Panel of new teachers share experiences with education majors

On April 19, approximately 150 students filled Newton Hall before a panel of eight new teachers, most of whom had graduated from Geneseo only a few years before. The event, called "Surviving and Thriving in Your First Year of Teaching" was organized by education honor society Phi Delta Kappa and hosted by Coordinator of Student Teaching John Williams.

"They represent the new experience of being a teacher," Williams said. The panel was brought together to bring forth a perspective that was closely linked both to the student and professional worlds. Together, they represented the full spectrum of grade levels, school settings and subjects. Williams asked them to emphasize different topics, and proposed specific questions reflecting common curiosities of education majors. Though the event was structured, the discussions it fostered were more conversational. Holding nothing back, participants agreed unanimously on some issues and had differing views on others.

The panel addressed their first day teaching independently in a classroom, which all described as being more emotionally charged than any of their students. All of the excitement that had built up from childhood dreams of being a teacher, field visits to schools in the area, student teaching, job interviews, and future plans were condensed into one day. As one panel member explained, the first day is an opportunity to get excited about the rest of the year.

However, the positive emotions of the first day are well-matched with the nerves. In the face of these nerves, there is room for error in the first days of the school year that poses a threat to the weeks and months ahead. Most of the new teachers agreed that a balance between having well-prepared plans that don't leave much to chance and having a good time doing what feels right paves the smoothest course of action. The panel also noted that kids see very quickly whether or not the teacher is consistent and confident, and will act accordingly.

After making it through the first day, the new teachers discussed their experiences adapting to kids, teachers, pitfalls, progress and school culture on a whole as the year goes on. One panel member suggested taking every opportunity available, from eating lunch with fellow teachers to getting involved in extra-curricular activities. The sooner new teachers get to know the lay of the land, the better adjusted they will become. Alternatively, another panel member cautioned students against taking on too much at once, to the extent that it hinders progress as a teacher.

Whatever their adaptation to school culture, the panel agreed that entering a new school was clearly the process of entering a new community, complete with customs, friendships and gossip. According to the new teachers, fitting in is a challenge to approach proactively yet carefully. Right from the interview, students should try to pick up on the school's culture, gravitating to supportive environments. Working in the school, the panel's advice included making friends with the secretary, choosing battles wisely before tenure, seeking to get along with everyone, accepting and asking for the guidance of others, and being as authentic as possible.

Williams than sought the panel's feedback on planning and classroom management, which most identified as the most challenging part of beginning the job. They encouraged taking all the help available and welcoming the advice of seasoned colleagues. They also recommended having set routines and expectations at the start, and then letting the class personality shape the direction from there. One panel member discovered in the classroom that kids want to learn and to be challenged. It's only a matter of inspiring and motivating that part of them.

With students, of course, there are parents. As the new teachers have found, parents represent a uniquely rewarding and challenging presence. On one side, there are the happy faces and phone calls of parents who see their child progress and recognize the teacher's role in the process. On the other, there are parents that present a slew of problems. The panel identified three in particular that they had come across: parents who don't leave the teacher alone, those who couldn't care less, and those who are angry and hostile. In all cases, the new teachers found that putting themselves in parents' shoes, documenting all conferences, and moving toward a solution was the surest path to good relationships.

"I was hoping that [the panel] would feel comfortable sharing their experiences, being candid in their responses, and passing on their passion for their work," Williams said. "I was not disappointed." At the end of the event, they received an enthusiastic round of applause from many students who were soon to follow in their footsteps.

Did you know?

"Lamron" is "normal" spelled backwards. Its name comes from a time when Geneseo was a normal school, or a teachers' college.