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May 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 8

Tell Me About … / Advice You'd Offer a First-Year Teacher

Tell Me About … / Advice You'd Offer a First-Year Teacher- thumbnail

Dear Sheri, Have no regrets.

Shell out the $10 for the blue canvas Kettle Creek pencil case. Consider it a keepsake to hold memories of your entire teaching career.
Right now, you are being mentored by master teachers. Watch, listen, learn. Value their time and advice. You will learn to reflect on your pedagogy, differentiate instruction, use authentic assessments, maintain a teaching portfolio, and engage in your own professional learning and responsibilities, as well as consider your personal wellness.
Without a doubt, beginning your career at your old high school will allow you to evolve into a caring, competent, and creative teacher-educator. From time to time later in life, you'll be overcome with waves of nostalgia for this year. The encouragement, collegiality, and collective wisdom of this first-year community will stay with you forever. Your successes as a teacher, which will eventually span four continents, will be due in large part to the "village" that raised you as a teacher.
And that $10 pencil case? It's money well spent. Almost three decades later, that blue canvas will still accompany you daily. From Canada to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, it will remind you of a great beginning. Treasure it, and treasure this year.
Sheri Henderson, general studies faculty member, English, Ras Al Khaimah Men's College, Higher Colleges of Technology, United Arab Emirates

Dear Casey, If you follow these few simple suggestions …

you will have great success in the classroom. First, always put the students first. They are watching you more than you'll ever know. Second, don't be afraid to ask for help. When things get tough, seek advice from those around you. You are surrounded by experts who have been doing this for a long time. Finally, celebrate your victories no matter how small, and you will see your students' successes snowball. Your enthusiasm will inspire more minds than you can count. Give it your all every day and cherish each moment you get to "work" with students who will never forget the year they spent with you.
Casey Kuska, 3rd grade teacher, Independence School District, Independence, Missouri

"I don't know." Don't be afraid to say that, Dave.

As a new teacher, you want to maintain an air of professionalism, competence, and expertise, but there's a lesson in those words for everyone in class. It's simply this: I'm a lifelong learner and you, students, should be as well.
Share with your students the things you're learning as you read, play sports, and interact with parents, students, and fellow educators. Tell those kids how everyone's brain has a capacity for learning—a capacity that none of us can even come close to filling.
In the end, you'll teach a lesson in humility. Your kids live in a world of over-inflated egos, where social media cries out, "Look at me! I'm special and better than you!" So separate yourself from the masses and say, "I guess I'm ignorant in that area, but I bet I can find the answer, and I can't wait to see what it is!"
David Seidman, head of school, Hawthorne Christian Academy, Hawthorne, New Jersey

Dear Todd, I commend you on becoming a teacher.

First of all, never give up. Your students need you. Get to know your students as individuals. Tap into their interests as you plan and execute your lessons; it makes learning engaging and relevant. Ensure that students consistently follow the rules you have created together. Listen to your students. Ask them, "How can I help you learn better?" Seek out your colleagues and share best practices. Communicate and get along with your administrators. Take care of yourself. Reflect each day on which instructional and classroom management practices worked and which ones could be improved. Laugh and smile at least once a day. And finally, thank you for affecting the academic, psychological, and physical life of each and every child in your class. Teach on!
Todd Feltman, assistant principal, New York City Department of Education, Bronx, New York

Memo to Myself

  1. Students: Relationships are key. Spend time at the beginning of the year getting to know your students. It'll pay off in the long run!
  2. Parents: It's a matter of when, not if, that first parental issue comes up. Keep conversations focused on doing what's best for students, and always communicate before the child gets home.
  3. Colleagues: They are your team. Learn from them, support them, and get to know them.
  4. Grading: It's called assessing! Red pens aren't needed; feedback is more important than a grade.
  5. Evaluations: Yes, they're important, but make sure you are yourself during them. Kids see through the facade.
  6. Money: You're going to spend hundreds of your own dollars on supplies, books, and resources. That's OK!
  7. Coaching: We all need a coach, so make your instructional coach your BFF.
  8. Time: Balance work and life. It's important for not burning out.
  9. Professional Development: You will never know it all. Use Twitter, take classes, add endorsements. Never stay stagnant.
  10. The Why: Don't forget the why, no matter what. You chose this profession for a reason. Make a difference!
Amy MacCrindle, principal, Round Lake School District 116, Round Lake, Illinois

Dear First-Year Ms. Livezey, I'm writing you this letter from the future.

