As the school year begins I was curious about what is going on in the minds of first-year teachers as they embark on this exciting journey of teaching. During their first year, teachers can be bombarded with information that they may not need immediately, but at the same time, they may be too nervous to ask questions. Too many new teachers leave the profession within the first three years of teaching. So what are the best ways for administrators to support new teachers?
To learn more about what new teachers are thinking about, I spoke with Susan Jachymiak who just began her journey as a 4th-grade teacher. She is from Orland Park, Illinois and recently graduated from Illinois State University this past May. She is passionate about growth-mindset and helping students achieve their full potential. During the 2017-18 school year, she blogged about her year in student teaching and this year she is chronicling her first year as a teacher. On her blog she writes, “I would not be where I am today without my former teachers, and I am lucky that I get this chance to shape the future”.
Through our conversation, I was reminded of the excitement of first-year teachers and as well as the kinds of questions about teaching that they are trying to figure out. Susan helped me to remember that new teachers are driven to develop their own personality as a teacher but also need the support in order to grow. You can read her blog at http://msjachymiak.weebly.com/ and you can find her on Twitter @MsJachymiak where she uses the hashtag #newteacherjourney.
You just finished the first week in your first year of teaching. How did it go?
Well, I have a few chatty students so I’m trying to figure out a new system that would work because students were not buying into the one I was trying. My fourth graders are very into tangible rewards, so I'm trying to figure out a classroom economic system that I'm implementing this week to see if that will work. It is based on rewards. I'm hoping it teaches life skills and builds the financial literacy that they might not have at this age. I thought it'd be interesting to see how that goes.
What were some of your best takeaways from student-teaching?
As a new teacher, I feel more confident due to having done a full year of student teaching. I was able to see how my cooperating teacher figured out the classroom management and got to figure out other classroom procedures. I felt like I have a better take on those procedures going into my first year, but of course, there's a lot more to learn.
Describe your job search process? What were some of the strategies that you used that helped you get this job?
I went to the job fair at my university (Illinois State University) which was helpful because I got to interact with a lot of principals and employers who were interested in hiring new teachers. It was nice to be able to talk to them and get tips and feedback going forward. I initially didn't have a narrow search because I was kind of interested In going wherever I could find a job as a first-year teacher. But after a while that I started to decide that I wanted to go back home. So focusing on that area helped to limit my search a little bit. But then again, it also opened up doors because I was able to get calls from my district and it all ended up working out in the end. But the job search is a process of trying to figure out how to showcase myself positively.
Was there an interview question that you heard pretty regularly?
The most common questions were about how I incorporate technology into a sample lesson. I talked about some lessons I did during student teaching. I do not have a lot of experience so a lot of it was based on student teaching and figuring out like which lessons worked and what I could have improved on.
Twitter helped as well. It was good to be able to interact with other people that were helping me during the job search because they would have connections from their district and they would message me things that I could apply to my process.
What advice do you have for administrators on how they can best support a new teacher?
I would say to be open to suggestions. I think that as a new teacher we're afraid to share out ideas that we have because we don't want to be pushed down. When you're new, you come in with these bright ideas and you want to change or you want to try out some new things and, I think, just having an administrator that is supportive is beneficial. Today I just emailed my principal about trying this new classroom management system, so she knew that what I was trying that out and to see if she had any questions. I don't want to change the status quo, but I also want to do things in my own way. So I think to be supportive and realize that new teachers don't have all the answers. Also, I know that new teachers are afraid of asking questions. And while I'm trying to steer away from being afraid I sometimes still forget to ask. I have to write down all of my questions because I end up getting distracted by things. When you're new, you don't know what to expect, and you’re just figuring it out on your own. I think administrators forget that we have a lot on our minds.
I also wonder if new teachers don’t know what questions to ask either.
Yes, I get caught up in situations where I'm like oh yeah I should have asked about that.
Through your blog, you chronicled your student teaching and now you are chronicling your first year teaching. Also, you are also using Twitter regularly. How has social media helped your development as a teacher?
I started going on Twitter chats after being connected to an educator that I met at ISU, and then I started going on Twitter weekly. I started interacting with other teachers who are also passionate, and from there I expanded my use. So now I’ve started my own chat and I've been able to start a blog. It's been amazing to start off my career like this because I feel like I have the support. If I'm afraid of something or I need advice on how to handle the situation, I reach out, and I get answers. It's been so helpful to have that support system. Blogging has helped because I’m able to reflect on how my week went. Blogging is how I thought about switching my classroom management system. I was thinking about writing a post today about my first week and in the process of writing I was like, “what can I do to provide rewards that motivate students.” And then I was like “oh, maybe this will work, and I can reflect on that process.” If I end up not using it in the long run, at least I have a starting point. I find blogging is a great way to reflect on my teaching practice and I can go back to my blogs down the road.