The New Teacher Book

The New Teacher Book

Finding Purpose, Balance, and Hope During Your First Years in the Classroom

Edited By Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, Stephanie Walters

Table of Contents

Teaching is a lifelong challenge, but the first few years in the classroom are typically a teacher’s hardest. Since The New Teacher Book first came out in 2004, it has sold over 50,000 copies and become an invaluable resource for new teachers entering the classroom.

This expanded collection of writings and reflections—some by new teachers, others by veterans with decades of experience to share—offers practical guidance on how to effectively navigate the school system, how to form rewarding professional relationships with colleagues, and how to connect in meaningful ways with students and families from all cultures and backgrounds.  It will help new teachers, from kindergarten through high school, sustain the passion and ideals that led them to teaching, and channel that energy into the day-to-day reality of working in a school.

Many teacher education programs give The New Teacher Book to students as they begin student teaching, or upon graduation. School districts have included it as part of their new teacher orientations.

New Teachers Love the Book:

"I've recently finished reading [The New Teacher Book] and while I have not yet stepped into my own classroom, I feel this book answered many questions and calmed many anxieties about my first year of teaching. I really recommend this book for any teacher, new or old, because I feel it offers not only advice for us new teachers, but I think it has sound suggestions for the veteran teachers out there as well."

— Angela M. Ruo

Noted educators throughout the country have high praise for the book:

“Just when new teachers might feel that it’s time to throw in the towel, The New Teacher Book makes its appearance with stimulating stories, ideas, and encouragement that remind teachers why they entered the profession in the first place. Grounded in a deep respect for teachers, the articles, ideas, and resources will inspire and motivate all educators, not just those new to the profession. By questioning the stale prescriptions and taken-for-granted practices so common in education today, this book sends a powerful message that education is above all about social justice.”
— Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“An indispensable resource for new teachers has only become better! Every essay in The New Teacher Book comes right out of a real teacher’s experience, to help today’s beginners learn to make real their vision of a caring and socially just classroom, even when everything seems to be working against that vision.”
— Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita, California State University. Monterey Bay

“The New Teacher Book is full of insight and wisdom—much of it hard-won—from educators committed to their profession, their colleagues, their students, and to social justice. New (and “old”) teachers, teacher educators, and mentors will find themselves nodding in recognition and leaving this page-turner inspired and recommitted.”
— Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University

"This 2nd edition of The New Teacher Book is even better than the first. It’s a roadmap that will help new teachers navigate the rough journey of doing right by their students and a reminder to us all that responsible and responsive teaching must be learner-centered and set in the context of vigorous social consciousness.”  
— Adam Urbanski, President of the Rochester (NY) Teachers Association, a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, and the founding director of the Teacher Union Reform Network 

“Rethinking Schools is an important voice for progressive and democratic values in these difficult times of attacks on public education and teachers, and obsession with privatization, standardized testing, and pay for performance. This second edition of The New Teacher Book, written by classroom teachers, former teachers, and community activists is filled with useful and realistic advice for beginning teachers about important issues inside and outside the classroom that will help them sustain a progressive vision in American public education.”
— Ken Zeichner, Boeing Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington, Seattle


Acknowledgements ix

Introduction: Why We Wrote This Book
The Editors 1

Chapter 1: Getting Off to a Good Start

Time to Learn
Kelley Dawson Salas 9

Q/A Should I try to be a friend to my students? 19

How I Survived My First Year
Bill Bigelow 21

Q/A What should I wear to school? 30

Teaching for Social Justice
Herbert Kohl 35

12 Tips for New Teachers
Larry Miller 39

Teaching in the Undertow:
Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual
Gregory Michie 43

How Jury Duty Saved My Career
Stephanie Walters 53

Chapter 2: Creating Classroom Community  

Building Community from Chaos
Linda Christensen 67

Q/A How can I start building community in my classroom? 82

‘Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club’: Raising Issues
of Race with Young Children
Rita Tenorio 83

Q/A What can I do when a student makes
a racist or sexist remark? 93

Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be
Sensitive to Students’ Family Situations
Sudie Hofmann 95

Q/A What do I do when I realize
I’ve made a mistake with a child? 100

Heather’s Moms Got Married
Mary Cowhey 103

Out Front
Annie Johnston 111

Creating Chemistry in Sophomore Chemistry
Terry Burant 123

Creating a Literate and Passionate Community
Tracy Wagner 131

Getting Your Classroom Together
Bob Peterson 139

Uncovering the Lessons of Classroom Furniture:
You Are Where You Sit
Tom McKenna 145

Chapter 3: Curriculum, Standards, and Testing

Creating Classrooms for Equity and Social Justice
The Editors 157

‘Curriculum Is Everything That Happens’:
An Interview with Veteran Teacher Rita Tenorio 163

Q/A Where can I look for curriculum materials? 168

Standards and Tests Attack Multiculturalism
Bill Bigelow 169

Q/A My students don’t bring back their homework.
Should I keep assigning it? 180

Working Effectively with English Language Learners
Bob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas 183

Q/A I hate the textbook I’ve been given to use.
What can I do? 188

Q/A How do I get started planning a teaching unit? 190

‘I Just Want to Read Frog and Toad’
Melanie Quinn 191

Q/A How can I get started using poems with my students? 197

Teaching Controversial Content
Kelley Dawson Salas 199

Q/A How do I get a student to redo an assignment? 206

Even First-Year Teachers Have Rights
Bill Bigelow 207

Q/A How do I prepare for a substitute teacher? 212

Testing Kindergarten: Young Children Produce
Data—Lots of Data
Kelly McMahon 213

Q/A How can I prepare my students for a field trip? 219

Dealing with Standardized Tests
Kelley Dawson Salas 221

Reading Between the Bubbles: Teaching Students
to Critically Examine Tests
Linda Christensen 227

