program is required to participate in? If there's a community fair or a career fair that you're expected to participate in, make sure that you have those dates early on so that you're not surprised later. Find out if there are professional development opportunities. When are the staff meetings? Is there a staff meeting every week or every month? Are there trainings offered through the program? Am I allowed to go attend trainings? Or are there trainings that we close the program so everybody can attend a particular event or training that goes along with our curriculum or a national conference? Find out when those opportunities are so that you can plan for them and best prepare yourself how to take advantage of those opportunities. It's probably a good idea to figure out who makes the overall schedule and how do you schedule an activity for the entire program or for your classroom or for your part of the program. There's usually somebody who is the overall calendar master.  It's really helpful to find out how to get something on the calendar and get something out to families or schedule something that maybe they've never had scheduled before. It's always nice to have new people in a program that have great ideas of awesome activities for the program to participate in as a whole.

Advice, Mentoring & Networking

Another part of what you need to know is where to go to for support. Not just advice or to ask about the copier code or what do I do if a child does this, but somebody that can really support you as a professional. You need somebody who can answer your questions. I joke and say you need to know where to go for caffeine and chocolate because there's always a coworker that has a great stash of snacks that you may need during the day. Often new programs and schools will assign a mentor within a program. I've been a mentor myself. But that person doesn't always tell you everything that you need to know. They may tell it to you or explain it to you with a different spin. While you may have a mentor within the program, you may also want to seek out an unofficial mentor, again within the program, or seek out an unofficial mentor outside of the program. This might be somebody in a similar type position at another program or another school.

Another thing that I suggest in terms of advice and getting ideas is to visit other classrooms and programs. Not only other classrooms within your own program or school, but actually go to similar or very dissimilar schools from your own to get ideas of how people do their classroom set up, arrangements, or bulletin boards. It's really helpful to get ideas and that helps you be better prepared to do your job. So it's in a sense, networking and advice, but it's you seeking that out by observing other placements. Invite people to your classroom. Anytime that I rearranged my classroom, I went and got Debbie who was our veteran teacher and had been there the longest. I would ask Debbie to come over and look at my classroom and tell me what she thought and if the setup was going to work. Usually, she'd say, "Well, give it some time. It might work, but you might want to try this a little bit differently. Just try it and see if it works." Or she might say, "Oh no, you don't want to do that. I've tried that before and this is what you're going to encounter." It's good to have people come and see what you're about because that's a great way to give you advice and make you feel supported. 

It's good to get to know all of the staff, including the support staff, whether it is the custodian, an administrative specialist, or the elevator repairman. Figure out who is who, what they do, and how they can help you. It's great to get contact information and to know people a little bit better. I have a spreadsheet that one of our staff members from the department I work in put together and it's lists people's favorite snack and favorite color. This gives us a little bit of information about each other and how to support one another.

Another place to find support is to join a professional organization. Sometimes the cost is a little expensive and may keep new professionals from being able to join professional organizations. There are some less expensive ways that may require a little bit more searching, but there are many blogs and people who post frequently on social media that may be supportive to you. This is a great way to see what other people are doing and a great way to connect with people from all over the place to learn a little bit more about people who do the same type of job. They may have suggestions and you may be able to post questions and get answers. This might help you realize that there are other people who are having similar issues that may really be supportive of you. You also might be able to find a local support group for teachers of pre-k or a director support group. It's nice to find local support and people who have similar issues and similar passions to get together to talk about your work and how you do things. We get so many great ideas by just talking with other people.

Continuing education, whether it's taking a workshop or watching a webinar or going to a conference, is a great way for you to feel supported, get new information, and be rejuvenated to help you do your job in the best possible manner. When you find people to give you advice, mentors, and networking opportunities, ask tons of questions. Avoid negative people. If somebody is complaining about their job or complaining about the A-troop that they work with, stay away from them. You don't need that type of drama. You don't need the gossip. Stay away from negativity because you need to do what is positive for you to be successful in your new endeavor. Now that we've talked about what you need to know, you need to realize, okay, I'm new. I'm going to make mistakes. You can blame things on your newness for a while, but then you really have to own up to the fact that you are a professional and there are many things that you need to be prepared to do.