Here are some tips to make your first year go a little smoother.
  1. There will never be enough time, and not everything needs a grade. Make peace with this; take time to recharge so you can come back reenergized.
  2. Kids don't want stuff, they want relationships! Support them. Listen to them. You can't get to the content without making the connection first.
  3. It's OK to not know everything. It's not OK to pretend you do. Give your students appropriate opportunities to teach you something, like a dance or words from a different language. Don't worry if you mess up; it's an opportunity to model humility.
  4. Reflect. Be honest about what didn't work, and pull from your strengths. Seek out advice from your colleagues, and rework that advice to fit the needs of your classroom.
  5. Be a positive force. Believe in the process, your kids, and your school. When you are weary, remember why you started. Remember that kids need teachers who stay. Remember that there was once a teacher who reached you in some way—and you can be that teacher for so many students.
Jessica Livezey, English teacher, T. Wingate Andrews High School, Guilford County Schools, High Point, North Carolina

Dear First-Year Me, Teaching is hard. It's very hard.

But it's also the most rewarding, fulfilling occupation I've encountered. Today you will interact with incredible young people. You will shape their minds and hearts. Take your calling seriously to encourage, correct, and embolden these students to cultivate their abilities. Make the classroom experience about them and about big ideas and vital questions—not about yourself, your opinions, or your words of wisdom. Talk less. Let your students step into leadership.
You will fail daily (hourly, maybe!), but you will also do many things right. By giving yourself and your students the chance to fail and try again, you will grow along with them into a better version of yourself.
Take heart! It won't always be this hard!
Lori Ramey, former English faculty member, New Covenant School, Anderson, South Carolina

Dear Tracy, As a brand new teacher, you have grand aspirations to propel your students …

… to achieve beyond measure. Although that's admirable, my suggestion to you is to trust the process. Every lesson plan, parent conference, professional development, child study meeting, PLC, walk-through, assessment, and evaluation plays a part in the growth of your students. At times it may appear that these things get in the way. They will overwhelm you, but don't get discouraged. Continue to combine your passion for teaching with your use of best practices to help your students grow. You may not be the one to see your students' growth, but it will eventually manifest itself. It's all part of the process.
Tracy Jennings, teacher, Southfield Public Schools, Southfield, Michigan

Congratulations on getting that first teaching job!

You landed a position at a Catholic junior high school teaching science and filling in as a school secretary. You rented two rooms above the shoe store on Main Street. That's where the idea for platform shoes came to you, wasn't it?
You wanted confidence and height. You thought the shoes would increase your five-foot frame (by an inch) and that would, in turn, make a difference to junior high kids and your self-esteem. You survived a year of confiscating water pistols, botching smelly science experiments, and messing up phone messages.
My advice: The platform shoes were a really bad idea. Keep it real. That's all your students want. Someone real.
Glenda Ferguson, 4th grade teacher, Burris Elementary School, Mitchell, Indiana

Lifelong Learning

Regardless of where, who, and what you teach, the essence of the work never changes. Base every decision on one simple question: Is this good for kids? Get to know your students well. Advocate and fight for them every day. Do your best and do as much as you can, but know that you can't do it all—not all at once, anyway. At the end of each day, ask yourself, What could I have done better? Then do that next time. Admit your own mistakes. Show your students how the most challenging problems offer the greatest opportunities for growth. Let your students know every day that you believe in them and that you care about them, and never forget to believe in and care about yourself, too. Have fun. Never let the joy and wonder fade. Share ideas, materials, and happy hours with your colleagues. Your students may forget the facts they learned in your class, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Help them feel confident, powerful, and important. Teach them not to give up by never giving up yourself. Be a model of lifelong learning, reflection, and self-evaluation. Always do better next time.
Leah Wilson, teacher, Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, Maryland

