When I was a first-year teacher, my team leader Nancy gave me this heaping box of classroom supplies. On the top, she placed a notecard with the words New Teacher Card. On the back of the notecard, she wrote a note explaining that I could play this card when I messed up. “You’re new and you make mistakes but that’s okay. Just play the New Teacher Card. Feel free to play this card when you mess up or when you don’t know how things work and you need to ask for help. Play this card when you miss a meeting or you don’t get every paper graded or you have a day when your lesson fails. This is going to happen often in your first year. But don’t beat yourself up. Just play the New Teacher Card and remember that mistakes are how we learn.”
I played that card so many times in my first year. But, actually, it’s something I still go back to all the time when I slip into perfectionism or when I find myself replaying all the mistakes I’ve made in thirteen years of teaching. I’ve come to believe that this New Teacher Card is something you should never let go of in teaching. Although you grow in knowledge and expertise, you will always remain imperfect.
But I think the New Teacher Card is more than just a forgiveness card. It’s a reminder to keep experimenting and trying new strategies and testing out new ideas. The New Teacher Card means I’m open to new possibilities. It means I’m willing to take creative risks. I’ve played this card when I first tried out sketch-noting or student blogging or Genius Hour or cardboard challenges or documentaries.
The New Teacher Card reminds me that every single lesson is an experiment. It might work. It might fail. But the biggest risk you can take is not taking the risk at all.
Think of the New Teacher Card as an invitation to innovation — to rewrite the rules of teaching and to experiment with new ideas and transform your classroom into a bastion of creativity and wonder.
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What About New Teachers?
I bring this up because I often hear new teachers say, “I’m going to try new things after I’m established. Let me get my classroom management down and figure out a traditional approach and then in five years I’ll think about innovation.”
But then it never happens.
They are stuck in a rut, afraid to make mistakes, waiting for that moment when they “have it down” enough to take creative risks.
I love to ask new teachers, “What cool project would you do if you were five years into teaching?”
When they answer I follow up with, “Why can’t you do it now?”
Or I ask, “How would you teach if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
See, the hidden advantage of being a new teacher is that people know you will make mistakes. You have the permission to be different from day one. So I’d argue that you should always have a new teacher card and you should play it, not only when you screw up, but every single day.
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