What You Need to Do

Get to Know Physical Environment

That's what we're going to talk about now, what you need to do. Hopefully, some of these are things that you would do before your first day or shortly thereafter. These are some things that you need to take care of. The first thing that I recommend doing for anybody that has a new job in a program or classroom is to get to know the physical environment. I remember my first job in a three- to five-year-old classroom on a college campus, I was hired one week and I was starting the next week without children to prepare the classroom. I went in at the end of the week that I was hired, got keys to my classroom, walked in, sat down, and just had this tremendous feeling of being overwhelmed. I think I had some tears in my eyes because I wasn't really sure where to start. I did look over and realize that I had inherited a gerbil in my classroom named Fred who had a broken tail. So Fred and I sat there for a little bit and we tried to get to know the classroom. I looked around to see what was available, what furniture I had, and what built-in storage space I had. You have to really become one with your classroom. You have to look at all the nooks and crannies and see what it truly available in your classroom. You also have to go around and look at the program and get an idea of what is within the program. What does the cafeteria look like? What does the kitchen look like? What does the playground look like? Are there storage rooms? Are there janitor closets that you can get into? You really have to get to know the layout and understand where things are kept.

You have to better understand shared spaces. I worked with one teacher who shared her classroom with me in the mornings. We had a staggered schedule so all the children started in her classroom and all the children ended in her classroom, but throughout the day, we went to our separate classrooms. She had to figure out how to share her space with multiple teachers and multiple children that were not her main priority during the day. If you have a shared space, it's important to figure out how to use that shared space. You also want to find out what furniture is available. I didn't understand until I was not the new teacher anymore and we had a new teacher coming in that the furniture in my classroom was pretty much what people didn't want. I hope they don't do this everywhere, but before I came in as a new person, they took the best furniture out of my classroom and put in the awkwardly sized block shelf that you can't move unless you take all the blocks off. I had the odd things left in my classroom. It's important to know what furniture you have available and ask if there is a shelving system that's not being used that you can get out of a classroom that might not use it. Find out what's available.

Clean everything. It makes you feel good to start fresh. When you clean things, you find things, including if something's broken. It's important to clean your physical environment even though there's probably a custodian or somebody that's doing that for you as well. It will make you feel like you understand the ins and outs of that classroom better, or that program better. Organize things. Make piles of things that you know you want to keep, things you're not sure what to do with, and things that you think you probably have to keep in your room but are still not sure what to do with them. Make another pile of things that you can throw away because you don't need them. Organize it and have somebody help you figure out what to do with the piles that you've made. Then figure out how to store things. Create labels so that you know where you've put things and know what's in this drawer and that storage cabinet. It will help you and help other people who may be in your classroom or your program as well to be able to find things. Tour and snoop around with caution. Obviously, you don't want to be nosy, but you do have to come to understand the program that you're working in. When I orient our practicum students into our preschool, I tell them that you're not at somebody's house where you can't open drawers and cabinets. Feel free to open the drawers and cabinets because you have to know where things are. You have to know where the masking tape and hole punchers are kept. You may not be told where those are. You may have to just find where those are, so it's best to kind of figure out where things are beforehand. So getting to know the physical environment is really important.

Get to Know Children and Families

Getting to know the children and families is also really important. You need to figure out what information is kept in the children's files. Figure out those really important pieces that you need to know, like allergies, food restrictions, and custody arrangements. Find out if the children's files are kept in the main office or if you have copies of those in your classroom or in a file cabinet. Obviously, those are protected and very confidential. We have to maintain those in a very organized manner, but find out the information that you need to know about the children before they're in your classroom. Welcome the families. We have to make the families feel welcome because when they feel welcome they're more likely to talk with us and give us more information about their child and how their family functions. It's also great to introduce yourself to the families, whether it's a through a sheet that you send home or a display you make. You might have a website that would help families understand better who you are. You might have little cards. Not just a business card, but a card that tells a little bit about who you are, how to get in touch with you, and what your philosophy is for working with this age group. There are many ways to get to know the children and their families including calling the families or sending emails or inviting them to an open house to better understand what it is that you do within the classroom. You might invite families to meals or invite them for visits or to volunteer with a program or volunteer within the classroom. Those are great ways to get to know children and families. Those relationships are key and if you start off on a good note and you feel connected to the families and they feel connected to you, their children will be way more successful than if they don't have that connection. In our program, we use an "All About Me” sheet (see Figure 1). It gives us a little bit of information about who lives at home with the child and includes the child’s nicknames, names and ages of siblings, and if there are pets. These are things that are sometimes repeated on our enrollment forms, but this is a good quick place for us to go to find out many things.  For example, has the child been cared for outside the home? How did they do with that? What are the types of games they like to play? What foods don't they like? What are their favorite toys? What do the families do? What fears might this child have? I used to always tell families, let me know anything that would make life easier if I knew about your child, like if your child is terrified of thunderstorms. Thunder sounds very different in our building and I want to be prepared for this child who might have a little bit of a stress because they're hearing thunder. Sometimes families don't think about telling us those little nuances about their children and those are the things that we really need to know to help make a successful experience for their children.

