Help! We need to do better.

One of our recent physics teaching graduates took a mid-year vacancy teaching 8th grade physical science in an struggling urban area. There are many factors making this job particularly difficult for the student, operating under survival mode.

  • The new teacher is coming into the classroom mid-year, with students who have had a substitute for the past month
  • Between the interview and first day, there were four days, little to time to prepare and get oriented.
  • The school appears to have no induction process for new teachers
  • The school really is a struggling / failing school, both by qualitative sense and quantitative measures
  • The population this teachert is working with is very different than populations he experienced while student teaching
  • Our existing program does too little to prepare students for classroom management
  • Both the students’ content and pedagogical knowledge better prepared him for teach high school physics than middle school
  • Our program doesn’t yet properly support students in making job decisions and initial/ongoing  support.
  • Our program doesn’t yet have students leaving us with any fail-safes like, if all else fails, “Here is exactly what you are going to do the first month you are teaching, and here is a basket of all the things you’ll need to pull that off.”

By far the biggest problems he is facing is typical for new teachers–classroom management. One of the things I’m wondering is, what role can the physics department play in preparing / supporting students in this way? I mean, I can say, well, “Shouldn’t the education classes deal with that?” But I think that’s just punting on responsibilities to put our physics teacher in the best possible position to succeed.

I feel like that last bullet might be the thing that we can change the most in our department. Make sure that when students leave, they have very specific plans in place, including activities oriented toward setting classroom expectations. A kind of thing that can carry them through that terribly difficult beginning. And the second thing is for us to be more involved with them in the decisions they make for jobs.  And obviously, we need to better coordinate with education side on initial and ongoing support, because we can’t do that alone. But we should be involved.

Help! What do we need to do? What do we need to think about? Grace, I’m looking at you especially.

5 thoughts on “Help! We need to do better.

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  1. I’ve been intrigued by the University of Michigan’s list of high-leverage practices that all teachers should master before entering the classroom. (However, I can’t seem to find a website with them listed clearly… sorry.) Many are management kinds of things, but many have a connection with the disciplines. — it’s things like “know how to lead a discussion of a text” or “know how to call and talk to a caregiver about a student” or “know how to sequence ideas in a discussion” (I’m making those up but they’re close). Students rehearse these and videotape themselves and offer critiques, etc. I’ve been curious to try to figure out which of these practices are ones that should/could be taught within the discipline. (And how to co-opt these ideas for teaching someone to teach inquiry.)

    1. Right, I am loosely familiar with them as well. It’s a good idea, in particular, thinking about which ones should be taught within the discipline… that helps carve out what’s our responsibility within the whole program.

  2. Way to call me out 😛 We’re also planning to learn lots from Michigan’s program ( and UW is thinking about very similar things, although I think mostly at the elementary level. Our current programming does classroom management and investment (a category under which we bundle first week activities, goal-setting, classroom procedures, relationship-building across lines of difference) totally separate from content (all secondary vs. all elementary together) and asks teachers to develop management and investment plans before entering the classroom. We’re rethinking the content-specificity of that approach for next summer though, and we’re also considering the extent to which we should provide plans for teachers– pretty sure we’re going to do that at least during most of summer school (their practicum time), at the level of unit plan + unit assessment + daily lesson plans, but also will be trying to gradually release them into their own planning during that time and don’t know yet how detailed these daily lesson plans will be.

    MATCH charter school in Boston has pretty detailed lists of teacher practices/rubrics and a fascinating teacher training program ( that might be worth checking out too.

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