When I was a first-year teacher, I thought my second year of teaching would be unimaginably easy. By year two, I reckoned, I’d have it all figured out: a year’s worth of lesson plans and perfect systems for grading and classroom management. As a result, I’d have all kinds of free time on the weekend.
Of course, that wasn’t the case. Sure, a few things were easier, but every year brings new kids, new ideas to try out, and new “asks” of educators. And then there’s simply the pursuit of excellence: as a teacher, Sundays were about reading over student work and planning. I learned to be more efficient, but I spent the same amount of time planning because I was always learning how to teach better.
The same goes for being the founding principal of a school. Continue reading
Street art Mott Haven, Bronx
As I’m hiring for the next school year, I’m starting to see a key teacher quality I hadn’t recognized before: the ability to be an adult around teenagers.
This may sound obvious. What I mean is that the teacher knows that they are the adult, and that the student is a kid who may not yet possess all of the politeness, life skills, and behaviors they need to be productive and have good relationships. The teacher knows that as the adult, they have the main responsibility for creating a respectful relationship.
As I’m interviewing teacher candidates, I see two ways of approaching teens:
The first way is the adult/responsible way, and it ranges from a calm neutrality—“Teenagers are teenagers, they have their ups and downs, let’s keep teaching and not take it personally”—to compassion—“It’s tough to be a teenager and we need to guide kids through this time in their life.”
The second way is the victim way, a constant skirmish between the teacher and student: “They’re making it difficult for me to deliver my lesson” or “I’m not letting Student X back into my class until he apologizes.” Continue reading
Student artwork sale at the High School of Language and Innovation
I remember my first interview for a teaching position in August 2000, part of the first cohort of New York City Teaching Fellows. I was standing in line at a hiring fair at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.
When I got to the front of the line, a harried-looking man introduced himself as a district representative hiring for a position teaching 8th grade in a middle school in Brooklyn. Continue reading
Last week, I saw my school through new eyes.
We had a visit of 11 first-year teachers from other high schools, part of a new teacher support initiative in the Bronx. My school was one of 15 schools chosen for the visit with a focus on teaching methods for English Language Learners, as the majority of our students are newcomer immigrants who are learning English.
I told my leadership consultants, Ariel and Shya Kane, about the visit. “First-year teachers? They’re going to compare themselves if they feel insecure,” said Ariel. “Set them up to not compare, and look at your school with a beginner’s mind so they can learn.” Continue reading
As our nation discusses the idea of arming teachers, I’ve been thinking about a teacher’s ability to see and hear the many things happening in a classroom.
Years ago, I was working in a school where a teacher left in November due to illness. A few days later, a new teacher was hired to fill the position. The students in the class were struggling, and even though they were compassionate about the situation, they were upset. And hungry for structure.
I met the new teacher the morning she was starting her new job. She had a lesson plan. She’d be entering the classroom in an hour. There were so many things she needed to do on that first day to establish structure. Where to start? Continue reading
In my first year of teaching, I was never observed by an administrator. I started to think that not being observed might be a good thing, as I was struggling mightily to keep my classroom under control.
I taught 8th grade English in a public middle school in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The school itself was struggling and had been placed on a state list for low student achievement. The principal and assistant principal were both brand new in their jobs and in hindsight, I have empathy for the difficult situation they were in (although I certainly had no empathy at the time). I got used to the idea that administrators were people who helped when things went badly—for example, when a discipline problem forced me to call them and get help. Maybe it was better they weren’t visiting, I thought. What would they see in my classroom? That I was a failure?
The 55-25 retirement option
In my third year of teaching when I was 24 years old, there was an option to sign up for “55-25.” “55-25” was an early retirement option for educators, which meant that once you turned 55 and had been teaching in the system for 25 years, you could retire early and receive 50% of your average salary.
I remember several veteran teachers asking me if I had signed up for 55-25. I barely registered their question. I figured, there’s no way I’ll still be in education in 25 years. Continue reading
I started my teaching career in September 2000 at Intermediate School 33 in Brooklyn, a school that has since closed. I was hired to teach 8th grade English at the same time as Sara Milstein, both of us recent college graduates who quickly became friends.
On the first day, we introduced our rules to our students. “What happens if you break them?” asked a student. We weren’t sure.
The first several months of our teaching careers were an exercise in containing classroom chaos, and many times, we ended the day in tears.