Maryville College students preparing to become teachers received advice Wednesday afternoon from eight alumni who not only survived their first year but have become award-winning educators.
“They’ve been in the trenches,” said Dr. Terry Simpson, director of teacher education at the college, who moderated the panel discussion. “They can give real-world examples.”
real world examples
During that first year as a teacher, “You’re going to feel like you’re lost all the time,” said Julianne Hickman Bowman, who teaches math and has received the Teacher of the Year award at South Doyle High School in Knoxville.
“You think there’s no way you could keep doing this for 30 years,” said Libby Hess, who teaches high school Spanish at Greenback School. “It gets better,” said Hess, who received the New Teacher of the Year Award from the Loudon County Education Foundation.
“It’s OK to feel like you’re failing,” she assured the future teachers, and to try new things that might fail. Her confidence grew by December of her second year.
The panelists advised the students to be positive and to connect with the positive people in their schools. “Seventy-five percent of success is attitude,” Simpson added.
“Become friends with the janitor and the secretary,” Bowman advised. “Those are two people you don’t ever want to be mad at you.”
Jessica Mathis Minton recalled with a laugh the time she set up a full crime scene in her science lab and forgot to tell the custodian at Houston High School in Germantown.
Humor is an important part of how she teaches. Minton wears a fiberoptic Mohawk when she starts teaching about color, and she sings “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” when they dissect a frog. When she hears students humming the song to themselves during their test, that’s a sign she made the lesson memorable.
Several of the panelists mentioned the importance of having a mentor. “Don’t be afraid to look beyond your grade level or your subject matter,” Hess said. “There’s someone in that school who can be your friend.”
“The best part is when the classroom door closes and it’s me and the kids,” said Jarrod Pendergraft, who teaches eighth-grade social studies at Halls Middle School in Knoxville, “Five percent of what I do is content. Ninety-five percent of what I do is classroom management and relationships.”
“I teach kids first and science second,” Minton said.
The panelists encouraged new teachers to be involved in many activities, and Bowman said students will appreciate not only when they sponsor activities but also attend them.
When one teaching candidate asked about how to motivate students, even the panelists laughed a bit and Hess said, “If you figure it out, write a book and we’ll all buy it.”
Then the panelist became serious, sharing anecdotes about how they reached students by showing they cared about the children. “Don’t ever give up on them; they know that,” Pendergraft said. So he still asks for the homework from a student who hasn’t turned in an assignment all year.
Minton echoed that and told of how she reached out to a failing student’s other teachers to find solutions. “He’s passing all his classes for the first time in two years,” she said.
“Use the resources available to you,” said Mark Fernandez, who has been recognized as a technology innovator at Carpenters Middle School, where he teaches sixth-grade English Language Arts. “Find out what need’s not being met.”
A child who is worried about where the next meal will come from can’t concentrate on a lesson, he said.
Motivation also is individual. “There are some kids, I just had to learn the first two digits of their mom’s phone number,” Bowman said. When she started dialing, the kids did what they needed to do.
When a teaching student asked about how to calm chaos in classroom, Pendergraft responded, “The most important part of classroom management is consistency. … You have to be firm and consistent.”
“It’s harder if you start out lax,” he said.
Bowman likes to write on the board from a wireless tablet, which allows her to stand anywhere in the classroom. So, for example, she can stand beside the student who otherwise might be talking while she teaches.
Hess recalled the time she made an entire class go back out to the hallway and come in again because one student didn’t follow the classroom procedure of stowing backpacks under the seat. “It’s better to lose 10 minutes of classroom time one day than have it bug you the whole year,” she said.
Minton posts humorous memes around her classroom to remind students of what they should be doing. For example, a photo of Beyoncé from one of her most famous music videos says, “If you wanted credit you should have put your name on it.”
Despite the frustrations they have worked through, the teachers all showed enthusiasm for their jobs and discovering how to become better educators.
“Getting to still learn is one of the best parts of being a teacher,” Fernandez said. “Be a lifelong learner.”