Stay Human

In your first year, no one expects you to be the expert, so rid yourself of this unrealistic pressure. Surround yourself with veterans who are willing to impart and mentor. Equally important, remember to act like the lifelong learner you want your students to become. Let your students see your willingness to explore, discover, and remain curious. Model what it means to be an active learner, to bring your thinking to life, and to apply solutions to problems worth pursuing. As a novice educator, remain poised as you command your class, but let your students see your vulnerability and transparency as a learner. Embrace your mistakes and shortcomings and celebrate theirs; let them see your humanness. Teach your students the significance of working together, the value of meaningful feedback, and the result of remaining persistent. Be engaged in the work, never distancing yourself from the learning—or the learner.
Josh Patterson, principal, Oakland Elementary School, Inman, South Carolina

Real-Life Differentiation

Know that you will do your best to help students who perform below grade level, but not everything is up to you. Students are also responsible for their learning, and so are their parents. Not everyone will cooperate, and you are not a superhero. Do your best to help those children. At the same time, don't neglect the students who are soaring academically. They will get bored, and they can become your biggest management issues. Remember those differentiation strategies you learned in college? You were hypothetically differentiating. This is the real thing. Differentiation will look different for each and every student. It can become a juggling act, but it doesn't have to be. Incorporate challenges into your lessons so that those who "get it" can explore a level higher. Check for understanding often! Don't only ask for a thumbs up or down. Assign exit tickets and use them to modify your teaching.
Janeth Paredes, teacher, Alpine School District, Orem, Utah

Write More

Write more. Taking time to write a short journal entry or long essay creates a quiet space to reflect and capture information about what happened, when you noticed, and what you decided to do about it. At a later time, you can look back and retrieve those facts and reflections. No conversation about a personal or professional situation is better begun than with, "According to my notes …."
Henry St. Maurice, professor, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Start with Relationships

Make the kiddos your number one priority, not yourself. You got into this career to teach young people and you knew it wasn't going to be easy. Stay positive. Don't dwell on the negative. Do everything in your power to meet the students' needs. And when I say needs, I don't just mean academic needs. Be there for the student—the whole student. Start there! Make those connections and create an environment of mutual respect. After you establish that, you're well on your way to teaching and learning. Welcome to education!
Heather Border, instructional coach, Huntingdon Area School District, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania

Change Lives and Open Doors

You are overflowing with idealism about learning and education. You have spent years honing your skills and want to foster that love of learning that fills you with joy each day. This is great! However, you need to prepare for challenges ahead. You will be embarking on an interesting journey—a path with twists and turns over stretches of unfamiliar terrain. In those moments, remember that there are other teachers experiencing similar situations. Reach out to collaborative and supportive colleagues.
Enjoy teaching, and seize the "aha" moments when your students gain a deeper understanding. Be creative and have fun as you strive to engage students; foster a growth mindset so that they, too, will become avid life-long learners.
Cherish and protect your courage, enthusiasm, and ideals, and don't let anything or anyone make you question these—ever. Education changes lives and opens doors.
Nina Dulabaum, associate professor, Sauk Valley Community College, Dixon, Illinois

It's OK

It's OK not to know—as long as you ask questions. It's OK to fall—as long as you get up. It's OK to cry yourself to sleep—as long as you're smiling the next morning. No day will be exactly like the one before or any yet to come unless you let it. Learn. Grow. Shine. In the process, you'll leave an impression on your students' hearts almost as deep as the impression they'll leave on yours.
Denise Toler, teacher, Hernando County Schools, Brooksville, Florida

Taking Chances

The expert in anything was once a beginner. Take chances and forgive yourself for mistakes. Inquire about anything and everything. Learn and embrace the power of true collaboration. Trust yourself and your ideas—don't be afraid to share innovative thinking. Above all, remain positive and surround yourself with positive people!
Kira Mclean, reading coordinator, Westside Community Schools, Omaha, Nebraska

Students, Not Subjects

First and foremost, remember that you are teaching students, not subjects. If you find the best way for each child to learn, teaching the curriculum will be easier and more effective. And keep in mind that most people—adults and children—are doing the best they can with what they have.
David Downing, teacher, Belmont Day School, Belmont, Massachusetts

