Tales from the First Year is a series chronicling the journey of seven first-year teachers as they learn, succeed, fail, and grow as educators. You will be able to read first-hand accounts of beginning teachers as they start their career during a global pandemic that will require them to teach in a virtual, hybrid, and in face-to-face environments. Our seven teachers include:
Amberleigh Starr: a middle school teacher in a STEM school
James Button: a high school teacher in a public school
Jessa Reed: an elementary school teacher in a public school
Kelley Zebrowski: a high school teacher in a public school
Muna Adan: an elementary school special education teacher in a public school
Romel Moore: a high school teacher in a charter school
Savannah Dalton: an elementary school teacher in a private school
Installment 1: Beginning the Journey:
We are calling our first installment of posts "Beginning the Journey." In these posts the Tales from the First Year teachers share their thinking, feelings, and experiences before they begin their first year while also detailing what it was like to be in charge of a large number of kids for the first time as a teacher of record.
Featured in this Post:
This part two post features the stories of Savannah Dalton, Romel Moore, Amberleigh Starr and James Button. Savannah is an elementary school teacher in a private school, Romel is a high school teacher in a charter school, Amberleigh is a middle school teacher in a STEM school, and James is a high school teacher in a public school.
Beginning My Teaching Career in a Pandemic
By Savannah Dalton
As I prepare for the beginning of my career, all I find myself doing is questioning myself. Have I done enough? Will the students like me? Will I be able to create a positive classroom culture? Will their parents wish their student was in a different classroom? Am I good enough? As I reflect on all the hard work it has taken to get to where I am, I think of these past few months and the hours spent preparing a classroom, reviewing curriculum, collaborating with professional educators and staying posted on COVID-19 news and policies that would affect all teachers nationwide. I think about the last three years working 40 hours a week while trying to graduate an entire year early from college. But, it is when I think about myself as a seven year old sitting before my very own second grade teacher saying, "When I grow up, I want to be just like her," that I begin to feel at ease. Like many teachers, I knew from a young age that teaching is my calling and my passion. You see, I have not just been preparing for this job for the last three months or the last three years; I have been preparing for this job as long as I can remember. It is in these moments where I find the peace and the encouragement I need as I prepare to meet my very first group of students.
I have not just been preparing for this job for the last three months or the last three years; I have been preparing for this job as long as I can remember.
The thought of finally being able to begin my dream job is one of the most exhilarating feelings, but the endless possibilities and all the unanswered questions that come with being a first-year teacher during a pandemic are terrifying. When I was offered a job in April, before graduating, I was frustrated and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a first-year teacher in the midst of a pandemic. It felt as though COVID was going to ruin my first year of teaching. I took the job, but then for the next three months I waited to see what my school year would look like. From April all the way to July I did as much as I possibly could think of to prepare for a school year that I still had no idea what to expect. It was not until the final week of July that I was given plans for what school would look like. I had a few weeks to set up my in-person classroom as well as a digital classroom for hybrid learning. Even with help from family, I spent almost every day of those two weeks in that classroom trying to accommodate two different groups of students - one that would come Monday and Tuesday and another that would come Thursday and Friday. I would then spend countless hours trying to navigate how to accommodate having eight fully online students as well. The entire process was challenging and overwhelming but in time, I was able to create two completely different learning environments that made me feel hopeful for what the school year would hold.
The stress that came from trying to balance being a first-year teacher and being a teacher during a pandemic was and continues to be very challenging. In the time I was setting up my classroom, I met a coworker who is also a first-year teacher. In talking to her I realized that I am not alone. While all teachers nationwide are struggling to adapt to teaching this year, there is only a small number of first-year teachers trying to do the same. In realizing this I began to feel thankful for such an opportunity. I get the privilege to take on this challenge and pave the way for the world of education in the years to come. Many teachers, in an attempt to welcome me to the profession, have stated that this is the best year to be a first-year teacher because all teachers have to adapt. While in this statement there is some truth, I find that it also takes away from the experience of being a first-year teacher. As a beginning teacher, it is important to learn from the experienced teachers, however, because all teachers are trying to adapt to this adjusted reality, there is not a lot of time to learn for or even ask questions of those experienced teachers, if there is any time at all. So, for first-year teachers, like myself, there are questions unanswered, an entire community of people I do not know, and a new school, curriculum and set of expectations I have to learn, on top of teaching during a pandemic. While it is rather daunting at times, I would not have it any other way. Despite the challenges faced, in a few days I will have 11 out of my 29 new students sitting in front of me. I will finally be fulfilling my dream of being a teacher with the privilege of being part of a small community of people who will get to say their first year teaching was during a pandemic. This experience will truly be something that so many of us will never forget.
