New Teachers Help One Another Through First Year
How Do You Support Students Whose Parents Are Getting Divorced?
The Goal: National Board Certification
What Do You Do When the Administration Doesn't Back You Up on
How I Did It |
Problems & Solutions
New Teachers Help One Another Through First Year
This Missouri district doesn’t believe in
a sink-or-swim philosophy.
Rable, left, mentors new teacher Cari McDougal.
retention of teachers is as much a problem in Missouri as it is
nationwide. So in 1993, when Chris Guinther transferred from teacher to
curriculum and instruction facilitator for the Francis Howell School
District, helping new teachers survive their first year became a top
priority for her.
Impressed by a neighboring district’s Beginning Teacher Network (BTN)––
sponsored by the local NEA affiliate—Guinther convinced her district and
local Association to co-sponsor a similar program. Now in its seventh
year, the resulting Francis Howell Beginning Teacher Network has
provided more than 400 new teachers with new ideas and strategies for
“First-year teachers have told me that it is the isolation of their
job that is so demoralizing,” says Guinther, who’s also president of the
Missouri Staff Development Council. “They need a support system that’s
ongoing, a place where they can talk confidentially with other new
Guinther reaches out to beginning teachers as soon as they’re hired
by the district. She sends the new teachers a greeting letter, inviting
them to join the network.
“I tell them that we want them to be successful in their first year,”
explains Guinther, “and that the Beginning Teacher Network is an
addition to the state’s mandatory program of mentoring by an experienced
Beginning Teacher Network meetings, adds Guinther, offer “a safe
place where teachers can ask for help or say, without fear, that they
don’t know what to do next or even ask next.”
This year, about 50 new teachers are participating in the year-long
program, which will be evaluated by both new teachers and their BTN
mentors. With the evaluation work, says Guinther, “we can modify the
focus of the program as we go along.”
For Cari McDougal, the monthly Beginning Teacher Network meetings
provide a solid source of “support, inspiration, and information.” The
program, says this first-year teacher at Becky David Elementary in St.
Charles, has taught her how to manage her time and her students’
The Beginning Teacher Network, McDougal adds, has even helped her
with parent conferences, teaching her how to begin exchanges with
parents on a positive note before stating any problem.
First-year teacher McDougal also followed the network’s suggestion to
call parents within the first week or two of school. Parents were
“surprised but pleased” to be contacted.
“I found out more about my students—their allergies, who they
shouldn’t be sitting next to,” McDougal says, “and it was all very
“First-year teachers go into their classrooms and think the
challenges and stresses they face are unique,” notes Guinther. “They’re
frustrated and overwhelmed, and we let them know, through our activities
with experienced teachers, that they’re not alone and that all teachers
feel this way from time to time.”
Topics at Beginning Teacher Network meetings range from motivating
students and prioritizing tasks to mainstreaming special education
students. Sessions teach both classroom survival skills and life skills
such as financial management, says Guinther, who brings in a speaker
from the NEA Member Benefits program each year.
Teachers attending the Beginning Teacher Network sessions get plenty
of refreshments—and have fun, too. They compete for door prizes,
everything from books like Harry Wong’s First Days of School to Dr.
Seuss ties, “school bus” bookends, desk organizers, book bags, bulletin
board materials, and games for indoor recess.
The program’s refreshments and prizes are funded by the Francis
Howell NEA local and the school district’s Professional Development
Natalie Lacey, a first-year fifth grade teacher at Central
Elementary, says that the best part of the Beginning Teacher Network
program has been learning how to keep her students under control.
“I don’t know that I would have known to do this,” says Lacey, “if it
wasn’t for the Beginning Teacher Network.”
For second-grade teacher Amy Nichols—now a second-year teacher––the
program has “lessened the isolation and helped me know that the stress I
feel is not because I’m not good at my job. It’s something others are
also going through.”
The best way to sum up the success of the Francis Howell Beginning
Teacher Network? Guinther likes to share an anecdote from a BTN teacher
whose friend quit teaching after her first year.
“The difference of what I had and my friend had was a support
network,” the member noted. “If she had had what I had, maybe she’d be
For more, contact Chris Guinther at
How Do You Support Students Whose Parents Are Getting
I try to listen to what
they’re saying and how they feel. If they want my opinion, I offer it. I
believe they need to share how they feel and to know their teacher
cares. They also need to be reassured that everyone—including their
mother, father, and teacher—still loves them.
High school teacher
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
I teach high school and
have had numerous students whose parents were going through a divorce.
Some students have come from homes where abuse has taken place, others
where drugs and alcohol have been a major factor, and others where
families have been abandoned.
It’s never easy to deal with children who are suffering, and
sometimes they don’t want to tell you what is really bothering them.
