Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Letter to New Teachers

(In response to Bowman's idea of letter to new teachers...)

Dear Brave New Teacher,

Welcome to the amazing world of teaching. I hope you are prepared for the emotional journey. Here are some things that might help you along during your first year (or maybe first few years):

1. Be emotionally prepared that your first year (and maybe two years) is/are going to be tough. One of the things that frustrated me the most about pre-teacher training was that they had mentioned all of these issues you were supposed to be thinking about, without telling you precisely how to solve those problems. It took me a long time to figure out that it was because our learning theories are so new that we don't yet have all the answers. That fumbling in the dark is also what makes teaching so exciting, in the long run. Everyday, you are going to be forced to problem-solve, to be creative and resourceful, and to forge your own road. Don't be afraid to try new strategies, as long as you realize that it will take close to a month for any new "thing" to show its effect on a student.

2. Teaching is a craft. Therefore, reflecting on your teaching practice is extremely important. You can do it in writing, in meetings with another teacher, or in your head, but you need to think deeply and critically and continuously about how your class is going, and what the experience is like for each individual student in your class. The more you think about each student's experience individually, the more issues you will see with your own lessons, and the faster you will change your strategies and grow.

3. Your attitude is what will make or break you. If you are positive and you keep at it, you will get through the rough patches and IT WILL GET BETTER. During my first year, for at least the first semester, I thought everyday about quitting. Now I love my job and I cannot imagine doing anything else.

4. If you are teaching at an inner-city school, here are some things you need to consider: Why kids put their heads down, why they wear hats and chew gum in the classroom, why they take out their phones or iPods, how often a kid goes to the bathroom during your class, why a kid leaves trash at their desk, why a kid comes late chronically, and --most importantly-- why they don't do those things in other teachers' classrooms. How do other teachers address misbehavior? What is considered misbehavior at your school? During your first year, nothing can be overlooked as a "detail." Teaching is as much a behavioral science as it is an intellectual science. You should find a mentor, or multiple mentors, to whom you can turn to for disciplinary advice. And you should do it as much as you can during your first year. At some point, my first-year mentor was coming into my room literally everyday to watch how my students were going nuts. With his keen observations and concrete suggestions, things got slowly better.

5. You need to find a senior teacher in your department to mentor you, unofficially. Show them your lessons and your worksheets. Do not be afraid. If they are a good teacher, they will be glad to help you. It is my 6th year of teaching this year, but I still sought out a senior teacher to be my unofficial mentor when I arrived at my new school to teach an unfamiliar math curriculum. You will be immensely glad of the little and big things that person can help you with, and you will also build a tremendous working relationship with that person for the long haul. Having an insider to mentor you will also help you navigate the school system and to tip you off on whom to ask when you need something.

5. Always be nice to the secretaries. Extra, extra nice. You will need their help some day -- and anyhow, they're usually pretty awesome people!

6. Always remember that you are handling someone's child. That is the greatest trust someone can place in you.

7. Lastly, you need to work for people who share your values and your vision of a school. Do not compromise your values for the sake of a job. Remember that you need to be happy (both personally and professionally) in order to succeed as a teacher!

Best of luck in your new awesome career,


  1. What a great list. I thought about writing my own blog post in response to the topic, but really, I'd be repeating this, just less eloquently. I hope this gets to a lot of pre-service and first year teachers. I know I would have found it helpful.
    - @Borschtwithanna

  2. by your #4, I teach at an inner-city school that is situated in a city and surrounding area of about 16,000 people and maybe 550 students at the high school level surrounded by countryside and farmland. However, there is quite a bit of student diversity and the free/reduced lunch rate is significant. I think this is a statement more about socioeconomic status or the culture of the community you serve. In short, you're just as likely to see this in rural schools. I'm not judging here as I consider myself to have grown up 'country-poor.'

  3. I really like this. #2 (necessity of reflection), especially, is so important! #1 is also insightful and great. You just can't possibly be ready for everything when you start.

  4. Such a smart advice that most of us don't think about: Always be nice to the secretaries! Thank you, Mimi.

  5. Thanks to all the teachers who have ever helped us along when we were new teachers!