Fears and A New Family
By Romel Moore
Starting out, I was extremely nervous about how the year was going to play out. So many fears raced through my mind - the fear of my online learning setup not being effective with my students, the anxiety caused by my call to help bridge the educational gap between students of color and white students , the constant fear of coronavirus making its way into the school and closing the building indefinitely - it all scared me. What calmed me was the welcoming atmosphere of the staff at my new school. My fellow first-year teachers and I were not only new faces; we were instantly part of something. The staff my fellow first-year teachers and I became a part of welcomed us in like family. Like my experience on the small, welcoming campus at Capital University, I instantly felt more connected to students and faculty because of the small. welcoming feel of my new school. The school is a Pre-K to 12 charter school with a student population of about 600. The high school wing where I teach is in one corner of the building, adjacent to the kindergarten hallway, and I see all of the teachers for all 14 grades everyday. We help each other with technology questions, covering classes, dismissal. I enjoy the people I work with, the students I see everyday, and the work I do in general. While those fears still linger in my mind, I am comforted by the support of the colleagues I have around me.
My fellow first-year teachers and I were not only new faces; we were instantly part of something.
The Constancy of Change in a Pandemic
By Amberleigh Starr
This year I am beginning my career as an 8th grade Algebra one teacher at a STEM school. As a matter of fact, I am the only 8th grade math teacher here. I knew this going into the school year. I was okay with this fact until the first teacher work day when I sat down and really started to think through how I wanted this year to look. I was still okay with being the only 8th grade math teacher but there were definitely times where it would have been nice to collaborate with another teacher to have some direction on what I was teaching, when I would teach things, and to have someone to bounce ideas off of.
Coming into the school year we didn’t know if we were going to start hybrid or all virtual until a week before classes started. With this I was thankful that our administrative team had told us from the beginning to plan for an all virtual start to the school year because it was easier to adapt or add to a lesson plan if we were in person.
Going into the year I felt well prepared to start my teaching career but at the same time, there was so much that kept changing. Leading up to teacher workdays we were set to start the school year off in a hybrid model where we had an A week and a B week where students would rotate in and out of the building so as to attend to safety protocols brought on by the pandemic. That all changed two days before teacher workdays when we had a staff meeting and they informed us that we would be going all virtual until October 5th and then we would reevaluate and make the decisions on the second half of the semester. Once we got the final word that we were going to be all virtual for a while, it actually made me calmer about planning and how to at least start the year since I knew for at least a while, there would be some stability. I planned time each day to get to know my students so that even though we were not in person, I was able to build rapport with them. This year will be one to remember and although things are constantly changing, I am excited for this year and to have a classroom of my own for the first time. I hope that you will continue to follow me on my journey as a first year teacher.
Pursuing a Teaching Job in a Pandemic
By James Button
I am a high school science teacher who is currently teaching Physical Science (mostly freshman) as well ‘Forensics and Genetics’ (mostly juniors and seniors) in a suburban/ rural district. There are about 1,500 students at the school I teach in, and the district has multiple high schools and middle schools. I am currently writing under the pseudonym of James Button because I want to be as honest as possible by keeping the identity of my school, coworkers and self anonymous. I hope this does not cause a disconnect between you (the reader) and the passion and voice I hope to bring in my writing.
This is a second career for me, as after entering the workforce, I returned to school in order to earn a teaching certificate in hope of becoming a high school science teacher. Because of that, I am starting my first year teaching in my late 20s, which has been a cool benefit to me in being better prepared for the process of interviewing and getting ready for the school year. Since the interviews I attended were during the time of COVID-19, all of theme were conducted virtually. This setup presented a specific challenge to me because I feel like it is just as important for them to get to know me during the interview as it is for me to get to know my potential coworkers. The virtual environment made that particularly difficult to ascertain. Moreover, as one who is big on school culture and workplace energy, I worried that I wouldn't be able to gauge either. In turn, I ended up actually asking more questions in the virtual interviews than I otherwise would have in an in-person interview. The latter allows one to notice the culture of the school, permitting one to experience what takes place walking the halls, to get a feel for the school environment, and to see how the staff interacts with one another. Fortunately, I ended up in a place that has the energy and collaborative environment I was hoping for.
As a whole I am so so happy about my current position. The team of science teachers that I have is amazing and we collaborate almost every day. The administration in my building is very much leading the district and the surrounding area when it comes to creating a vibrant and inviting school culture and workplace community. Many of my posts will focus on how awesome the first year of teaching can be and how when we buy in and work hard, that doesn't make the first year “suck” or make it just an entry year, but could be one of the most rewarding years of a teacher's career!