UMaine grad students create website with ‘tips and tricks’ for first-year teachers

The first few years of a teacher’s career are arguably the most important. As with any profession, they lay the foundation for the habits and routines that lead to success down the road.

In Maine, school districts are required to provide mentorship to first-year teachers to help them transition to the job. But what that mentorship looks like varies from district to district.

“Teacher induction programs are probably the most important programs we have when it comes to retaining teachers, and currently schools are all over the map in terms of what they do for induction,” says Bobby Deetjen, assistant director at Mid-coast School of Technology in Rockland and a master’s student in educational leadership at the University of Maine.

Deetjen says some schools may offer a special orientation program or additional professional development to new teachers, but it’s not required.

To help fill in some of the gaps in what individual schools and districts offer, Deetjen and his classmates in the educational leadership program’s Midcoast cohort created a website on the online publishing platform Weebly offering advice to first-year teachers.

“Welcome to your first year!” says the headline on the site’s homepage. “On this website you will find helpful tips, tricks, and resources that may not have been covered in your staff handbook or during your staff orientation.”

The website is the end result of a month-long May term class, “Leading Effective Task Groups in Schools,” taught in three locations around the state. The Midcoast cohort met in Belfast, another group met in Ellsworth, and a third in Bangor. Each cohort was given the assignment to create a product that would be useful to educators in Maine. The groups in Ellsworth and Bangor created YouTube videos addressing issues of trauma and poverty in schools. The Midcoast group went a different route.

“Fairly early on we came up with the idea of wanting to do something to support first-year teachers,” says Iris Eichenlaub, librarian and technology integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport and another member of the Midcoast educational leadership cohort.

“We wanted to get to tips and tricks, things you wouldn’t have known, that you wouldn’t even necessarily know to ask a question about,” says Eichenlaub, the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year.

The site features five sections:

  • “What’s On Your Plate?” is a guide to staying organized, including tips for how to set up a classroom and how to structure the school day.
  • “Making Connections” discusses how to get to know the different people who work at a school, ranging from department heads to custodians.
  • “How to Handle Situations” dives into how to manage routines and expectations with students, parents and other members of the school community.
  • “What’s Coming Up?” provides a detailed overview of the school year, with helpful tips about what to expect each month. For example, Eichenlaub says longtime educators in Maine know that March is an especially long month: “It’s right between February break and April break, and sometimes it coincides with state testing. Psychologically it’s just long for teachers and for students.”
  • Finally, “Tools and Tech” offers some tips for using the various devices available to teachers, ranging from laptops to tablets, as well as advice for using social media and other communication tools.

The open-endedness of the assignment and the compressed timeline of the May-term course made producing the website a challenge, according to Eichenlaub and Deetjen. The cohort broke into smaller groups to work on each of the sections, which are not meant to be an exhaustive list of tricks and tips, but rather just some advice that resonated with the cohort.

The group also debated producing a different final product, such as an e-book. In the end, they compromised by posting a Google doc on the website with the same content, so educators can download and print it out, or add to it with tips and tricks specific to their districts or schools.

Assistant professor of educational leadership Ian Mette, who taught the Belfast cohort, says the site reflects the course goals of figuring out the most effective way to lead small groups, including establishing group norms and decision-making processes.

“These are things we embed into all of our courses, but it’s probably one of the more experiential classes that we offer,” Mette says. “We provide a framework for the group, and it’s up to them to figure out how to work together.”

Although the website is aimed at teachers in Maine, both Deetjen and Eichenlaub say it could have wider appeal.

“Just about everything here teachers anywhere will be able to use,” says Deetjen.

As a non-classroom teacher, Eichenlaub thinks the “Making Connections” section will especially resonate with first-year teachers.

“Relationships are so much at the heart of our work as educators, but we’re so darn busy that there’s not always time to connect,” she says. “What I always tell new teachers is ‘Find your people. Learn about the people in your building and make an effort to reach out.’”

Contact: Casey Kelly, 207.581.3751