Dear New Teacher,
by Maheen Sahoo, Third Grade Teacher
Hi! Ms. Sahoo here – but you can call me Maheen. I remember being in your shoes. A little over one year ago, I was a second-semester senior in college who had just accepted her Rocketship offer. In July, I found out I was going to be a founding teacher at Rocketship Spark Academy. My emotions ranged from excited to terrified to grateful.
One year later, I can tell you that the rumors are true: teaching is hard. Like, really hard. But have no fear, because it’s also one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. As you enter your classroom for the first time this year, here are four pieces of advice for you.
Revere your students’ parents just as much as your own.
I love my parents. And I’m not just talking about my mom and dad — I’m talking about my students’ parents. They make my life easier every day. From creating a class website and overseeing a school-wide fundraiser to coming in every day to help make copies, parents have helped me build the foundation of my classroom.
The best advice I can give to you in terms of leveraging parent support is to send out a survey at the beginning of the year and ask parents what they want to do to help out in your classroom. Can they come in once a week? Can they help you reach out to families with phone reminders? Once you know what parents would like to contribute, it makes the task of asking them for help much easier.
Positive framing holds up a classroom.
At the beginning of the year, I had a particularly challenging day with my students. And it showed — I was visibly upset, my jaw was clenched and my tone was sharp. After a lot of reflection with my assistant principal, I realized my frustration was misplaced.
That day, I didn’t give them clear directions, I pointed out the negatives instead of the positives and I didn’t engage them in my lessons well enough. It wasn’t their fault that I wasn’t giving them my best — classroom management is a two-way street.
Sarcasm will sink a classroom, but positive framing will keep it afloat. Always assume the best from your students. You’ll have those tough days when you’ll want to point fingers at your students and ask with a sigh, “Why aren’t you behaving?” But pause and consider this: maybe you instead should be asking yourself, “How can I do better?”
Never forget to celebrate growth.
Ideally, your students are going to be so invested in your class that they will work incredibly hard for you. Some of them, despite all their efforts, will still not make it to grade level by the end of the year. What I have learned is that it’s always important to celebrate the growth.
For a few of my students, the biggest achievement they had all year is going from scoring 20 percent or lower on their quizzes to somewhere in the 50 percent range. That is amazing progress! Sure, absolute scores and averages matter, but don’t lose perspective on the impact you’re making on every child in your classroom. Everything you do is going to change a student’s life, so own that.
Be humble above all else; asking for help is key.
This one is a little clichéd, but I want add it anyway: I wouldn’t have survived the majority of this first year without the support of others. There were times when I felt like I was at the bottom — a failure of an educator.
Every time, it was another amazing person on my teaching staff who helped me up. Being humble is a great trait to have in general, but it is almost a necessity in teaching. Your future teacher coach has sent me here to tell you this: please ask him/her for help when you need it!
Maheen Sahoo is a founding 3rd grade math teacher at Rocketship Spark Academy. She attended the University of Southern California, where she studied Philosophy, Politics and Law with a minor in Communication Law and Media Policy. In her daily life, she enjoys using her students as an audience for her puns and teaching them about important USC traditions. She also squeezes in some math from time to time. Fight on!
Published on July 28, 2014