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Supporting our new teachers

New York Teacher

Three women look at full binders and talk to each other in a crowded room.
Bruce Cotler

New teachers Annalise Armenta (left) and Ellen Sautner (right) get advice from UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford in June at an orientation event for new Teaching Fellows at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn.

It’s not easy being a new teacher. There’s so much to learn and navigate that it can feel as though you’re an acrobat performing for the first time without a net. That’s why the UFT has an array of programs to support new teachers as they begin this challenging and rewarding career.

I still remember my first day as a teacher. I was given a 1st-grade class and I asked the students to write down their names and addresses on a piece of paper. Two students started crying immediately. “I don’t know my address and I can’t write,” they whimpered. What a way to begin the first day.

Teaching is a career in which every day is different. And even though it’s hard as heck, if you stick with it, you’ll see your students are getting it; for those who are struggling, you problem-solve and make sure they get it, too.

When I was starting out, I found a master teacher I could turn to for support. I would take my prep periods in her classroom and observe her. If I did a lesson that didn’t land the way I wanted it to, I could go to her classroom and she would demo the lesson for me.

Having a mentor changed my life — it became the inspiration for the Partners through Experience program the union created last year. This voluntary program pairs new teachers with new retirees who provide support and guidance and share skills and knowledge.

This month, 5,000 new teachers began working in New York City public schools. At the end of August, the union and the UFT Teacher Center worked in collaboration with the Department of Education to host the DOE New Teacher Week. We offered workshops on a range of relevant topics to these brand-new educators.

Throughout the school year, the union, working hand in hand with its Member Assistance Program and the UFT Teacher Center, will continue to offer LearnUFT work sessions for new teachers on practical topics such as classroom management, student engagement and time management. We also offer a new teacher support group through the Member Assistance Program.

We publish a “New Teacher Handbook” (ask your chapter leader or district rep if you didn’t receive a copy) and the New Teacher Bulletin, a monthly digital newsletter that is full of timely and useful information for new teachers.

We hope you will join us for a Meet the President gathering especially for new teachers in your borough this fall to hear from UFT President Michael Mulgrew. New teachers will have the opportunity at this event to ask questions and visit booths where UFT departments share information about the UFT Welfare Fund health benefits, the Dial-A-Teacher homework helpline, certification and licensing, and Teacher Center offerings. It’s one-stop shopping with the benefit of meeting UFT representatives, too.

John Ottomanelli, a math teacher who just completed his first year at MS 551 in the Bronx, took advantage of the union’s Partners through Experience program and new teacher workshops throughout the school year. “My first year of teaching was rough, so having access to these workshops and programs was really important to me,” he said. “The trainings were great, and there was an awesome range of topics. I had good conversations with my mentor when I had questions and it was nice to know there was someone I could reach out to.”

Jan-Kristóf Louis, who completed his first year of teaching at PS 345 in East New York, Brooklyn, faced the challenge of teaching 30 5th-graders including 12 English language learners. He credits the UFT workshops on certification, classroom management and lesson-planning with “helping set me up as a new teacher.”

Julia Chen, who is starting her second year at PS 206 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, said she gained so much information from the union’s workshops that she took some more than once. She says the workshop on time management lowered her stress levels and the workshop on understanding and recognizing bullying “helped me learn how to deal with situations, know where to turn for help and how to properly report incidents.”

Public education is the great equalizer. We want new teachers to be public school proud — you’ve chosen a great profession and you are building the future.

Louis said he cried on the last day of school. “I missed my students dearly,” he said. “It was amazing to see how they grew, how interested they were in the work we did together and how much they cared about our classroom.”

Even when the job feels overwhelming, if you can keep your focus and passion, you’ll find, as Louis did, “the kids are special and they teach you something every day.”

Teaching is about changing lives. Prepare to be recognized and acknowledged many years later by students who have grown so much you don’t recognize them!

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