Many withdraw and want to be left alone. Some want to talk and vent
their feelings. Others are angry and exhibit hostility. Virtually all
are very deeply hurt and just want someone to listen, show concern, and
I try to do what I can by making a special effort to reach out and
talk to them each day when I am aware of family problems. I also
encourage them to talk with a guidance counselor or a friend.
High school teacher
Don’t take sides, but
hear what they have to say. You might try to get them involved in a
phase of your classroom work so that they have some organization in
their lives during this period.
Retired high school teacher
Children tend to blame
themselves when their parents separate and divorce. Listening to them
and allowing them to talk about their frustrations is important.
Connecting them with another student who has gone through a similar
situation also may help. Like adults, they need to know that they are
not alone. Talking to someone their age validates their feelings.
Most times, one of the parents will speak to me about the impending
divorce. That’s the perfect time to remind them to talk to their
children. I stress how important it is to constantly let children know
they are loved by both parents and they are not to blame for the
Sixth grade teacher
Port Orchard, Washington
I try to reassure the
child that there are other students at school who have experienced the
same thing and that divorce is an adult problem having nothing to do
with a child’s behavior.
We explain that both parents still love their child but find that
they can’t comfortably live together anymore and that there’s nothing
the child can do to change that. We talk about ways the child can still
see both parents, even if one is moving far away. Some children find it
helpful to make a little journal where they can write and/or draw their
feelings about the divorce. I then encourage them to share their journal
with both parents so they can talk further about it.
Elementary school counselor
Brookings, South Dakota
Learning: Problems & Solutions
The Goal: National Board Certification
Two veteran Ohio elementary teachers seek
the teaching profession's top hallmark of quality.
and Beki Dorka, both veteran teachers, earned their National Board
Certification--an arduous but rewarding process.
Fewer than 5,000
teachers across the country have so far met the rigorous requirements
for National Board Certification.
That's not surprising. Becoming nationally certified takes lots of
study, honest self-evaluation, and a high tolerance for stress.
It's difficult enough for one teacher to undertake the voluntary
national certification process, even with the support of understanding
family and colleagues.
In Mansfield, Ohio, teachers Chuk and Beki Dorka decided to double
that difficulty. In 1996, they both started down the road to
national certification, together.
Today, more than three years later, Chuk and Beki have finally
achieved their goals, and their experience can help any educator
considering the national certification process.
Chuk and Beki each have over 20 years teaching. To them, the virtues
of national certification are self-evident.
“National standards are really about what constitutes excellence in
teaching,” says Chuk, who's 48. “Every teacher can benefit from a
process with this kind of focus.“
The cost of applying for national certification, fortunately, was not
an obstacle for the Dorkas. Ohio pays the $2,000 fee for the
certification process--and rewards each nationally certified teacher
with a $2,500 yearly bonus.
Their first obstacle turned out to be the sheer volume of the work
required to become nationally certified.
After filing their applications, the two received the box of
materials necessary to complete the process. Chuk, a sixth grade teacher
at Dowds Elementary in Shelby, was overwhelmed.
"I wasn't expecting the kind of depth the process demands," he
As a first step, Beki posted a giant calendar in the basement with
self-imposed early deadlines.
"I have to have everything all lined up," laughs Beki, a 49-year-old
fourth grade teacher at Ranchwood Elementary. "Chuk has piles."
One big part of the national certification process involves putting
together a professional portfolio. Each portfolio needs to include
videos of classroom lessons, self-evaluations of these lessons, logs of
professional development activities, and much more. It all amounts to a
huge writing job.
"If you're honest," says Chuk, "you can find something about your
teaching in the video that needs improvement."
Doing the self-evaluations for the portfolios demands that
candidates" come to grips with what the kids see everyday," adds Beki.
The self-evaluations Chuk did led to direct changes in his teaching
"There's so much to do, so much to cover, that I think I'd become too
intense," says Chuk. "I saw places on the tape where I wanted to put
more joy back into what I was doing, not to be on such a steamroller. We
do less now, but we do less better."
During the months-long process, Chuk and Beki argued, read everything
the other wrote, and tried not to lose their senses of humor. But things
sometimes got too intense.
"Then Chuk would go do laundry, and I'd do stained glass," says Beki.
At Beki's insistence, Chuk ended up redoing his first videotape. He
had taped a lesson where he wore antlers in the classroom.
"Beki thought that people who didn't know me would think I was
performing just for the tape," says Chuk, who once ate worms to help
demonstrate the various sources of protein.
In the end, Chuk passed on his first attempt at national
certification, in the early adolescence generalist field. Beki made
three attempts, finally becoming certified as a middle childhood
generalist last November.
On her second attempt, Beki missed becoming certified by only a
"We cried for two hours," says Chuk.