Sample All about me activity form for early childhood education

Figure 1. All About Me.

Inventory

Another thing that helps you get to know the program and things to do is to take an inventory. Again, as you get to know your classroom or program, look at the furnishings and furniture and figure out what's available to you. In addition to this, find out what materials you have, including toys, construction paper, and other consumables. Is there a supply closet where you can go and refill your glue? You have to take an inventory to see what books and what teaching resources are available. We have a lot of children's books available in our lead preschool teacher's office which our students use on a regular basis. Sometimes you have to figure out a way to maintain those in an organized fashion so that you can find what you need. That may be some organization that you need to work on. You need to see what technology resources are available. Is there a computer in your classroom or is there a computer for planning? Do you get a laptop? Are there cameras for use or is it okay for you to take pictures on your phone or use your own device? Is there a laminator or do you have to send things to another place to have them laminated or are you responsible for laminating things on your own? My favorites are die cut machine. Are there other tools that would help you as a teacher be prepared and help you plan great experiences for children within your classroom? In addition to finding out all of these things, you have to find where these things are. You have to be aware of how to restock your classroom consumables. Is it up to you to ration your construction paper throughout the year? Are you only allotted so much paint or so many markers? Be aware of how you get the supplies that you need. Do families bring supplies? Are you able to purchase supplies? What's the purchasing process if you can purchase things with school funds? Find supplies sources. If you know that you need toothbrushes for something, you might find a local dentist that's going to donate toothbrushes. Find those supply streams that will help you make sure that you have enough of the materials that you need for your classroom. I'm all about finding free and cheap, funky materials to use with children because it's recycling and it's using things for new purposes. I find that really fun, but it also saves a lot of money and things go a lot further when you do that.

I encourage you to stock up on must-haves, especially if you come across really cheap Kleenex or other supplies you'll use regularly.  If Kleenex is continually being brought to your classroom, hide them and stock them up somewhere. You may not have a great place to store them, but those are things that tend to be in short supply when the demand is high. Anytime our custodian brought this one kind of paper towels to my classroom, I always made sure I got an extra bundle of them. They were really absorbent and I really liked them and we didn't always have that kind, so I kind of hoarded paper towels. You will find ways to make sure that you have enough cleaner. Those are things that you need to really make sure you stock up on. Again, figure out how you store these things. We have a cabinet in our back storage room in our preschool that is kind of a jumbled mess, but we know where things are and it is labeled. You have to come up with your own system so that you can find things when you need them. We have labels on the outside of our cabinets that tell what's in each cabinet. You may just have to look for it. Find a system that works for you so that you can find the materials that you need.

Oxygen Mask Principle

You also have to take care of you. Think about the oxygen mask principle.  If you've flown on an airplane, you've heard that if something goes wrong and the oxygen masks come down you are supposed to put yours on first before you start helping people around you. This is true in your new job. You have to take care of you first. You have to get enough rest, get enough exercise, eat well, and find a balance between work and life.  You have to figure out, do I really need to take things home or do I need to spend some time doing something that I want to do this evening or this weekend. For new teachers, you have to realize that it is okay to say no. It is okay to turn down additional opportunities. Many programs won't ask new people to serve on committees or to go to additional meetings. They want you to settle in and feel comfortable. You have to realize that it is okay for you to say, "I'm new and I really don't want to take on more than what I'm capable of doing." Make sure that you practice saying no. For example, you might say, "That's a great opportunity, but I'm going to have to pass right now because I really don't think I can fit that in." Know that it is okay to say no. Also, make sure that you have fun. Enjoy being with the kids and enjoy what you're doing. You should love what you're doing. If you are in the right profession, you will love it and it won't feel like work.  This is what is so great about working with young children. It is so very different every day and there are so many opportunities for having fun. If you're enjoying things, your kids are going to enjoy things and they're going to learn so much more than if you are not having fun.

