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Creating a Professional Image

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Eleven Time-Tested, Positive Image-Making Ideas for New Teachers

Found in: Advice & Support

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 on the image of the profession as a whole.

Based on the findings of surveys (such as the Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher, Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools, and studies on school/community relations), we know three things:

  1. Schools are more highly rated by those who know them best.
  2. Parents and teachers think more parental involvement will improve education.
  3. Students and newspapers are the top sources of information about what's going on in school.

The ideas that follow are time-tested positive image-makers. As you read, let them sift through 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 individual projects, do get involved in the community action programs your local association initiates.

  1. From the beginning, let parents know you believe a working partnership with them is best for students.
  2. Send messages home about what parents can do to support learning. (68 percent of the parents responding to the Metropolitan Life Survey listed newsletters as a good way to improve education by keeping parents informed.)
    • 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.
  3. Invent ways to give students practical experience with 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.
  4. Carry your work around with you in a folder or a briefcase everywhere you go -- to the laundromat, to the barbershop, to the doctor's office.
    You can even grade papers while waiting for a bus. You will need every available moment to get your work done, but think of it as yet another chance to let the public know how much you enjoy it.
  5. Make time each day for yourself -- to ease the stress.
    Ten minutes a day just for you -- is better than nothing.
  6. Create a list of good books for parents to consider for gift giving. 
    In early November, send home a list of books 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 his or her own life in reference to the topic being studied in class.
  9. Display your degrees and certificates.
    Other professionals have 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. Have a classroom bulletin board where each week a student gets to display his or her five favorite pictures.
  10. Let parents know about the success of their children in the classroom.
    If the only time parents hear from you about student progress is when there's a problem, they transfer those negative feelings to you.
  11. 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.

Source: Tools for Success, A Handbook for First Year Teachers' Professional Growth. The North Carolina Association of Educators.

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