Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Still a New Teacher

at Two Writing Teachers!
Earlier this summer, I ran across a book on the floor of the computer room: Letters to a New Teacher.  Someone gave it to me before my first year of teaching, and being a new teacher, I promptly shoved it aside in the midst of my new-teacher-frenzy.  It got thrown in a box when we moved to our current house, and there it sat until taking up residence on the floor as Husband works on unpacking the remaining boxes.  (No, we did NOT just move, and no, I will not admit how long we've been in this house...)

image: Amazon.com
Because it was summer and I "had time", I started flipping through pages, expecting it to be cheesy.  An hour later, I was wishing Jim Burke could be MY mentor!*  Through Jim's deep reflections on his teaching, it was obvious that he truly lives the life of a reader and writer all the time.  (His letters are filled with bits of poems and experiences from his writing life, as well as from his classroom!)  He is the kind of educator I want to be: passionate about student learning, caring about students' lives, and continually reflective.

Joy, the first-year teacher, was asking all of the deepest questions I still wrestle with after five years of teaching!  Not to mention the fact that they're both English teachers, and I really will be a new English teacher this year in my new ELL position.  The authentic, heartfelt dialogue between the two (while the book is made mostly of Jim's letters, Joy's questions and a few of her letters are sprinkled throughout) was inspiring, poignant, and encouraging.  I think Husband had to go pick up dinner as I fell into Joy and Jim's world!  After all, it is my world...

As I read, the book really made me reflect on my own teaching life: how far I've come, yet how I still feel Joy's questions every day; how needy I still am of a mentor like Jim.  Maybe I will find one this year in my new school?

Of course, really I'm lucky because I have LOTS of mentors: all of you, my slicing friends!  Over the past year, you have inspired me, encouraged me, and made me feel as if I'm not alone... sometimes without even knowing it!  You couldn't come into my room, observe my classes or talk to me.  But your words spoke to me.  Your ideas called me to stretch myself. Your comments gave me advice or encouragement or just touched a place in my heart that had been yearning for someone to understand.

And it's largely because of all of you that I've finally committed to an idea that's been rattling around in my head for a while: I joined Twitter!  Right when I joined, I got a big rush of enthusiasm because I could follow so many of my slicing friends!  (In fact, Diana sent me a direct message right away, which I didn't even know how to do but it was really fun!)  Posting my first tweet still brought the same sweaty hands and heavy stomach that I had when I wrote my first blog post... but excitement quickly took over because I already "knew" people.

I've only been on for a few days, but I can already see that it's a lot like the slicing community (except waaaay bigger and, um, scarier!): full of enthusiastic, positive teachers who love to share ideas!  Several people (they must be the Lindas of Twitter!) reached out to me and helped me find hashtags to follow, which really made me feel welcome.  It's still kind of overwhelming (which is why I had put off joining...) but it's also invigorating.  Oddly, it's comforting too, because I know that when I need help, I now have a TON of experienced, knowledgeable mentors to ask!

While I still hope to find a mentor in my new building, it's nice to know that I won't be lost if no "Jim" appears.  After all, I now have two communities full of them!

* Now that I'm on Twitter, I'm following Jim (@englishcomp), which I think is so cool!  Over just the past few days, he's posted several tweets that are as inspiring as the content of his letters in the book!


  1. Congrats on joining Twitter! I'm @teacherdbs :) I find its a really nice tool for certain things but I don't use it all the time because I get sucked into one more cyberspace world on all of a sudden hours have passed. :) I'm excited to hear about your EL experience this year! I will have newcomers in grades 3-6 and K ELLs so we can swap stories.

  2. How funny that you mention Jim Burke, he just gave a keynote address at a conference I attended two weeks ago. He does have a passion for teaching. As far as Twitter, I had to get an account when I wanted to do Pinterest (because I don' have a facebook account)and I follow a few people, but actually don't have a clue what to do. When I read some of the posts, I have no idea what they are talking about. One of these days I will figure it out and join the rest of you.

  3. Jim Burke is one of my heroes and a definite professional mentor for us all. If you've not checked in to the Ning he established for English teachers, go right now to the English Companion Ning (http://englishcompanion.ning.com)... mentors abound on the ECN. Enjoy your first year teaching high school! Sending wishes for much success and little stress.

  4. I agree with Lee Ann, the English Companion is wonderful. I've read lots of his work, but never heard of this book. Thanks for that, Jennifer, and for the compliment. I am on twitter, but don't do much. I'd like to do more, but just run out of time. Best wishes in finding your 'group' to talk with. There is a lot going on there. And come 'follow' me so I'll know who you are. I'm @LBaie.

  5. Yep--they are all right--Jim Burke is a rock star. I was so happy to find you had followed me on Twitter! I love to have the slicers on Twitter also. Enjoy your new position. If you have any questions or want to talk about anything, let me know!

  6. It's great to read that you joined Twitter. I mentioned a resource for Teachers on Twitter in my post today. I'm hoping to join the world of Twitter this week.
    I love being inspired by a good professional book. I'm currently reading Cris Tovani's book, So What Do They Really Know? I like that she's realistic about what teachers can accomplish in the real world of the classroom. It's focused on teachers in grades 6-12 and is packed with ideas for assessing learning and differentiating instruction.


Comments make me happy and I'd love to hear from YOU! :-)