What You Need to Plan

Key Supplies for You

The last section is the things that you need to plan. I tell people they need to plan some supplies for themselves. I feel like you need to have a spot for your things, even if you don't have a teacher's desk or a designated spot for you as the teacher. You need to have some things that help you feel that you belong, that make you happy, and that make you comfortable. I highly recommend getting together an emergency health and necessity bag. This might include headache medications, cough drops, a toothbrush for yourself, mints, a nail file, hair ties, etc. just for you. This will need to be locked away where the children can't access it, but you can. I always kept lotion in my classroom because you wash your hands a lot and they get dry. I used a lotion that was like baby lotion because if I was putting lotion on my hands, there was always a child who wanted lotion on their hands too. I needed to have something that was safe for the children. Lotion can work miracles with hurt feelings of children when you put a little lotion on their hands.  It often makes them happy. Again, you have to make sure that that's appropriate within your setting. 

Also, see if air freshener is appropriate and allowed by your program. There are certain times of the day that children do not smell very fresh and air freshener, whether it's spray kind or a little block of something that has some scent that comes out, is something that will help you feel more comfortable. I think baby wipes are one of the best inventions in the world. Baby wipes can clean paint off of hands and clothing. Make sure that you have ways to clean yourself up and clean things around you. I always had an apron available for myself. Sometimes I forgot to put my apron on, but if I was doing something messy I always made sure I had an extra jacket or a sweater. I often looked like Mr. Rogers because before I went out on the playground, I would switch to my outside shoes because our playground was really hard on your nice shoes. Having those things available for you will help you feel more comfortable and more settled and less worried about things if you are taking care of you. 

I like to have my own cup or mug. If it's allowed, hand sanitizer is good to have as well. Some programs don't allow you to use hand sanitizer, others do. If it's just for your use, it may be okay. You will need to check to see if that's okay for the children to use. Decent tissues is another important item to have. Not everybody will provide you with tissues that are actually soft enough on your face. If that's the case, have some that are just held back for you. 

I always liked to have a special spot for me to sit, whether it was a rocking chair or a stool. Make sure that you have something that's comfortable for you, especially for circle time or for reading a book to the children. I once had a child that asked me, "Mrs. T, do you have a mailbox?" At the time, my kids had mailboxes in the classroom and I didn't. Once I got my mailbox, it was a way that my kids gave me tons of information about them. They would draw me a picture and write their name on it and I could put it into their documentation folders for their assessment. Those are little things that were great little touches that I figured out were really beneficial in my classroom. Keep a journal to track your thoughts and to write down funny things that kids say. Have snacks for yourself. Keep extra chargers for your phone or for your laptop or for your camera. Human touches like a picture of your family, a picture of you with the kids in your classroom, or your framed degree or certificates are really nice. I think having your degree or certificates framed is a very important thing to have because it makes you feel accomplished and it makes other people realize what a professional you are. You might have a pretty picture or a calendar that helps take you to a happy place. Whatever you need to supply that makes you feel that you belong there, make sure you have it nearby.

Key Supplies for Children

Depending on the age group of kids that you're working with many will have extra clothes or underwear with them. Finding ways to store those can be a little tricky sometimes. Make sure that you have a system for taking care of that. You might have extras on hand or just know where to send children for extras should there be an accident, whether they get paint all over them or they have a toileting accident. I like to keep cheap, throw away combs for kids that may need that, or hair ties for somebody that needs to pull their hair back. A child may be sick and they may need a little toothbrush and toothpaste before they get sent home. Those are things that may be nice to keep for kids. You might keep an extra stuffed animal or a pillow or blankie for children to snuggle up with when they've had a rough night. Snacks are another thing to keep on hand for children so we can help meet those basic needs so that kids are not hungry. Make sure you have some graham crackers or something that's available when children need to eat and it's not time to eat. I find that bubbles work miracles. Bubbles are fabulous and you can do them inside year round. Sometimes you have to be creative about storage. Figure 2 is a little storage cabinet that we keep in our children's restrooms. Each restroom has one. That's where we keep the kids' extra clothes and extra underwear and those types of things, along with the wipes and gloves on top. 

Rolling cabinet with drawers and changing supplies on the top

Figure 2.  Storage.

