“Are you a new teacher?”

“Are you a new teacher?”

Some kid is definitely going to ask you so what are you going to say? What most new TFA teachers incorrectly think is the best way to answer this is to exaggerate the seventeen days (or hours!?!) of practice teaching during the institute. To me, this is like bragging about your girlfriend in Canada.

It’s not the right thing to say because when you eventually make a mistake that reveals that you must be a new teacher, then you’ll be not only a new teacher, but a liar.

The best way to answer the question is to confidently look the student in the eye and say, decisively, “Yes.” And then a half-second pause with an implied, “(and what’s it to you?)”, and then back to whatever you were talking about. Students respond to decisiveness, even from a new teacher.

If they follow up with, “How old are you?”, you just say, “No more personal questions,” and continue.

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4 Responses to “Are you a new teacher?”

  1. Brian Rude says:

    Wonderful blog, Gary, keep it up. It brings up so many thoughts I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll just start somewhere and not worry about saying everything that I might.

    What’s the setting of your examples? That is, what subject are you teaching and what grade level? Your post on mistake #1 sounds like it could be fifth or sixth grade. Mistake #2 sounds like maybe a bit older group. Are you currently a teacher or are you writing from memories of previous years?

    In Mistake #1 I think you make a good point, but your planning process raises some questions. Your talk of “visuals” and “activity” make it sound pretty much idealistic, and time consuming, more like the idealistic planning from ed school than the practical planning teachers do on a day to day basis. My planning in teaching college freshman math is pretty mundane – figure out what topics and sections in the book to cover in the next class period and what homework to assign. It’s not at all what they taught us in ed school, and it shouldn’t be, because it has to fit the real world constraints on time. So my question is this. Is this typical planning for you, or is it a bit of an artificial example? This is not to criticize. Your central point about planning too much and how to avoid the pitfalls of that is very good. But I’m curious.

    I don’t know much about TFA, just what I read in blogs such as yours. But I am concluding that the training they give you must just be pretty much the regular ed school training, but crammed into a considerably shorter time. If that is the case then I would expect all the usual criticisms of ed school to apply to TFA training, and to be valid. The biggest cricicism, I think, is that the ed school content is not reality grounded. Would that be your judgment of the matter? Or, if TFA gives something different I’d be interested in learning about it. I guess here’s the big question: Does your TFA training have a realistic theory, or analysis, or even description of teaching and learning that is of practical as well as explanatory value to practicing teachers? If so, is it written up in a book? Who wrote it? And if not, a secondary question would be this: Is the TFA training a substantial notch above the usual ed school training? If so, in what particulars?

    I got your book and read through it quickly. I’ll study it a bit more carefully as time permits. Actually maybe I won’t, as I now teach college freshman math and my students are very well mannered. Indeed many of my students are much too passive. But I well remember my troubles as a young teacher in handling discipline problems. I was not good at it, and I had some rough times. I certainly could have used your book then. I am not aware of any other book that gets down the nitty gritty of teaching.

    Except my own, that is. The first blog entry of yours that I read was about not posting consequences. It took me a bit to realize what you meant by “posting consequences”, but then I very quickly realized that you and I think quite a bit alike. Or at least I think we do. Anyway here’s a link to the first chapter of a book I wrote on classroom discipline many years ago. It didn’t sell, I’m afraid, but I hope you will find some food for thought in it. http://www.brianrude.com/Dchap01.htm

  2. Ms. W says:

    I’ve been right with you on most of your tips, but I have to say that I don’t agree with this one. If you don’t feel like lying and saying, “No.” I think you’re better off going with, “Does it matter?” or “It’s my first year *here*.” I always said, “Oh, I taught for a while in Houston. Not this subject though.” Which was absolutely true.

    In my experience, an admission of new teacherdom is like waving a cape in front of a bull. I remember very distinctly my Chemistry teacher in high school telling us it was his first year. You could literally see half the class tune him out and the other half perk up their ears in anticipation of hassling him.

  3. garyrubinstein says:

    The tricky part is to say ‘yes’ with a lot of confidence. If you say ‘yes’ apologetically, or if you pause for too long, then it will definitely not be good for you. This is a tough one since I came up with this theory after my first year ever happened so I could truthfully say ‘no’ anytime anyone asked after my first year. The main thing, I think is to say what you say with confidence. I’ve never been a good liar so even saying ‘I’m new ‘here”, I’d know, deep down is trying to mislead them so my eyes would give it away. I suppose if you can lie (or otherwise mislead) and then make few mistakes so the students never find out you were lying, that would be OK.

  4. JesseAlred says:

    I am seeking a dialogue with current and past Teach for America teachers. I have taught for 14 years in inner-city Houston. When I started teaching, I saw myself as a reformer, as some of Teach for America teachers do. I had some pretty serious success with AP students, and some serious frustration with our regular students. So my experience, to be honest, has been mixed. I want a dialogue about the political behaviors of the Teach For America elite.

    In our city, a former TFA official, now a school board member, has led the charge for beginning to fire teachers based on student test scores. She also opposed allowing teachers to select a single major union representative. After a little research I found this appeared to be a pattern with TFA”s leaders. There seems to be a close relationship between conservatives and the TFA elite.

    This goes back to its origins, when Union Carbide sponsored Wendy Kopp’s original efforts to create Teach For America. A few years before, Union Carbide’s negligence had caused the worst industrial accident in history, in Bhopal, India. The number of casualties was as large as 100,000, and Union Carbide did everything it could to avoid and minimize responsibility after the event.

    A few years later, when TFA faced severe financial difficulties, Ms. Kopp wrote in her book she nearly went to work for the Edison Project, and was all but saved by their financial assistance. The Edison Project, founded by a Tennessee entrepreneur, was an effort to replace public schools with corporate schools. Two brilliant TFA alumni, the founders of KIPP Academy, then joined the Bush’s at the Republican National Convention in 2000. This was vital to Bush, since as Governor he did not really have any genuine education achievements, and he was trying to prove he was a different kind of Republican. I then read the popular magazine articles about Michelle Rhee’s firing of teachers and closing of schools, and then her admission she had gone to far too fast.

    I think you do great work. Ironically, my former mentor works for Ms. Rhee. He saved me in my first year as a teacher in Houston. He was a terrific teacher. I respect and honor your work, as I do my own.

    But your leaders seem to attack the public sector and blame teachers for student failure in order to curry favor with rich conservatives. To be up front, I grew up in a low-income housing project in Mississippi and eventually became a good student, and I am a social democrat. I believe school reform must include better schools, but also health care, stable employment, long-term unemployment benefits, a revitalized union movement, a higher minimum wage, freedom for alternative lifestyles, and affirmative action. Stable families are more able to be ambitious for their kids than economically or emotionally unstable families. Better schools are part of this, but only one part of it. Your leaders seem to have gotten in bed with people who believe the market solves all issues—and that makes the money flow faster. Yet your hard work gives them credibility with the media.

    Ms. Kopp claims to be in the tradition of the civil rights movement, but Martin Luther King would take principled positions—against the Vietnam War and for the Poor Peoples March—even if they alienated powerful people. I would like a dialogue about what I have written here. My e-mail is JesseAlred@yahoo.com.

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