Award-winning Idaho teachers give advice to newbies

Students aren’t the only ones who get those first-day-of-school jitters. Teachers — and especially those in their first year — feel it too. Will the first day go OK? What will their students be like? What if the planned lesson doesn’t fill the class period or takes too long? With many first days behind them, veteran teachers are a great resource to answer questions and calm nerves.

Idaho Ed News reached out to award-winning teachers across the state for some advice for those newbies. Below, they share what they wish they had known on their first day in the classroom.

Todd Knight
The 2022 Idaho teacher of the year:

  • Do not be a lone wolf.  The entire profession is built upon establishing a community.  Find mentors, develop networks, make connections with students, co-workers, admin, classified, parents, EVERYONE!  Everyone who is a part of education needs this community.
  • Todd Knight teaches science, engineering and coding at Crossroads Middle in Meridian.

    You are more than your students’ test scores.  Your students are more significant than some score on the IRI or ISAT. The growth they show, whether academic, social, or emotional, is far more telling of who they are and what they are capable of than a single day’s snapshot of their test-taking skills.  Do not let yourself be brought down, discouraged, or beaten by these numbers.  You know the true story of every single one of those students.

“Do not forget that you work to live, not live to work … There will always be papers to grade – back up, breathe, and fully be with friends and family.”

  • Do not forget that you work to live, not live to work.  Although the profession is noble and these students are life-altering, do not neglect yourself or your family.  There will always be more to do – put it aside.  You could always improve – accept that you gave your best and move forward.  There will always be papers to grade – back up, breathe, and fully be with friends and family.  You cannot reach your kids if you have not taken care of yourself.
  • It is surprising how much pressure is put on you from various angles and perspectives.  It is difficult to quiet the noise and remember why you teach.  But focus on that.  Do not forget why you chose to be in this profession.

James Ledoux
Winner of the 2021 Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching:

  • James Ledoux teaches English at Renaissance High in Meridian.

    Work on asking great open-ended questions to get kids interested and involved in your lessons. The key is to start by finding where your specific lesson meets students’ interests. Once students are engaged, it is much easier to lead them to meaningful learning experiences. Enthusiasm is an important element to being a successful teacher, but it won’t necessarily lead to learning outcomes. Students must be engaged to maximize learning.

    • Concrete examples of how to engage students include showing a short video clip, having them complete a quick-write, tell them a related story, turn and talk to their neighbor about the inquiry, and even have them draw a picture.

“Students may not remember your great lessons in the future, but they will remember the teachers and the classes they loved.”

  • Knowing your students and developing positive individual relationships with each of them is good for you and them. Students may not remember your great lessons in the future, but they will remember the teachers and the classes they loved.
  • Avoid negative attitudes and find positive mentors who love to teach, even if they aren’t your assigned mentors. You can even find excellent role models in different departments and/or those who teach different grades than you do. Some of the best classroom management skills I possess as a high school teacher I learned from elementary and middle school teachers.

E’liane Khang
Winner of the 2022 Simplot Inspirational Teacher Award:

  • My personal philosophy is that I can never stop learning. I push myself to be better. Because of my drive for lifelong learning, I have participated in many workshops, book studies, and Math Mentoring programs. I have attended the Summer STEM programs at ISU for three summers which have allowed me to keep up with new and exciting technology. I now know all about flying drones and I will surprise my class with six drones this year … (When teachers implement new technology in their lessons) reluctant learners (suddenly) don’t want to miss school.

    E’liane Khang teaches fifth grade at Tyhee Elementary.

“It is such a privilege to be allowed to work with these amazing children and to be a part of their lives for 170 days, and often build friendships that will last a lifetime.” 

