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Setting Realistic Goals for Yourself & the School Year as a New Teacher

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As new teachers, it is very easy to bite off more than we can realistically chew in our first year. This is true when it comes to the goals we set for ourselves and our students. As new teachers, we need to learn how to set specific, realistic goals for ourselves and our students.

Finding a Balance

The beauty of being a new teacher is that you come into the classroom with high expectations for your students and yourself. Unlike teachers who have taught for a few years, you haven't had negative experiences with students or parents that make you jaded about the teaching profession. However, as beautiful as it is to have high expectations, sometimes we can have unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and our students, that destine us to be let down. Therefore, especially as a new teacher, it is important to set realistic goals for yourself and the school year as a whole.

Goal Setting Basics

As a new teacher, we are often asked to set goals as part of our evaluation process. Sometimes with such a wide range of goals to set, the task is daunting. However, there are a few specific areas to focus on with our teaching goals.

One common type of goal we are usually pressured to set as new teachers relates to student mastery of content. Often we tie these goals to test scores, but in reality, these goals should relate to enabling students to master the skills specific to your content area. Another goal might be related to mentoring your students, and developing those personal relationships that will help students be successful inside and outside the classroom. You may be given some guidance in setting goals as part of your new teacher induction program, but your goals should not be limited to administration requirements. Some goals should be personal as well; those are equally important to any academic goals you set for your students.

Science Teacher 1

Setting a specific, measurable goal is the first step in the goal setting process. For example, you could set a goal that says 'My students will grow in their social skills.' However, this is a little broad. First, there are a lot of different social skills, and when you thought of this goal, there were probably some specific social issues you had in mind. Also, you want to be able to measure the progress towards the goal both for yourself and your students, so make it more specific. For example, if you have students who struggle with positive interactions with adults, you could state it as 'Students will increase their positive interactions with adults by 10% in quarter 2'. You could create charts to track this goal for yourself, and so students can see their progress towards the specific goal.

However, as a teacher, you want to set personal goals as well. These goals don't necessarily have to be communicated to the evaluator; they can just be for yourself. They should be goals that are meaningful to you, and not necessarily relevant to anyone else. For example, your goal may be that you manage how many papers you grade a week so that you can leave by 4:30 every day without taking papers home. While this goal may not mean anything to administration, it can mean a lot to a teacher. When you take hours of grading home every night, you burn yourself out. You are more tired when you work long days, which in turn makes you less effective in the classroom. Working twelve hour days will also leave you little time to grow yourself and recharge. Although teaching is a very involved profession, it doesn't need to be your whole life. To be effective in the classroom, just like with our students, you need to nurture your other interests to grow your spirit.

Some Goals are Partnerships with Students

Often as teachers, we set the goals for our students whether we articulate that to our students or not. For example, we may say we want 100% of our students to pass the test on Friday, or students will increase their MAP testing scores this spring by 5%. However, the mistake we make as new teachers is setting goals that don't involve a partnership with our students. Education expert Julia G. Thompson says we should set goals with our students, and create a system so that students can see their progress towards that goal. As students see their progress, they are more motivated.

Green Chairs in Classroom

So if some of your goals for the year are academic, then make your students partners in setting realistic academic goals for the year. To do this, have your students brainstorm goals and discuss whether or not they are realistic. For example, saying 'We will all get an A in English' is a very broad, and difficult goal for students to achieve. However, that goal can be retooled to make it realistic for the class. Perhaps the goal could be 'Every student will raise their English average by 5%' or, 'By the end of quarter 2, students will have mastered 85% of the spelling words.' If students help write the goals, then they will have more buy-in to the goal itself, which increases the likelihood of your instructional strategies being successful.

Another approach is to have students set individual goals that are relevant to them. For example, you could have each student set a goal for a quiz grade at the start of a section of content. First, have them take a pre-test to determine their current level of understanding. Then you could track the number of students who met their goal to make it measurable in the classroom.

Planner Writing

Before You Write Goals

Remember: short-term, specific goals are more likely to be successful. However, goals are just that: goals. They are not written in stone, and should be subject to change as you move through your timeline. That's normal and realistic in the course of teaching. There are innumerable events that will pop up along the way that may require you to adjust your goals. At the end of the day, there will be times when you fall short of meeting a goal you set for yourself and your students. Remember that it is okay, and you can go back to modify and adjust. Set a new goal, and keep moving forward. As time goes on, you will get a lot better at setting goals for yourself and your students.

By Rachel Tustin
December 2017
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