Q/A I’m totally nervous about being evaluated. And I just got a letter from my principal informing me I’m going to be observed! What should I do? 236

Chapter 4: Discipline: Rescuing the Remains of the Day
When Class Doesn’t Go as Planned

The Best Discipline Is Good Curriculum
Kelley Dawson Salas 241

Discipline: No Quick Fix
Linda Christensen 245

Q/A How can I help my students stay organized? 250

The Challenge of Classroom Discipline
Bob Peterson 251

From ‘Sit Down!’ to Stand-Up: Laugh Your Classroom
Management Problems Away
Don Rose 255

Q/A Do I have to spend my own money
on classroom supplies? 258

Making Rules
Dale Weiss 259

Exile Has Its Place
T. Elijah Hawkes 267

Helping Students Deal with Anger
Kelley Dawson Salas 275

Chapter 5: Making Change in the World Beyond the Classroom

Why We Need to Go Beyond the Classroom
Stan Karp 287

Q/A Should I leave the school I’m in? 294

So What Is a Teacher Union Anyway?
Stephanie Walters 295

Teachable Moments Not Just for Kids
Susan Naimark 303

Q/A What should I do if I suspect a student is a victim of abuse? 310

‘We Must Act as if All the Children Are Ours’:
An Interview with Parent Activist Lola Glover 311

Q/A What should I do about the parent who keeps showing up in our classroom unannounced, or a parent who’s upset and wants to meet with me during the school day? 315

Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year
Dale Weiss 317

Q/A What should I do if I am asked to take on extracurricular
duties or coaching responsibilities as a new teacher? 327

Getting Students Off the Track
Jessica Singer Early 331

Moving Beyond Tired
S. J. Childs 339

Action Education: Teacher Organizers Take Quality into Their Own Hands
Melissa Bollow Tempel 343

Chapter 6: Resources

Other Resources from Rethinking Schools 357

Contributors 363

Index 367

Why We Wrote This Book

When the editors of Rethinking Schools first conceived of this book, we thought back to our days as new teachers. We hoped to create the book we needed in those sometimes exhilarating, sometimes lonely, often hard first days of our teaching careers.

This book is meant as a conversation among colleagues. We hope a conversation that helps you keep your vision and values intact as you struggle in institutions that may or may not be those citadels of idealism where you imagined yourself teaching.

We wrote this book because it’s important for the profession that new teachers with social justice ideals stay in the classroom. Our communities need teachers who see the beauty and intelligence of every student who walks through their doors and who are willing to keep trying to reach those who have already been told they aren’t worthy. Our students need teachers who value students’ home language and who know how to build academic strength from those roots. We need teachers who learn how to develop curriculum that ties students’ lives, history, and academic disciplines together to demonstrate their expertise when top-down curriculum mandates explode across a district. Our school districts need teachers who can advocate against the dumbing-down of curriculum, against testing mania, and against turning our classrooms over to corporate-created curriculum. Our country needs teachers who understand the connections between race, class, and tracking. How else do we make a lasting change?

We wrote this book because we want you to hold on to those impulses that brought you to teaching: a deep caring for students, the opportunity to be the one who sparks student growth and change, as well as the desire to be involved in work that matters. We need teachers who want to work in a place where human connections matter more than profit.

We wrote this book because we have had days—many days—where our teaching aspirations did not meet the reality of the chaos we encountered. We have experienced those late afternoons crying-alone-in-the-classroom kind of days when a lesson bombed or we felt like our students hosted a party in the room and we were the uninvited guests. We wrote this book hoping it might offer solace and comfort on those long days when you wonder if you are cut out to be a teacher after all.

We also wrote this book because we understand the connection between what happens behind the classroom door and what happens outside of it. A key skill for new teachers is to see ourselves as defenders of public schools—looking for allies among parents, community groups, other unions, everyone who has a stake in fighting privatization and corporate rule. Given the full court press against public schools, we need to remind all teachers to not be so classroom-focused that we don’t pay attention to the larger political context that is shaping our lives in the classroom. The other reason to open the classroom door and peer outside is that new teachers’ survival often depends on connecting with other teachers for support and assistance for social, political, and pedagogical reasons. Isolated new teachers are bound to burn out.

There is a huge difference between having lots of book knowledge about a given area—literature, history, math, science—and knowing how to translate that knowledge into lessons that help struggling students learn. All teachers—new and veteran—need skills to develop curriculum that celebrates the delightful aspects of our students’ lives. And we need strategies that tie the tragedy of some students’ lives and the tragedy that the world delivers—hurricanes, poverty, famine, war. We need to discover ways to weave these into our curriculum. That takes time.

Rethinking Schools editors have assembled numerous books that focus on creating social justice curriculum: from Rethinking Columbus to Rethinking Mathematics to Rethinking Globalization to Teaching for Joy and Justice. We hope you will look to them for curricular help. In those books, we celebrate the lessons and units and strategies that worked for our students, that created days when we walked out of the building celebrating the joy of teaching.

And what we know from our years in the classroom is that we only get good at it when we do it year after year. So we wrote this book to tell you that you will get better as the years move on if you continue to study your classroom, hone your craft, read professional literature, and keep up with world news. Teaching is an art. Keep practicing.

—The Editors

Media Kit

For additional information about The New Teacher Book, or to arrange interviews with the editors, contact Kris Collett, Marketing Director, 414-964-9646 or 414-807-5193.

Coming Soon:

  • Reviews
  • Ideas for Using The New Teacher Book in Professional Development