Exercise Your Power: Ask!

Dear First-Year Teacher,

The first day you step into a classroom full of kids as the teacher of record may be the hardest day of your life, because that’s the day you’ll probably discover how little you actually know. That’s why many school districts assign a mentor teacher to the newbies—someone who can answer your big and little questions about teaching in a particular school.

However, you may not feel comfortable asking your mentor teacher questions several times a week—or at all. Let’s face it, just because someone is supposed to be available to answer your questions doesn’t mean that person likes what he or she is supposed to do. (Some mentor teachers get paid a small stipend, and to them it’s “just a job.”) So, if you don’t hit it off with the mentor who’s been assigned to you, find someone else you can talk to freely.

I had to do that. The first year I taught fourth grade, a mentor teacher was assigned to me. For some reason, we just didn’t click. She seemed to resent my asking even the simplest questions. She never turned me away, and she always answered my questions, but her body language displayed her impatience with my “ignorance.”

Fortunately, I discovered that the fourth-grade teacher next door to my classroom, a veteran who was about ready to retire, was eager to help. It didn’t matter how many questions I had or how “infantile” they seemed, “Sally” would help me find the answers. She was never too busy to help. There’s a “Sally” or “Sam” at every school. Keep your eyes and ears open. You’ll soon discover her or him. (More likely, Sally or Sam will discover you; they seem to be attracted to floundering newbies.)

Still, there will be times when you’ll want to ask questions anonymously. That’s when you need to go online. At Teachers.Net, for example, you’ll find dozens of chatboards where other teachers are eager to share their expertise with you. It’s all free, and you never have to divulge your name or the name of your school.

It’s such a relief to be able to turn to your fellow teachers online and ask questions you wouldn’t dare voice aloud to your mentor teacher or anyone else at your school. For example, one beginning teacher was accused of grabbing a student. He wrote:

I was reprimanding a student. I had him in the back of the
room in the corner. I was waving my finger in his face.
Some students told the principal that I grabbed his shirt
by the neck. No one can really see my hand. But now the
student is saying I did it. How do I prove I didn’t do it?
Or do I just accept getting written up and move on? What
would you do?

One of his chatboard colleagues suggested getting in touch with the local union rep immediately. Another wrote:

It is really difficult to fight what students say because it
becomes a they-said, teacher-said situation. The next time you
have to correct a student do not do it in the corner of the room in
front of other students. Never ever put your finger in a student’s
face and never ever invade the student’s space when you talk to
him. You do need to write up what happened. Be prepared for the
principal to interview every student in class.

If you don’t like the idea of going to Teachers.Net, start your own blog and post your questions there. Your colleagues will respond—I know that from experience. I’ve been blogging for three and a half years now. The advice I’ve received from fellow teachers has been my lifeline—and all I had to do was ask!

The most powerful learning tool available to anyone—student or teacher—is the ability to ask questions.

Exercise your power. Ask!

Yours for exercising your power,
Magical Mystical Teacher

Posted on June 24, 2009, in First-year teacher. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m loving your Letters to a First Year Teacher. It’s very Rilke. Keep on! Hope you’re having a good summer, too.

  2. magicalmysticalteacher

    Rilke? Really? Are they that poetic? 🙂

  3. Again, an ABSOLUTELY wonderful post! ABSOLUTELY!

  4. I agree completely about finding your own mentor if the one assigned doesn’t click.

    My first year I was supposed to be assigned a mentor. 1 saw her 1 time. She sent me to the wrong meeting that was 2 hours after the end of my contract time, and kept trying to hand me a peanut chocolate bar. I’m deathly allergic and kept trying to tell her, had my hands up in the surrender position but she just kept talking over me.

    A 1st grader came out of the bathroom and yelled why are you trying to hurt Ms. Herbert – which brought the AP and counselor out of her office. Only after the AP yelled at her, did she listen.

    Team leader refused to answer any questions – she said I quote “your so smart you figure it out”.

    My mentors turned out to be a 2nd year teacher and another teacher that had started 2nd semester they year before. I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for them.

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