The only thing harder than being a teacher is being a first-year teacher. Travis Middle School teachers Sarah Lane and Chaurnice Houston are familiar with the challenges of being a new teacher and are working together to make all new teachers on campus feel right at home.
Houston and Lane joined Travis as new teachers three years ago. After navigating their first year, both attended the “Get Your Teacher On” conference to learn how to create an engaging classroom. They left the conference excited not only to engage their students, but other teachers too.
“We were very inspired, pumped up and ready to share our information with other teachers,” says Houston. “When we were first-year teachers, we didn’t have a mentor. We had our peer teachers, who were awesome, but we felt that we wanted some sort of community for just the new teachers to be together.”
So they formed the Support Squad. The Squad is where new teachers, both to the profession or to Travis, can ask questions, form a community and learn about tools and traditions that are unique to Travis. During Squad meetings, Houston and Lane help new teachers with things like how to put grades into the gradebook, how to document behavior grades and ideas for classroom management.
“They were there just to check in with us,” says Jessica Bailey, English teacher and previous member of the squad. “Starting as a new teacher or at a new place is overwhelming, so they were there to give us support and provide one-on-one conversations to help answer questions.”
The Squad quickly bonded and formed into a community that has remained close ever since.
“One of my best teacher friends came out of [the Support Squad],” says Maria Labus, who teaches social studies. “We talk every day. We were all first-year teachers, and we still get together at the end of school almost every day because we have that bond.”
Now in its second year, the Squad is a valuable resource for new teachers to navigate not only the typical challenges of their first year, but also those that come with teaching during a global pandemic. Remembering her own first year as a teacher, Houston’s advice for new teachers is to roll with the punches and be flexible.
“It’s one thing I wasn’t prepared for and surprised me about myself,” says Houston. “You could plan to teach a lesson and realize there are gaps. You have to be flexible to stop, rewind and reteach. Don’t freak out if things don’t go according to your plan, because they never do!”
For Lane, she reminds them to make relationships with students the top priority.
“If the kids know you care about them and you really make an effort to get to know them, it doesn’t matter what you’re teaching because they’re going to latch onto it because you care so much,” says Lane. “If you’re not confident in your content, be confident in your kids. They’ll blow you away.”