New teachers praised for their influence

Chair Josh Chrzanowski of the MTA New Member Committee addresses the Just for New Teachers conference Chair Josh Chrzanowski of the MTA New Member Committee addresses the Just for New Teachers conference.

While the roughly 100 educators attending the Just for New Teachers conference may be fresh to the profession, they were told of the profound influence they are already having in their classrooms and throughout public education.

At the annual conference on December 5, MTA President Barbara Madeloni congratulated the new teachers for coming into the profession at a difficult time. She stressed the importance of presenting a unified front against influences that seek to undermine public schools.

“Teachers need to be activists. This is the work where we grow our future,” she said, emphasizing that a teacher’s work ripples out beyond the classroom.

MTA Vice President Janet Anderson focused her comments on the dynamics within schools. She recalled her past few years of teaching in Taunton, where she was on teams with many new teachers.

“The veteran teacher on a team like that is viewed as the mentor. And while I like to think I fulfilled that role for my colleagues, in the end, I feel I learned just as much from them. Their energy, their fresh ideas and their excitement made me a better teacher,” Anderson said.

The MTA’s New Member Committee organized the conference, which provides teachers with four or fewer years in the profession with an array of tools and strategies to succeed in the classroom. Workshops included differentiated instruction, classroom management, assessing student performance and teacher evaluations.

There was also lots of advice. New teachers should start a “smile file,” said New Member Committee Chair Josh Chrzanowski. “Keep the notes, pictures and cards students give you throughout your career. When you go through it, you’ll think, ‘This is why I teach,’” he said. “It’s not about test scores and grades. It’s to make a difference in a child’s life.”

Madeloni said the gathering of new teachers was a powerful image of hope, and she couched her professional advice in two “asks.”

“I understand how lonely we feel sometimes. So, don’t let it be a lonely job. Reach out to a colleague. Talk to each other,” Madeloni said.

Her second request was that educators stay involved in organizing.

Teaching is political work, particularly now, Madeloni said, with many initiatives attempting to narrow educators’ work and put public schools into private hands. Beyond that, she reminded the educators that anguish in communities is carried by students into their classrooms.

“Our students are trying to figure out how to be a person in the world,” she said. “What you do in the classroom is part of something bigger.”

Keynote speaker Beau Stubblefield-Tave focused on cultural fluency as he worked through exercises in which the teachers identified how they see themselves and how they see others.

Stubblefield-Tave, a principal in the Center for Culturally Fluent Leadership, emphasized how broad the idea of diversity really is.

“If you are going to change the face of education, you can’t do it alone. You’ll need partnerships with folks who sometimes appear to be opponents. You’ll always need to be asking yourself about what you know and do not know about other groups,” he said.

Stubblefield-Tave also led a workshop that further explored ways to increase self-awareness and awareness of others’ points of view. The well-attended workshop, “The Skin that We Speak,” served as bridge event linking the Just for New Teachers conference to the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee’s annual conference, which was also held on December 5 and continued to December 6.

Summing up their conference, the new teachers said they were heartened to find as much camaraderie as professional development.

“I got a real sense of solidarity coming here. We are all in similar situations,” said Kristen Sandstrom, a first-year teacher working in Arlington.

Members of the Student Education Association of Massachusetts also found the conference to be a valuable experience.

“Everyone here is just so positive about teaching,” said Nicole Akin, who is studying education at Bridgewater State University. “It’s very encouraging.”

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