It’s still too early to tell what the next school year will look like post pandemic, but that doesn’t mean educators are in a holding pattern, especially those who will be newly minted teachers in the next year or so.
That’s why NEA’s Aspiring Educator Program has held a series of #AspiringEdLife Live Zoom events from helping prep Aspiring Ed members for entrance into classroom, to Zumba and movie nights for self-care during COVID-19. Recently, Aspiring Ed leaders organized a panel of new educators to share their learning lessons. Dozens of future teachers tuned in to hear from five educators at different stages of their profession.
There was Tevin Middleton of Georgia, a newly certified school counselor; Krishawna Goins of Virginia, a first-grade teacher with a year under her belt; Leander Houston, a second-year, high school biology teacher from Florida; Francisco Dionisio of Texas, a third-year, eighth-grade U.S. history teacher; and Brittany Doffing, a third-year, fifth-grade teacher in Minnesota. Each brought their unique experiences to the event.
Advice ranged from what these new educators wished they would have known before entering the profession to what were some of the deciding factors in accepting a job. Below are some highlights.
Network, Prepare, and ‘Go for It’
As you finish your teacher prep program, make sure to make friends and maintain existing connections. “When I started [my] internship, I introduced myself to everybody: principals, secretaries, and vice principals,” says Houston. “Anytime I needed help—because I showed myself around them so many times—they were more than happy to help me.”
Doffing adds, “Get some feedback,” from administrators. This, she shares, was helpful because in addition to receiving constructive criticism, Doffing was able to fold in a mock interview and “get practice…for interviews.”
For Middleton, he suggests starting your job search early. He started six months before graduating from Augusta University so he could get his name out there, practice meeting new people, and polish his interview techniques. “I can get nervous when meeting new people,” he says, “so setting up situations that would [help me] be better prepared for the interview portion” was one of his reasons for getting an early start.
Additionally, “Apply to as many places as you can—and just go for it," encourages Dionisio, who shared how he emailed a principal several times over a period before making it on the principal’s list of finalists.
And as you introduce yourself, be sure to just be you. Goins says, “The best pieces of advice I've ever been given is to just go into an interview and [be] yourself. Don't be the person that you think they want you to be because then you end up in a school with other people who might not be similar to you...Now, I get to go to work with people who make me happy and inspire me.”
Check out this webinar to learn more about landing your dream job.
The School for You
Once you’ve aced your interviews and job offers are filling your inbox, selecting the right school for you can be a tough decision. Panelists offered some helpful advice on things to consider, such as find a school that inspires you or determine your selection based on which district has the best union contract. Another suggestion: look at your commute.
“I work at a school that's five minutes away from my house,” shares Dionisio. “Some say to live outside of your district, so you don't have to see the kids. I say the opposite: live inside the district that you want to teach at so you can be a part of the community and see the kids grow up and be awesome people in society.”
Once you find the school that’s meant for you, find your allies. Top contenders include education support professionals, such as maintenance staff and secretaries. Whenever you may find yourself in a pinch—like getting locked out of your classroom—maintenance will be your go-to. And secretaries, “they know everything,” says Doffing.
Media specialists are also a good resource for new teachers. Houston says, "If you have issues with technology or if you need a resource for your classroom, like a book or poem, [they’re] more than happy to [help].
Another important tip to remember as a first-year teacher: it’s never too early to practice self-care. Krishawna Goins teaches first graders in Loudon County, Virginia. Post-graduation from Penn State, she was ready to work with her students. What she was not ready for was the stress.
“I was not prepared to take care of myself as an educator. I wish I would have learned more about resilience and self-care [because] that first year is hard.”
Stress throughout a regular school year is often high. Add the uncertainty that a pandemic brings to the school community can make stress worse. Learn more about teacher burnout and how to care for yourself.
Join the Union
Local associations offer plenty of opportunities to get involved and as a first-year teacher being a part of the union was the “most helpful,” explains Doffing. "My union sent out a lot of emails with professional development [and] I signed up for every single one of those.”
Even before entering your first classroom, support is available for aspiring educators now. Many NEA-affiliated unions have early career educator programs that directly support aspiring educators. For example, Texas's program for early career educators is called TORCH and works to support educators in their first five years of teaching. Check with your state student organizer or look in your new teacher handbook to learn more about these groups.
Learn how NEA supports its members from college to retirement.