Fortunately, the certification process is divided into several parts,
and participants are given four years to "bank" their strongest areas
and redo only weaker sections. That flexibility meant that Beki did not
have to repeat the entire process all over again.
"Students and parents were part of this process," says Beki. "It was
hard to go back and tell them I didn't do my job well enough. They all
felt bad. Now I can say, I told you I could do this. I didn't give up."
For more information: See the
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Web site. To
apply for National Board Certification or to request more information,
What Do You Do When the
Administration Doesn't Back You Up on Discipline?
When administrators do
not back me in discipline situations, I write a grievance. My teaching
contract calls for support in these situations, so that I can perform my
primary duty--teaching students!
Secondary science educator
From the first day of
school, I set rules with strict consequences for students. I set my
consequences as if I did not have the backing of administrators.
To show students I mean business, I don't give them many chances
between warnings and the consequences. I also send my rules home to
parents, who have to read them to their children and sign and return
them to me.
Parents who do not agree with my rules can set up a conference with
me. I let parents know that this does not mean I will change anything,
but I am willing to work with them and listen to their ideas.
I also involve parents in the disciplining of their children. My
parents know that if I call or send them an E-mail, the matter at hand
needs immediate attention. Their child cannot participate in any class
activities until we have met and solved the problem. When I do this, I
send my administrator a copy of my discipline plan, along with copies of
papers with parents' signatures on them.
Elementary school teacher
Your discipline plan
should be well planned, thorough, and consistent--and not dependent on
an administrator. It also helps to have good lines of communication with
Your classroom operates much more smoothly when your students know
the buck stops with you.
Middle school teacher
If an administrator
doesnt back me up, I tighten up the way class is run. Giving students
more restrictions and fewer comfort zones is certainly less enjoyable,
but it is necessary, especially if I know my principal isn't going to
back me up in potentially difficult situations.
Middle school teacher
teachers in your building, teachers in your district, and parents who
want safe schools. And demand statements in your contract that make
faculty responsible for changes to discipline codes and demand that
administrators support those codes. But be sure to make codes that serve
justice and good education, not revenge and anger.
High school math teacher
administrators don't back teachers, it's because they lack information.
If teachers follow their discipline plans and engage in all the steps
leading up to a student being sent to the front office, most
administrators will ultimately back them up.
Be specific in your referrals and let administrators know exactly
what procedures you have attempted before sending a student to them.
Elementary school teacher
St. Petersburg, Florida
How I Did It
Special ed teacher
San Jose, California
I’ve worked with the developmentally disabled, both in and outside
the classroom, since I was a teenager. I’ve also coached basketball,
track and field, bowling, and soccer for the Special Olympics. But it
was a first for all involved when a soccer team I coached represented
the United States at the 1999 International Special Olympics last June
in North Carolina.
Our team consisted of 15 young adults, from ages 18 to 23. Most of
them were either in or had graduated from my special education class at
Pioneer High School.
After winning two qualifying games, we tied with three other teams
for the chance to play in the international games. So officials put our
names in a hat and drew ours.
Special Olympics paid for most of our costs, but we had a lot of
community support. A health club let us work out in their gym every week
with their personal trainers, the local soccer team taught us warm-up
techniques, and Pioneer’s most avid soccer-playing students gave us
Our students learned so much at the games, and everyone earned a
participation medal. They had to follow directions, live independently
and interdependently in dorms, and work with unfamiliar authority
figures. Seven Olympians are graduating this year, and I see lasting
effects––namely increased self-esteem––in them.
Our maintenance department is replacing all the old chalkboards with 4'
x 8' tile board. I asked the maintenance department to cut one of these
boards into 12" squares, which gave me 32 new white board slates. Now
students each have their own slate to use when we practice math facts,
do math visualizations on the overhead, and practice handwriting.
To ensure that we always have enough white-board markers, I
occasionally send a note home to parents explaining that were running
low. To solve the problem of passing out an eraser for each child, I
collected old clean socks. My students keep their markers in the socks
and when we need to use the slates, everything is in their desks and
ready to go.
Asheville, North Carolina
My high school class created books about child development and literacy
for families with new babies to take home from the hospital. Students
researched and wrote sections on the importance of reading to young
children, immunizations, toy selection, and developmental stages. First
graders created the cover illustrations.
Our project educated new parents--and increased my students knowledge
of the importance of good parenting.
I use wallpaper for backgrounds on my bulletin boards. Its fast to put
up, doesnt fade, and doesnt show staple holes. In the summer, I look for
wallpaper on sale and put wallpaper on my bulletin boards first thing in
If I want a different background later, I just put it over the
wallpaper. Then, when I take the special background down, the wallpaper
is ready to go.
Lake City, Michigan