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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Hear Me Out, Rookies

by Cheryl Dotson Redman

Dear Young Teacher,
I’ve been here a long time. In fact, there’s a distinct possibility I was teaching school the day you were born. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’ve learned a lot over the years. Here’s my chance to share some of the perspective I have gained. So listen to me now. Listen and learn.

We’ll start with this: When we enter this building, let’s leave the rest of the world outside the school doors. Let’s give it all to these kids. There will be days you’ll have to pretend to be excited about the water cycle. Just do it. There will be days when you carry a personal burden on your shoulders. Let these kids lift that burden for a few hours. Let them consume your thoughts; fill these hours with them. Because that’s why you’re here:  for the kids. And they need every bit of you.

Let’s get here on time in the mornings and stay long enough in the afternoons to make sure everything is in place for the following school day. And while you’re at it, dress appropriately. Have work clothes and play clothes, and don’t confuse the two.
We’re not going to use our cell phones in front of the kids, unless we have left a sick child with a babysitter or a family member is on life support. We’re not going to text or check our personal e-mail accounts when there are children in our rooms. We’re not going to post anything on Facebook during the school day. We are going to give these children our full and complete attention.

We’re not going to chew gum or drink Cokes in front of students if the rules say they can’t do those things. We’re not going to talk during fire drills if we expect them to stand silently. Yeah, I know you’re a grown-up, not a kid, but you chose to work in a kid’s world.

You have to set the example. You have to get it right. You need to pass on the best traits and the wisdom of the generations that passed before you. These kids are bombarded with today’s generation; it’s in their faces wherever they look. They’re looking to you for something different. You can give them honored traditions, standards, expectations. Are they getting those anywhere else?

Let’s try our best to speak properly. If you’re not sure how to say something correctly, ask someone. And if your kids are saying it wrong, correct them. Gently, with a smile. Every time. Then make them repeat it, so they can hear it coming out of their very own mouths.

Let’s make sure every written assignment and note home contain zero grammatical errors or typos. Proofread. Have someone else proofread for you. And if something somehow slips by you, and you don’t notice until you’ve already made 25 copies, let the kids find your mistake and correct it before that paper goes home.
We’re going to treat kids with respect. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt every time we can. Let’s show them love. And if you can’t find love in your heart for one of them, ask God to give you some of the love He has for that kid… because He loves them all.

When it comes to faculty meetings, first-year teachers should keep a low profile for awhile. Ask questions, sure – but don’t voice too many opinions just yet. Take some time to take the temperature of your new environment. Be very observant. Notice which teachers’ opinions are highly regarded, which ones are positive thinkers, which ones are happy to help or give advice. Spend time with these dedicated professionals.

Let’s treat everyone – teachers, aides, substitutes, volunteers, custodians, cafeteria ladies, secretaries and administrators – with the same respect. We’re all on the same team. We’re not going to stand around in the halls gossiping. Let’s go back into our classrooms and spend that time productively, so we can be sure we are each pulling our own weight.

You have good things to offer: your knowledge of recent trends in education and instructional strategies, your connection to pop culture, your understanding of current slang. You’re probably more comfortable with technology than many of your older co-workers. I hope you’ll be willing to help and to teach us, because we want to learn. You have new ideas and high energy levels. We need you, and we welcome you.
Together, let’s focus on what’s good. Let’s celebrate small improvements. Let’s create a place where kids can grow and learn. Let’s provide consistency in a world where things seem to change constantly. Let’s bring our “A game” every day when we come here to work, and when we leave, we will know we have done our best.

Redman, a member of the Education Association of Norton, is a Title I teacher and reading coach at Norton Elementary and Middle School, where she has taught for 21 years. She also has teaching experience in Hawaii and Indiana.    



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