The Importance of Procedures

Start out the year with precise procedures, and be consistent with them. Don't relent. Be stern in the beginning. Do not be too nice. Nip things in the bud, especially when students talk over you.
Relax. You have great ideas. Just keep preparing them well and plan to execute them well. Have a backup plan for each day. Get to know your students early, and learn their names. It's OK to make mistakes; you'll grow from them.
Eric Van Fleet, foreign language teacher, Grain Valley R-V School District, Grain Valley, Missouri

Straying from the Plans

Make every attempt to plan thoroughly and effectively. Effective instruction begins with effective planning. However, it is more beneficial for student learning and outcomes if teachers monitor and adjust instruction, instead of feeling tied to the lesson plan. Don't be afraid to deviate from the plan to meet students' needs in the moment. Do what is best for students. Meet them where they are rather than feeling that the lesson plan dictates next steps.
Scott Duncan, TEAM coach, Tennessee Department of Education, Nashville, Tennessee

Four Reminders

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Remember to decide what you want your students to know first, and then find the assessments.
  2. Do not grade every paper. Remember some assignments are practice and/or partner work. Only grade those papers that will go in the grade book.
  3. Remember to acknowledge each student by name every day before they enter the classrooms.
  4. Have fun, and remember that all moments are teachable moments.
Dianne Browne, 3rd grade teacher, David Ellis Academy West, Redford, Michigan

One Step at a Time

Know that deep down, every student wants to succeed. Get to know them, and listen. Breathe. Refuel. That's the only way to sustain the energy that teaching demands. Reflect. Build a community with your peers. Pat yourself on the back for what went well, and take it one step further next time.
Donna Stumpp, director of curriculum design, Woot Math, Boulder, Colorado

Relationships First

The relationships you build with kids will make a more lasting impact than the content you will teach. Give kids options for their futures. Help all children discover their passions. Remind them daily how much you care about them, and help them have fun in their learning—no matter how daunting the topic.
Nikki Melody, assistant principal, Rock Island-Milan School District, Rock Island, Illinois

Leave Your Perfectionism Behind

You will never be finished writing and adapting lesson plans. Every group of students is different. Not all of them will love or learn from you. Not every day will go as planned. You will fail many times, both with students and with colleagues. You will need to leave your perfectionism behind. That's OK. In fact, it's necessary. Imperfection is beautiful, and you should tell your students that often. It leads to teachable moments. It leads to your own growth, too.
Alana Rome, English teacher, Pascack Hills High School, Montvale, New Jersey

Don't Work Harder Than Your Students

Remember to give your students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding. Encourage them to say something about every fact or quote they include in their work. Read aloud to your students regularly; they say they don't like to be read to, but they really do. Oh, and make sure you're not working harder than your students.
Cathy Fraser, librarian, Prospect Mountain High School, Alton, New Hampshire

Making a Difference

That first-day-of-school feeling you got this morning will never go away, but it will turn into anticipation and exhilaration! Remember that every student has a struggle you might not know about, so show empathy. Some students may appreciate your efforts, some may not, and this is OK. Leave your heart, mind, and classroom door open. Share resources with your colleagues. Take notes during professional learning days to stay current with best practices. Be transparent with parents, peers, and administrators. Coach a sport or sponsor a club. Knowing your content is key, but knowing that you are making a difference is where the real content lies.
Meredith Kane-Sokol, instructional coach/English teacher, Hatboro-Horsham, Horsham, Pennsylvania

Quick Planning

Although it's meaningful to spend three weeks planning a single lesson in teachers' college, it's completely unrealistic in practice. In your own classroom, get comfortable with quickly planning adequate lessons rather than aiming for perfection each time. Just try things. After developing a habit of quick planning, you'll gain a better sense of what will work for you, and your quick lessons will naturally improve in quality.
If you focus purely on quality without acknowledging the real quantity of what you must accomplish, you'll sink under your good intentions.
B.K., former teacher, Ohio

Take Time for Yourself

Do not come in early and stay late every day. Set aside one to two days a week to come early or stay late. Set that routine from the start, and stick to it! You must make time for yourself and your family. They are the most important people in your life.
Dena Tatem, 2nd grade teacher, Aldine ISD, Houston, Texas

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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