by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

The News-Press will be covering Julia Bethe’s year as a first-year teacher.

New teacher Julia Bethe welcomed more than her third graders to her classrom at Orange River Elementary School in Fort Myers, Fla. A reporter and photographer from The News-Press were there for Bethe’s first day with her students and will be following her through her first year.

Not every first-year teacher – or any teacher – would want the media regularly visiting class and chronicling life in the classroom. Good for Bethe for being willing to do that. Having those on-going visits to her classroom should help the community better understand the challenges and rewards of teaching. Good for The News-Press for allocating the reporters and space for the story.

The first-day story – “Rules in place, career begins” – provides several insights into the life of a beginning teacher.

New teachers often have little time to prepare for the school year

Fourteen paragraphs into the story, one of the truisms of being a new teacher is revealed. Until the week before school started, Bethe didn’t know what grade level she would be teaching. She had been hired and knew which school she’d be teaching in but didn’t know if she’d be teaching kindergarten, third grade or fourth grade.

The reporter wrote that because Bethe didn’t know what grade she would teach that she hadn’t been assigned a classroom and couldn’t get the classroom set up. I was thinking, “What about setting up the curriculum?”

Those of us who have taught know that this lack of time to prepare to start the school year is a major challenge for new teachers, some of whom aren’t hired until the week school starts when the school administration is sure how many students will be in each grade level.

Today’s new teachers often are teaching in a diverse setting that can provide special challenges.

According to the news coverage, most of Bethe’s students speak English as a second language and most of their parents don’t speak English at all. Bethe has had to call on other teachers, employees from the school district and cafeteria workers to communicate with the students’ parents who don’t speak English.

The fact that so many students’ parents don’t speak English is a big challenge for teachers who are trying to include parents as part of the educational team.

New teachers often have some big issues going on in their personal lives.

In the case of Bethe, she is planning her wedding for next spring. She and her finance made lots of plans this summer for their wedding, as they knew Bethe would be working on lesson plans and not wedding plans this fall. Other new teachers are taking courses to earn teacher certification or working on graduate degrees or may be starting families. This is a very busy time in their lives.

Having a mentor can be such a big help for new teachers. Not only can mentors share the “you can do it” pep talk but more importantly mentors can work with new teachers to develop strategies that help the new teachers deal with the challenges they are facing — grading papers, planning for parent conferences, and creating curriculum that both motivates students and prepares them for a barrage of standardized testing.

What are some of the issues that you are hearing from your new teachers, and how have you worked with your mentees to develop strategies that help them address those issues?