Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Slice of Life - New Teachers

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.

     I've been gone from the Slice of Life community for over a month!  I don't know what happened - a writing slump, I think.  I wasn't even sure I was going to write something today, but here I am.  My 6th graders are ready to start blogging again and posting Slices of Life, so I better be right there with them!

     I had a strange feeling before this school year started, and I guess I get it every year, but this year seemed stronger.  I felt like I forgot how and what to teach!  It was like those back-to-school nightmares I have in which I have nothing planned, nothing to say, and no idea what to do.  In those nightmares, students protest, stand on their desks throwing things at me, and walk out of the room.  It was like the time I had foot surgery and was in a cast for 6 weeks.  When they took off the cast, I had to relearn to walk right.  When school first started, I felt like I had to relearn to walk.  I'm not really sure why this year was like that - maybe because my summer was so steeped in family celebrations and things that had nothing to do with school.  I was completely immersed in summer.  Anyway, the first couple days seemed awkward, and I had to self-talk a lot about what I do - I had to remember and get back my passion for reading and writing and how to inspire those things in my students.  By Day 3 I was back in the swing of things.  I knew it because I heard things like, "This class went as fast as recess" and "Thank you for giving us time to read" and "Language arts is going to be my favorite class this year."  Music to my ears.  Walking again.

     Then I thought about first year teachers and what it must be like for them.  That was a long time ago for me - I was a first year teacher in 1991.  I taught eighth grade.  I was full of ideas from my methods classes, inspired by the Ohio Writing Project, and I had read and studied Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins.  I was ready.  I was going to make a difference.  I was going to be amazing.  In reality, none of my classes taught me how to handle a room full of adolescents - some of whom seemed determined to make my life miserable.  None of my classes taught me exactly how to run a reading/writing workshop or stay afloat  atop a mountain of papers to grade.  None of my classes fully prepared me for the hours of planning it would take for just a couple days worth of lessons.  Pacing guides for language arts are notorious for being vague.  Basals were out, and that was good, but that meant I pretty much had to write every lesson from scratch.

     I called my mom (a veteran teacher) in tears many a night.

     It was a rough year.  I had wonderful colleagues and a supportive principal, but when it came right down to it, it took grit and determination.  And a few students who made it worthwhile.

     And that was before high-stakes testing.  It was before class size was out of control.  It was before law-makers were determined to make us the bad guys.  It was before the demand of Praxis (I'm not even sure what that is, but I know it requires a ton of time).  It was even before the expectations of differentiation for every child at every level.  It was before Common Core.  At our first day meeting this year, I looked around at all the young faces, and I have to say, my heart went out to them.  How many would last?  How many would love their job?  How many would be here 15, 20, 25, 30 years later?  They have to last at least 35-40 years for full retirement nowadays.  And who is helping them?

     Even though it is harder today, it is also still rewarding, still exciting, still amazing.  But these new teachers need our support.  They need to hear the good stuff.  There is A LOT of bad stuff being said.  THEY.NEED.TO.HEAR.THE.GOOD.STUFF.  They need a mentor.  They need someone planning with them.  They need nights when they go home early and give themselves a break.  They need to get connected with online communities that are on fire with the love of teaching.  They need pats on the back. They need chocolate.

     I admit I don't always seek out new teachers.  I tend to hang out with the veterans my age.  I tend to do my thing and forget that there may be someone drowning down the hall.  Our profession is in trouble.  We have teachers leaving in droves.  Some districts can't find good teachers at all.  Our kids NEED passionate, excellent teachers who love what they do.  Our kids deserve that.  We need to be doing more to support our new colleagues.  What can we do?  I'd love to hear some ideas.

     I was asked this week for a piece of advice for a new teacher on Twitter.  I couldn't get back to her right away because I had to think about it.  I think I know what it would be.  Do what you believe is right for students.  No matter what.  If you believe they should read every day, make sure they read every day.  Or write every day.  Or read aloud every day.  Don't let anyone take that away from you and your students if at all possible.  It will make your students happier.  When your students are happier, you are happier. Also, be honest with your struggles.  Ask for help.  Do you have someone in the building that you admire for his/her passion and positive attitude?  Befriend that person!  Another trap as a first year teacher is that we think we have to be good at everything right away.  My mom, who was an amazing teacher, said it took at least seven years until she thought she got a handle on classroom management.  With today's demands, amount of curriculum, and new technology, it can get overwhelming FAST.  Choose one or two things you want to do well and concentrate on that.  I do that with technology.  I can't possibly learn it all and use it all well.  I choose one new app or one new website I want to share with my students until we all get a handle on it.  THEN I choose another one.  Otherwise, I would go crazy.  And pray if you believe in a higher power.  Pray for help.  Pray for your students.  I could probably go on and on, but I will stop  with this - listen to Penny Kittle's podcasts.  First of all, I could listen to her voice all day.  But besides that, she knows students.  She knows her profession.  Her podcast series, Stories from the Teaching Life is wonderful.  Godspeed, new teachers.  We veterans are rooting for you!


  1. Mentors are SUPPOSED to be in place under the Resident Educator Mentor Program ODE has devised. I would hope that each new teacher has a mentor committed to him/her--one as devoted to students' (and her own) learning as you! BTW, your name was the one I drew this morning in my daily prayer for teachers!

    1. Oh yes - I think all new teachers get mentors. But we all need to be looking out for them! I hope you're right and that mentors are positive and passionate! I love knowing that you are praying for me. :-) Thank you.

  2. Absolutely, Holly! Everyone needs a mentor who will be frank with them AND who will share the good stuff with them. I'm so thankful I had such a strong mentor when I started out. Had it not been for Pat, my literacy coach, I never would've made it through my first year.

  3. Excellent post, Holly. I remember that first year, too - new teachers need wise and kind mentors now more than ever!

  4. Excellent post, Holly. I remember that first year, too - new teachers need wise and kind mentors now more than ever!

  5. I hope that each school has a mentor for the new teachers, but perhaps they do not. Your letter is so heartfelt, Holly, and so right. No one has to do it all right at first, and the overriding goal is to do exactly what you said, "Do what you believe is right for students." & the rest will fall into place. (Glad you are 'walking' again!)

  6. My first year was 33 years ago and in the meantime I've raised three children and been through a major health crisis. It all humbles you as well as gives you much needed experience. I remember my first year because those kids are still in my life. They are now 40 years old! They are my FB friends. I am watching their children grow. Those early years are so important and so hard. I was blessed to have a ton of support. Mentors, parents, husband...and even the kids themselves.
    I remember that the favorite part of the day was read aloud. Can you believe I read aloud The Secret Garden? I even did the accent. Today that book holds a special place in my heart.

  7. It is good to be connected with this community. It really does not matter how many years we have been teaching, we all need mentors--some of them just become our friends for life! Wise words Holly!

  8. This is all really sound advice. I think the most important is to find a mentor who has a positive attitude and stick to them like glue. :)