  • Most importantly, I want to bring magic to my classroom. My classroom theme and all of the extra planning that goes into these activities help me to build relationships with my learners. The first several months of school are spent eating lunch with each of my students so that I can get to know them better.  Outside during recess, I play games and encourage shy kids to walk and talk with me. Some days, I can be silly, dance, sing, or poke fun at myself for attempting to play four square or sharks and minnows. By Christmas, my class will hopefully have a very strong sense of community and be ready to tackle difficult assignments or projects.  I involve them in making classroom decisions, and I work hard to communicate with their families. We spend snippets of time discussing all of their important ten-year-old topics. These relationships help me to build trust, so that I can eventually request my class to try harder, take risks, and not fear making mistakes. It is such a privilege to be allowed to work with these amazing children and to be a part of their lives for 170 days, and often build friendships that will last a lifetime.

Leigh Wilson
Winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching:

  • Your first year can be completely overwhelming! There are so many moving parts in teaching and you won’t know what they are until you get started.
    Leigh Wilson teaches sixth grade at Potlatch Elementary School.

    Focus on setting up your procedures and routines the first year, from classroom management, to grading systems, to parent and family communication. Stay flexible and don’t worry about being perfect – make mistakes and learn from them. You’ll have to grow into your role over time.

  • During the first year, don’t worry about taking on leadership roles at your school site. Focus on your classroom and your students. There will be time over the next few years to get involved in the bigger system.

“Get to know (your students) individually, treat them with love and respect, really listen to them, but establish clear expectations and hold them accountable for their choices and actions.”

  • Never stop learning and challenging yourself.  Over time, go to trainings, seminars, take additional classes in the areas of teaching that interest you.  Make yourself a life-long learner.  Both you and your students will benefit greatly.
  • I’ve always lived by the motto, “Be firm but fair”. Don’t try to be friends with your students.  Get to know them individually, treat them with love and respect, really listen to them, but establish clear expectations and hold them accountable for their choices and actions.
  • Even when I thought I wasn’t doing a good job, kids still learned! I was really hard on myself and wanted to do everything ‘right’, but looking back, I needed to be willing to still try hard, but give myself grace because at the end of the day, kids need to connect with their teacher, feel safe and loved, and know that they belong.

Colin Donovan
The 2022 Idaho history teacher of the year:

  • My advice for a first year teacher would be to maintain perspective and never underestimate the importance of your work. The path you have chosen is more than simply a vocation , but a calling that can touch the lives of literally thousands of young people. Rookie and veteran  teachers alike will experience a myriad of challenges throughout their year , but if you can endeavor to make and maintain meaningful relationships with your students, colleagues and community the results will be worth all the struggles.
  • Colin Donovan teaches history at Coeur d’Alene High.

    (As a first-year teacher,) I wish I had known that the real measure of an exceptional educator is not the amount of content knowledge or breadth of instructional philosophy they can quote, but rather the ability to create meaningful relationships within a rigorous but welcoming learning environments where their skills can make an impact on students. I think as a young teacher I focused too extensively on content knowledge and trying to pack my classes with high level rigor. While this is a key component, it pales in comparison to the importance of knowing your students, expressing how much you care about them and working to bolster their intellectual curiosity.

“The pursuit of perfection in teaching is a fool’s errand … (a teacher’s) best effort will be enough to make a remarkable impact on students who so badly need them.”

  • I think one of the key pitfalls to avoid is seeing your job as teaching students a set of facts rather than helping to impart the critical thinking and communication skills needed to navigate complicated ideas which can be employed in their future lives. I try to remember that our job as teachers is not to teach kids what to think, but rather how to critically think. I would also encourage young teachers to surround themselves with enthusiastic and skilled educators who can act as mentors and help pave their way. Finally, I would let them know that the pursuit of perfection in teaching is a fool’s errand and to remember that their best effort will be enough to make a remarkable impact on students who so badly need them.

 

Carly Flandro

About Carly Flandro

Reporter Carly Flandro works in EdNews’ East Idaho bureau. A former high school English teacher, she writes about teaching, learning, diversity, and equity. You can follow Flandro on Twitter @idahoedcarly and send her news tips at [email protected]

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