Essential Plans

You do have to figure out what your goals are. Sometimes you have to create a vision board or set some goals and figure out what you want to do for the year or even for the month. You have to make a plan for planning. You have to know where you're going to plan as well as what supplies and resources you have for planning. You have to figure out how long you can devote to your planning. If it's not already provided for your classroom, you might have to create a daily schedule. Be flexible. You have to remember that certain things will take longer than others or it may not take as long as you thought it was going to take.  Be prepared and have an extra activity to fill the time. Make sure that you're very flexible on that. Plan for your first day. Know what you're going to do that first day and have something fun and exciting for the kids. Plan back up plans for your plans. Figure out how you're going to tackle observations and assessments. Are you going to assess children during free time? Are you going to devote some time to your analysis of observations that you've written? You need to plan for that assessment piece. I like to have some backup plans that could be used in an emergency or for a substitute that's coming in. That may be a little out of the ordinary, but it's something that would really help in a pinch. Have some plans tucked away for those days. I always like to have plans for what I am going to do if we can't go outside for five straight days because it's raining. Have some games or activities that are just devoted for those yucky days that you can't go outside. Have your stash of favorite books. I have several books that if we have to shelter for a tornado warning, I'm going to bring certain books because they are fun, they take your mind off of things, and they're books that kids like. In addition to your stash of favorite books, have some favorite CDs or favorite songs and finger-plays ready to go. Plan how you're going to display things, such as children's artwork. Plan for how you're going to create a bulletin board. Take pictures of it so that you don't have to plan it again so that you know what it looks like and if it was awesome, try it again. 

Transition Plans

Another aspect of planning that we need to target is planning for transitions. Sometimes we think transitions just happen when we get from point A to point B, but you have to build a routine. You have to figure out how you're going to release children to go get their jackets and how to get kids ready to go outside. Make things routine and make them learning opportunities.  You might play a rhyming game or use a clapping signal as you transition. You might turn off the lights or sing a cleanup song to signal that it's time to clean up. You might sing a good morning song every morning. Planning for those transitions will help save your sanity because we spend so much time going from one activity to the next, sometimes it gets chaotic in between. It's important to plan for those key times like when children arrive, when they need to go to the bathroom, and when we need to wash our hands before a meal. Think about how you're going to serve meals or take your children to the cafeteria. What do you do if they want a drink of water? I never knew that it took so long for kids to prepare to go outside. The first day as a three- to five-year-old teacher that my kids had to put jackets on to go outside, we didn't have any outside time left because we had to get inside before another classroom came out. It took so long to go get jackets and put them on and zip them up and actually get out the door that we got outside and literally came right back inside. I got better at that. Figuring out how to plan for getting jackets and zipping those up is key. Another thing that I failed to plan for was nap time. I thought they would just lay down and go to sleep, but that wasn't the case. Luckily I had an assistant in my classroom that was very seasoned with what nap time entailed. Have those plans in place so that you have a smooth day and so that things work well for you.

Plan how you dismiss your children. You obviously don't want to say, "Day's over. Everybody go home." Children have to gather their belongings and that takes quite a bit of time. We have to make sure that we do it in an orderly fashion. One way to do this is based on different attributes.  For example, have the children get their belongings if their shoes tie or if they have Velcro. You could dismiss children if they have a blue shirt on or if their mom's name Susan. There are a lot of neat ways that we can call children to dismiss them that makes it a little more interesting, but not a free for all with every man for himself running for their backpacks and running for the door. We need to do that as orderly as possible. I always recommend when you're planning for transitions, don't try to move all the kids at once, unless it's a fire drill. If you do try to move everybody at once, everybody bottle necks and you clump up. Moving a few children at a time and then having them at the next activity works tremendously better than trying to move everybody at the same time. 

I hope looking at some of these plans and looking at some of these things you need to think about as a new teacher are helpful. There may be some things that you thought, oh I forgot to do that or I didn't think about doing this. I hope you had some of those moments and can implement some of the things that we just talked about, even tomorrow, if necessary. You're going to learn so much, especially in your first year. You're going to be able to add to this list of things for somebody that's new to your program next year. As you add to this list you can help them be the best that they can be to help children be really successful and learn and be happy. That's what we're in the business for. We want children to have the best possible experiences. If you find that you have questions or would like to share something with me, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to visit with you. Thank you.

 

Citation

Tankersley, A. (2018). Essentials for the New Early Childhood Teacher. continued.com - Early Childhood Education, Article 22881.  Retrieved from www.continued.com/early-childhood-education

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amber tankersley

Amber Tankersley, PhD

Amber Tankersley is an associate professor in child development within the department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She holds a bachelor's degree in elementary/early childhood education, a master's degree in elementary education, and a PhD in curriculum and instruction. She has worked in the field of early childhood for over 20 years as a preschool teacher, university child care center director, university instructor/professor and director of an NAEYC accredited preschool lab. She often presents at workshops/conferences on the topic of early childhood curriculum and the importance of play. She teaches courses such as: early childhood curriculum, interacting with children, parent/professional relationships, and she supervises practicum students and preschool student teachers. 



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