Building A Professional Image
As a first-year teacher, you have no name recognition, no reputation, and no credibility. Think of it as a clean slate. Your behavior and your interaction with all the groups that make up the school community will not only define your image, but also impact the image of the profession as a whole.
The ideas that follow are time-tested, positive image-makers.
Dress professionally. While dress codes for teachers have relaxed a great deal in recent years, it's in your best interest to dress professionally.
Students, parents, and your colleagues will have more respect for you if you do. As an added bonus, you will help improve the overall public image of teachers. That will make community members more likely to support your profession, your school, and your students. (Yes - it is possible to be comfortable and look professional on the job!)
Be very, very careful about your Facebook site.
Facebook and other social networking sites are great fun to use. But they can get a teacher fired faster than almost anything. Your new students and their parents will look you up on the social Internet as soon as they know your name. Do you really want them to see all of those photos of your trip to Las Vegas?
Remember, no matter where you go in your community, you are known as a teacher.
This is especially true in smaller communities. You'll be held to a higher standard of conduct than other citizens.
Display your degrees and certificates.
Every other professional has these documents framed and hanging on their office walls; you should too. Not only is it good for those times when parents visit your classroom, but think about the positive effect it has on your students.
From the beginning, let parents know you believe a working partnership with them is best for students.
Send messages home about what parents can do to support learning.
- Invest in stamped postcards - once a week send a postcard to a parent with a positive note.
- Call at least one parent a week to share a positive attribute of a student.
- Invite parents to join the class and assist with school projects.
Send letters of welcome to new students.
When students transfer during the year, they and their parents often have questions about how to fit in. You could put together a survival kit for new students that includes a map of the area (ask the AAA), locations of favorite student hangouts, dress code (or at least what's normal--ask a student to write this part), homework expectations, and a list of what has already been covered in each subject.
In early November, send home a list of good books for parents to consider for holiday giving.
List a few academic books, but include mostly books that are interesting or entertaining, and at the same time of literary or academic merit, as they relate to your teaching area. Also, if you can find one extra hour at the beginning of the school year, divide all your students' names into nine or ten lists according to the month of their birthdays. Then send home a book gift list the month before each student's birthday, making the distribution a first-of-the-month activity. In June, distribute book lists for those with birthdays in July, August and September.
Let parents know about the success of their children in the classroom.
If the only time parents hear from you about their child's progress is when there's a problem, they will transfer those negative feelings to you.
Don't forget grandparents.
Send home requests for a parent or grandparent to write down (in a space provided by the request sheet) a few words relating to a strong memory or an anecdote from their own lives in reference to the topic being studied in class.
Professional community outreach
In addition to your own professional image, you have tremendous power to shape the public's perception of public schools and teachers. Community outreach is an important way to gain respect for your profession and support for your school and students.
As you read the following tips for community outreach, consider how they fit with your own personality and knowledge about your own community. Choose those that will work for you or adapt the ideas for your own setting. In addition to these projects, do get involved in the community outreach programs initiated by your local MEA-MFT affiliate.
Let your students be ambassadors through writing.
Teach your students to write letters to members of the community, and then actually send them. The letters may relate specifics of a classroom project that tie into a community organization activity or state an opinion about how young people might be persuaded to participate more fully in community affairs. The best lessons to be learned by students from such letter writing are those of stating a suggestion tactfully and gracefully, writing with a positive tone, and making a point clearly and concisely.
Let your students be ambassadors through speaking and presenting.
Invite community leaders or professionals, such as local businesspersons, politicians, scientists, and others to visit your classroom. Have students present research, recite speeches, or simply read to these dignitaries. Better yet, take your students to visit them to share a joint learning experience. Some community leaders make decisions that impact you and your classroom - it is highly appropriate and beneficial for them to be invited to be involved in education on a regular basis.
See what happens when you assign an essay or paragraph on the topic "The best thing about my school is..."
After using samples of class entries in the classroom and discussing them for form and content, submit three or four of the most interesting ones to the local newspaper, expressing pride in these students' perception of their role as learners.