A Letter

Last week, in TWIOE, I noted a challenge from Stephen Hurley to pen a letter to a new teacher.  I’ve been mulling this around, editing/revising, and figured it was time to let it go.  Here would be my letter.  (It’s a long one but not as long as it originally would have been…)

Dear New Teacher:

Congratulations on starting the next stage in your life.  As an educator in the province, you have the opportunity to mold the lives and help set the direction for thousands of students over the course of your career.  It starts in a couple of weeks and, undoubtedly you’ve been in setting up your classroom(s) and getting very little sleep.  That’s pretty much par for the course – just long as you recognize you can’t keep it up all year!  30-35 years from now, it will all be over.  That time will absolutely fly by.  In the letter, I’d like to offer some advice and suggestions.

Yes, I know.  You’ve probably not even received your first pay cheque yet.  You’ve amassed bills over your university career that will need to be paid.  What to do?  Go see an advisor now!  How are you going to retire your current debt; prepare to buy your own home; plan for your own kid’s education; save for a vacation; get ready for retirement.  It’s never too early to start planning.  Think back to high school mathematics and calculate how much even $1000 saved annually will pay off at the end of your career.  Your credit union or bank will only be too happy to help.

The other side of income, of course, is expenses.  If you think of our profession as one big community, it’s not too difficult to imagine that there’s purchasing power in numbers.  It should come as no surprise that there are collectives to provide value to you.  You need to check out Edvantage.  But don’t stop there.  School supply stores, book stores, manufacturers, and community members all love teachers – there are offers and discounts awaiting you.  You just have to hunt them out.  The best place to find them?  Talk to your colleagues or look at the bulletin board in your staff room.

Know Your Federation
As a teacher in the province, you will be a member of a teaching federation.  Your district will have a local with officers and your school will have its own branch.  You don’t really know how education works until you’ve served on the collective bargaining group.  Or, you won’t know all of the issues in education until you work on an equity group.  Or, professional development.  In addition, acquaint yourself with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.  You’ll have received an overview at the Faculty of Education but now it gets serious.  This is your professional group.  The more that you know, and get involved, the better.

Professional Subject Associations
Regardless of the discipline that you’ve chosen, there is a professional subject association for your needs.  Whether it’s resources, professional learning / discussion, or conferences, this will be your best set of connections to help you grow as a teaching professional. Subscribe to, and participate in the ongoing discussions as you learn and grow as a teacher.  Never stop learning.

Don’t overlook your own district.  Take advantage of the district’s and/or federation’s new teacher orientation.  Get someone to buy you Harry Wong’s First Days of School.  You won’t regret it.

Or do something with students outside of the class hours.  I know it’s not officially part of your job but, if you can swing it among your other commitments, it will help you so much.  Students will see you as something other than a teacher!  Parents will appreciate your efforts.  You’ll get to know students in a different context.  Just be aware that withholding this volunteerism is often the first step taken in a job action.

Buy a Computer
When you enter your room in August, you may be presented with a very clean classroom with a fully configured classroom computer or bank of computers.  Experience will tell you that they don’t stay that way for long.  And, if they are the school’s property, they’re probably very tightly locked down so that they won’t work outside of the school anyway.  Get yourself a computing device for lesson planning, notes, report cards, productivity, etc.  Sure, you’ll use it at home, but get a request in early to have it attached to the school’s network.  Be reasonable too – start saving for your replacement in five year’s time.

Reflect Lots
Isn’t it surprising that I’ve got this far in the letter and haven’t mentioned teaching at all?  Chance are, your first year will be full of activities that don’t go right.  You’ve got to make sure that they don’t beat you up and that you learn from them.  Make sure that you have a good day book and use it as your personal tracker.  At the end of the day, take a few moments to write yourself a note about what went right and ideas for success if you get a chance to teach the same lesson again.

You have a whole school behind you.  Talk with colleagues and find out their successes.  If you’re going to try something a little different, check with your department head or principal to make sure that your back is covered.

Get Blended
It is true what they say – students do like to use technology.  Remember how you used to update your Facebook status while your university prof went on and on about the role of education in the British North America Act?  Specifically Section 93?  Those 30 warm bodies in your classroom are accustomed or should become accustomed to elements of a lesson being online.  Remember eLearningOntario from the Faculty?  It’s absolutely one of the best places to start.  Meet them half way and you won’t regret it.

Take Pictures
Don’t wait until the end of the year yearbook to give you the fond memories.  You’ve got a smartphone – take lots of pictures and tuck them away in your digital memory box.  There will come a time when you look back and have great memories of the connections and successes that you’ve had.  You don’t need to share them with anyone else.  What’s a great project look like?  A great team?  A great bulletin board?  If you are going to share the images online, follow the school rules for doing so.  The best advice is to take pictures of the activity and not necessarily the head and shoulders shot of the student.

Get to School Early
Can you remember the frustration of being behind a school bus at any point in time?  It’s even worse when there are four publically funded school systems all with schools starting roughly at the same time.  Plus, a convoy ends up at your school’s front door.  It’s an occupational hazard!  You can go from late to really late in a hurry.  And, along the way end up with a really bad parking spot.

Make Important Connections
Your life is so much better when you have a good working environment.  Get to know the school secretary, guidance staff, care taking staff, and the folks in the cafeteria.  They control so much of the school environment and you want them on your team. 

You’ve had the lessons at the Faculty of Education – you’ve done your practice teaching – you have the subject background.  The difference now is that the students in front of you are yours.  You will have great successes; you will have some activities that don’t come through as planned.  The best news is that we all went through the same thing.  All the best to you as you start in September.

I could go on but will put this to a halt. 

Thanks, Stephen, for the idea.  It was a fun post to write and there was so much that I edited out.  You don’t want to scare people before they get started.

What do you think folks?  Did you take Stephen’s challenge and write one yourself?