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What was your biggest challenge as a new teacher?

I was challenged by my own misconceptions. I thought knowing the content would make me a good teacher. Wrong! I thought being a nice person would make me a good teacher. Wrong! I thought I knew how to be an effective disciplinarian. Wrong! After 20 years, there are still many times when I don't know the best way to handle situations in the classroom. Just when I think I've figured it out, along comes a new challenge. I don't think teachers ever become so good that they don't look for new and better ways to deal with problems. That's what makes them good teachers. It's not a stagnant job; it constantly changes and requires teachers to change, too.
Kelly Martin, Mt. Blanchard, Ohio

Meeting the academic, social, and personal needs of 25 to 35 children—students with IQs ranging from 80 to 150, and with personalities more varied than that. I wondered if I ever came close, but I kept at it for 37 years. Last fall I received an email from a student in my very first class. She told me what a great teacher I was and that she could think of only one other teacher that she remembered with the same fondness. Now there's a reason to hang in there.
Richard Siegelman, Plainview, New York
I taught at a small Catholic School in Michigan for 34 years until this past year, when I moved to Florida and began teaching at a public elementary school. I felt like a new teacher once again. I was already comfortable with classroom management, discipline strategies, and organization, but I was challenged by all the paperwork, documentation, and testing, testing, testing! If it weren't for NCLB, the new teacher experience would be much more rewarding.
Sandra Rink, Punta Gorda, Florida

Navigating the school community was my biggest challenge. After relocating to a new town, I had to become acquainted with a new area, new people, new students, and new colleagues. Early on, someone told me that the custodian would be a good ally; to this day, that still holds true. They give directions, open locked doors, and provide toilet paper, among a myriad of other invaluable services. Never underestimate one of them.
Hope Blecher-Sass, Edison, New Jersey

When I began my career, my teaching style matched that of my own teachers when I was a student—it was a very strict, no-nonsense style, if a little old-fashioned. Students, and their parents, had a hard time accepting that style, but we reached a middle ground. New teachers face many challenges, but it only strengthens their tenacity. It did for me—I stayed at the same school for my entire 34-year teaching career.
Barbara Spencer, Lafayette, Louisiana

My biggest challenge was developing reasonable expectations, from behavior to work effort to quality of work. It took me years to get used to typical adolescent behavior—their language, their humor, their sensitivity, their sometimes nonchalant attitude toward school work. And their mood swings! Now I'm much more relaxed with my students, much more compassionate, and patient. After 12 years in education, I would advise new teachers to think very carefully about their expectations—and that doesn't mean giving up on high expectations—it just means working to understand the minds and the abilities of their students.
Cynthia Baird, Blanca, Colorado

We want to hear from you! What is your secret to recharging during a hectic school day? Please use specific examples and anecdotes, and we'll consider your submission for an upcoming issue of NEA Today.

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