A First Year Like No Other

This year we hired 40 new teachers to our district.  Actually, this year we are continuing to hire “40 plus” new teachers to our district.  During this difficult time, I am grateful for the number of teachers who have stepped up to say, “I want to teach.”  These new teachers have worked hard through our induction program and are leading in our classrooms.  In a time when many of us are questioning everything we have known about education, these novice educators are looking to join the profession.  I spent some time talking with our newest teachers about their first year, and this is what I found.

Overwhelmingly, the new teachers I spoke to talked about the importance of their teams.  Their grade level or department teams all had a sense of taking care of each other.  Teachers even spoke of their whole school as their team.  The newest teachers to the profession felt like the whole staff was there for them as they made their way through their first year.  They also felt they gave back and were able to help veteran teachers make their way through the trials and tribulations of technology. These teachers newest to the profession see the true power in collaboration.  

These newest teachers had an experience where students hadn’t been in class for face-to-face learning for many months.  For teachers of the youngest students, students were entering with many different levels of prior knowledge.  For veteran teachers, this is always the true challenge, how to meet every student where they are.  For the newest teachers, this was now just how the classroom worked.  Our newest teachers understand differentiation and scaffolding in a much deeper way than many of us who have been teaching for years.  

These novice teachers are experts in supporting the social-emotional needs of students and helping them deal with loss.  They are supporting them in finding routines when there have been very few routines for a long time.  Our newest teachers will understand grace in a way that sometimes can be hard for teachers on our most tired of days.  Teachers who have begun to teach this year have mastered grace and being able to adapt to just about anything.

As I wrote this I began to think about our first-year principals.  I had butterflies every first day of school as a teacher, but as a new school leader, I had butterflies for a good six months.  What has life been like for them?  In speaking with first-year principals they shared how to lead a school filled with emotions in a time of crisis, planning for months for the big picture and then spending each day problem solving, and learning to ask questions, but sometimes making gut decisions because they had to be made.  

They also talked about the support of their principal teams.  Being able to ask questions and share advice has been their lifeline.  Principals talked about the difficulty for both themselves and their staff who usually thrive on planning.  So much is unknown; it is difficult for all educators to be comfortable.  New principals are working to support teachers, families, and children through this difficult time while learning the job, dealing with staffing, working through constantly changing mitigation plans, and dealing with taking care of themselves and their own families.  

Both the new principals and teachers talked about self-care.  And both groups knew that they were struggling in this area.  How to take care of a campus and classroom and all that goes with it during a pandemic and yourself?  This will be the question we all must answer during and after this.  How can we as educators do all that we know must be done for students to get what they need at school and still have what we need to care for ourselves?

The teachers and leaders who started this year had multiple first days as we opened in distance learning, made our way to hybrid, and then went to full open for our elementary schools.  With each first day, they grew, took another step into the profession, and began to realize that for this year, we are all just first years.

“School” by jdog90 is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


Jaime Festa-Daigle

My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities.

I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

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