Preparing for your first teaching job

I’m finishing my student teaching and looking forward to getting a job as a high school physics teacher after I graduate. How can I prepare for my first job, even before I get one?
—Carl, Denver, Colorado
You certainly are looking ahead! You’ll have many challenges as a first-year teacher, so being as prepared as possible will help you transition from college student to teacher. Use your college or university career placement office to help you develop and proofread a professional-looking resume and cover letter templates for when you apply for jobs.
Until you have a job, you won’t know exactly what the science curriculum includes and emphasizes. But you can familiarize yourself with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), especially those focusing on physical science. As you review the documents, notice how the science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas are connected. NSTA has many resources to help you with this.
Reflect on your student teaching experience. What worked really well for you? What did you struggle with? Use your struggles as a basis for reading and reflection before your first job. What can you do differently?
Begin to assemble your professional resources:

  • Join NSTA (there is a discounted rate for new teachers) for a subscription to The Science Teacher and access to the other journals and archives and to get NSTA Reports with news updates and resources.
  • Browse the online archives of The Science Teacher for ideas and suggestions related to physics. Members can download articles or save them in a portfolio in the NSTA Learning Center. You can also access them through your iPad or smart phone.
  • Use NSTA’s social media resources. Members can sign up for the email lists, and all teachers have access to the Discussion Forums. “Like” NSTA on Facebook and use #NSTA for tweets related to science teaching.
  • Create your professional library with titles from NSTA publications and add these to your reading list. There are so many to choose from—I’d recommend Rise and Shine: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Science Teacher and Science Formative Assessment. (Follow these links for descriptions of these books and online sample chapters from NSTA Press.)
  • Start a folder with information on safety issues in the science classroom. There are many resources on the Internet on the topic, and I’d also suggest Investigating Safely: A Guide for High School Teachers and the NSTA Guide to Planning Science Facilities, which has suggestions for organizing materials as well as safety guidelines. (Follow these links for descriptions of these books and online sample chapters from NSTA Press.)
  • Familiarize yourself with computer simulations, apps, and other technologies that could be useful to your future students.  Articles in The Science Teacher have many suggestions. Teachers also post ideas on social media sites.

Speaking of social media, this would also be a good time to purge your personal social media sites of inappropriate information or photos. Don’t share things you would not want your future students and their parents (and school administrators) to see. Whether we like it or not, teachers are considered role models and held to a higher expectation of decorum and behavior.
Assemble your professional wardrobe. Even if the experienced teachers dress very casually, it’s important for new teachers to project as professional an image as possible. Some science teachers like to wear a lab coat or apron, and you may want to have your own goggles rather than use the student ones.
If you know the communities where you want to teach, try to learn as much as you can about the culture and geography there. Check out the science programs and resources at nearby colleges and universities. Find out about and visit any nearby science centers and museums.
Collect some basic supplies for your classroom. In the best situation, your classroom will be well–supplied and organized, but don’t count on it!
Your preparation will also be an asset when you apply and interview for a job. Being able to discuss current topics in science education, having a professional demeanor, and knowing about the local culture and resources will help you make a positive first impression.

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