A Letter: Dear Experienced Teacher in a New Situation

Welcome back to school! For some reason, whether by choice or mandate, you find yourself in a new situation this year. Perhaps you changed grade levels, classrooms, schools, districts, or even crossed state borders. You crammed things into boxes, worked extra hours to unpack them, scavenged to find the things you need in your new situation, and started a massive “To Do” list for all the things you KNOW you need to do—but haven’t found time to do yet. I totally get you. That was me last year!

At the end of 2015-16, I mustered up the courage to leave a position I loved in a classroom where I had been teaching for six years. Everything in that classroom was exactly the way I liked it. In fact, I used to have nightmares that someone was forcing me to move classrooms and I was asking who was going to pack my stuff, paint my walls, move my cloud light covers, and put up the Velcro where I can stick pens out of reach. Well, last year I got the chance to live that nightmare out. It was exhausting, but I’m writing to tell you: You can do this!

Being an experienced teacher in a new situation was a little bit like being a second year teacher all over again. I knew what I needed to do, but finding time to do it ALL was really challenging. Here’s my three biggest takeaways from the experience:

First, I developed deep respect for teachers who have experienced switching grade levels or moving classrooms to meet the needs of the school. I realized that it takes a huge amount of energy to learn new curriculum and organize a classroom. (Being totally honest, my classroom still isn’t organized the way I like it yet!) Further, I realized how much energy it takes to get familiar with a new district or organization’s policies and procedures. There were surprises all year long that created stress because I did not know to prepare for them. These unexpected things, however small, required late nights and working weekends to balance my workload and accomplish tasks. Now, I see the importance of teachers reaching out to colleagues who have switched situations to make sure they can anticipate upcoming events or expectations.

Second, I learned that experienced teachers in new situations need support—even if they seem to have everything together. My new district offered a few “onboarding” trainings that helped me understand the district as an organization and understand the teacher evaluation process. I found these really helpful and recommend that other organizations consider the practice. As I blended my past professional experiences with new practices in my district, I found there were times of dissonance when I disagreed or needed clarification about why we do something in a certain way. I appreciated when others would listen to my questions and thoughtfully consider my alternate ideas instead of dismissing them with comments like, “That’s just how we do things here.” Now I see the importance of paying this forward to colleagues I meet in the future who bring their own professional experiences and knowledge that could help me improve my own.

Third, I had to learn to be good to myself. I had to accept that a To Do list is just a To Do list—not a list of shame detailing incomplete projects or failures. I had to prioritize some things for Year 2 while I focused on Year 1. And this year, I am basking in the glory! Two weeks ago, I had the luxury of hanging a shelf that helps my team organize a messy area and store personal belongings out of student reach. It felt like a huge victory! I’ve known that I wanted a shelf in that exact spot since about the second week of school last year, but I never had time to purchase or install it. Last year, I was exhausted and worn out from keeping up—but this year, I have energy to take things to the next level. Looking back, I can see that last year was worth it. Perhaps the first year in any new situation is like an investment. It was for me.


So if you are an experienced teacher in a new situation, hang in there. You, too will find future victories! Be good to yourself, reach out for help from colleagues, and remember to pay it forward when you meet another experienced teacher in a new situation down the road.


Feature image credit: https://c1.staticflickr.com/2/1002/1257384934_6c565a3e30_b.jpg


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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