What we wish we had known

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As students and teachers begin a new school year, the staff of NCTQ continues to reflect back on their first days of school as new teachers. Here's what some of our former teachers said in response to my question: What do you wish you would have known before your first day in the classroom?

Sandi Jacobs (Vice President and Managing Director, State Policy) was a 4th and 5th grade teacher in Brooklyn, New York:

I wish I had known how to help kids learn how to read. I was good at helping kids who could already read develop their reading skills, and I became pretty good at helping weak readers get better.  But for those kids who had made it all the way to the fourth or fifth grade as non-readers, I was of little use.

Katie Moyer (Team Leader, National Review) was a 4th grade English Language Development teacher in Arizona and echoed part of Sandi's response:

I wish I'd known more about how to diagnose and then address early literacy and basic math needs. I could have been a much better resource for my students if I'd had more concrete tools for building foundational skills.

Sarah Brody (Policy Analyst and Development Officer) taught high school English in Philadelphia:

I wish I'd been able to watch more good teachers in action before I started my job, especially those who taught my subject area well in tough schools like mine.

Ginger Moored (TR3 Manager) taught physics in Washington, DC and agreed with Sarah on the issue of seeing good classroom managers in action:

I would have liked to have learned more classroom management skills.  Once I started teaching, a lot of the classroom management techniques that worked best for me were ones I learned after observing the best teachers in my school.

Nancy Waymack (Managing Director, District Policy) taught 2nd and 5th grade in Houston, Texas:

I was nervous about communicating with parents, but I was clueless to the fact that they might be nervous about communicating with me!  Had I known this, it would have calmed my nerves somewhat and I might have approached meetings and calls differently.

Laura Johnson (Communications Coordinator) taught high school math in Washington, DC:

I wish my teacher preparation program had taught me how to teach someone to read. (Yes, I taught high school math, but it would still have been useful.)  Also, I wish I'd learned the basics about learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and some instructional/management strategies for engaging students with disabilities. Before I started teaching it would have been nice to see what a high-functioning classroom with high-needs students looks like.

Susan Douglas (Executive Assistant and Office Manager) taught middle school English and study skills in Northern Virginia:

I wish I'd known how weak many middle school students' grammar foundation would be and that a fair number of students really don't enjoy reading. I was also unaware of how to work with an administration set on keeping parents happy at all costs.

Stephanie Zoz (Manager of Data Collection, Teacher Preparation Studies) taught middle school math in  Montgomery County, Maryland:

I realized how poorly I was prepared to teach middle school. I was certified to teach middle school after graduating from an elementary education program that didn't prepare me for much past 3rd grade.

A few words of advice for new teachers from NCTQ veteran teachers:

Call/email families early and often. Invite them to class. Visit their homes. Use online grade/attendance trackers so that they can stay involved. Don't skip sleep and don't work both days of the weekend.  Laura Johnson

Learn Spanish.  Nancy Waymack