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Reflections on the First Year

Published: August 25, 2018

New educators speak out on what they learned and its impact on how they teach.

Seeing a classroom through the eyes of a brand-new teacher happens just once, and it can be instructive. There are certain things new teachers can’t experience until they are out of college and in the classroom. And then there’s the knowledge they don’t even realize they’ve picked up until the first year is under their belt.

We caught up with several newbies who attended CTA’s first-ever New Educator Weekend in March. (Tailored to educators with five or fewer years in the profession, the event drew rave reviews from the hundreds of attendees and will be offered again in February 2018.) We asked what they learned from the conference, as well as from their colleagues and students in their first year, and its impact on their teaching.


Vanessa D. Knight

Central Unified Teachers Association
K-6 Special Education

The most important thing I learned is to stay student focused. Doing what is best for students is best practice, bottom line. There will always be challenges and difficulties with administration, budgets, district policies, legislation and so many other things. But when your focus is on students, you will have the motivation to deal with anything.

At the amazing New Educator conference, I learned that there are creative ways to engage students in STEM activities. The key is to encourage students to be creative, critical and experimental intellectuals. I also learned how to use social media to highlight what my local chapter is doing in our school district. That session inspired me to pursue the Communications strand at CTA’s Summer Institute to advance my skills and help my chapter grow stronger!

Michael Covey

Santa Ana Educators Association
7-8 English Language Arts

The most important thing I recognized is the vast and powerful network of individuals who truly care about education as a social institution. I have connected with educators at my site, at professional development conferences, and even using social media.

Based on what I’ve learned, I have focused on designing instruction to craft meaningful goals and experiences to benefit all students. For example, for National Poetry Month in April students did a culminating project where they analyzed a poem and sent a letter to the author. It went great. Students discovered the power of poetry and connected with writers whose words held real value and truth for each individual.

Afterward, I saw a tweet from New York educator Daniel Weinstein saying he does not pay attention to National Poetry Month and instead has students read and write poetry consistently from day 1 to the final exam. I reflected, and took this idea to my class. The response was immediate and forceful: Integrate poetry all year. Since then, I designed instruction that emphasizes poetry throughout the year.

Kristy Garcia

Association of Colton Educators
Second Grade

There’s quite a bit I’ve learned, including making use of lots of important classroom technology, like Class Dojo, and getting to know the students on a more personal level, which helps them enjoy school more. As part of the induction program, we’re assigned a teacher mentor from another school. My mentor was amazing. I could contact her any time of the day. She would make suggestions for resources or things to try in the classroom.

At the New Educator Weekend, I went to a session where a leader talked about how everything needs to be scheduled. Kids need to get into a routine. So I implemented it. I was so motivated after that session. I used all the tips she gave us. Even the principal noticed and said how much improvement she saw.


Shelby Lofy

Sanger Unified Teachers Association
1-4 Special Education

This year I’ve learned that collaboration is the most important thing. In special ed, it’s especially necessary to work together. I work with speech therapists, psychologists and occupational therapists. Along the way, I’ve learned new strategies. It’s something that school doesn’t prepare you for. As an educator, you always have to push yourself to do more.

For example, a lot of my kids have trouble with their speech. A speech therapist and I noticed many were struggling to put words together. We pulled in visuals from the Picture Exchange Communication System, and students were able to show how they could put together a sentence.


Julissa Perez

Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association
Third Grade

The most important thing I learned during the conference was classroom management strategies from Rick Morris, including his book, The Big Book, which I highly recommend. For a new teacher, classroom management is essential to create an effective learning environment.

For example, I learned the effectiveness of music cues as attention getters. Implementing this strategy during transitions has changed my world. Before, I felt like classroom time was wasted trying to get students’ attention. After teaching my students to listen for the music cues, classroom transition time was smoother and quicker. It did take some modeling and practice, but it was well worth the effort. My tip is to implement one strategy at a time and be patient.



Maira Romo

Caruthers Unified Teachers Association
First Grade

I’ve learned it is very important to connect with other teachers. I use Twitter to show other teachers what my students are doing in my classroom and I also use it as a resource. I’ve gotten so many good ideas from teachers who live in different cities and different states!

The session about incorporating STEM in the classroom inspired me to implement project-based learning. What’s cool is that I can tie multiple standards from different subjects into one project. For example, my students participated in an animal research project that combined science, ELA and technology. They did their own research and synthesized facts. They used Google Apps for Education to create their own website. They used Google Sheets and pixel art to create a diagram, and they also produced and created their own green screen YouTube video with five facts about their animal.


Jess A. Sanchez

Moreno Valley Educators Association
First Grade

One of the most important things I learned at the New Educator conference was restorative justice practices. These strategies, to me, are essential to help create an inclusive classroom climate. I know the session was just an overview, so I took the liberty to buy the books that were recommended by the presenters, and they are now my summer reading!

In my classroom, I taught my students how to use “I” statements. Rather than tattling on their classmates, students were urged to state how they felt when someone was not kind to them. Even in first grade, students were able to make some mindful choices about how their behaviors can affect other students in the classroom.


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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.