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First Days


September 5, 2012

Yesterday morning, as I was boarding a 7:15 a.m. train in Philadelphia for Washington, D.C. for my first day of work as the Executive Director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, I received a text message from my son-in-law to be, Zach.  The message contained a photograph of my daughter, Jessica, standing in front of a counter, behind which read the words, “Penn Law”.  The message contained four words:  ‘first day of school.’  Jessica started law school yesterday.

A few seconds later, I received a call from my son, Josh, telling me that he had just received the same photo, and a text from his girlfriend, Mai, sharing her jitters as she readied herself for her first day at a new job, with a great deal more responsibility.

Three ‘first days’ in one family certainly got me thinking, about first days in general.  I remembered all of the first days of schools that my children experienced – the excitement of new lunchboxes, school supplies, and backpacks.  My own ‘first days’ of school as a student and then as a teacher, preparing my library for my incoming students, planning our lessons and research, and working with teachers to ready their classrooms – finding them books, videos, filmstrips (I’m old) to augment their ‘first day’ lessons.

I had taken Jessica shopping for school supplies for this ‘first day’, just as I had for previous ones, and did some shopping for my own day.  Instead of file folders and pencils, we bought flashdrives and lens cleaner.  Intead of spiral bound notebooks, we discussed carrying an electronic tablet or notebook computer on that all important ‘first day.’

All three of us –Jessica, Mai, and myself – were experiencing serious ‘first day’ jitters – had we made the right decision in taking on these new challenges, were we the right persons for the position, would we find collegial colleagues, did we have the right skills?

As I ended my own ‘first day’ last night, I thought about all of these things and decided that my own day had been productive, enjoyable, and, to an extent, affirming.  I’d felt prepared, welcomed, and ready to tackle my own new challenges.  Checking in with Jessica and Mai, they felt the same.

However, I could not help but think about all the students I had taught, and all those in your classrooms, who experienced ‘first days’ recently, who, perhaps, did not have this same reflective experience after day one.  Their families could not afford to send them to school with the necessary equipment; some of them came to school hungry; some of them chose to not come at all.  And about their teachers, many of whom also had ‘first days.’

I read in this morning’s USA Today that the percentage of new teachers in our classrooms is rising every year (Ingersoll and Merrill, UPenn), from 65,00 in 1987-88 to 200,000 in 2007-8.  Heather Peske of TeachPlus, notes that the percentage of the teaching force with less than ten years experience now stands at 52%.  The recent New Teacher Project report, The Irreplaceables, notes that, in many cases, new teacher who choose to leave would have stayed had they had better support.

As NNSTOY’s new ED, this resonates strongly with me.  My vision for NNSTOY over the next twelve months includes seeing our members serving in the role of mentor, coach, friend, and supporter for our new teachers, as well as for those teachers who have experience but are in need of support.  I see NNSTOY members working through virtual ‘circles’ by content area and developmental level of students taught to help strengthen the profession.

I see a thriving virtual community of State Teachers of the Year, exchanging and participating in research, influencing policy decisions.  My vision includes a membership that strives to professionalize teaching, bringing it on par with other fields of work that have in place continuums of professional practice, guiding principles for the profession, collaborative communities of practice, and that receive actionable feedback to inform practice.

My vision is far-reaching, and, some might say, too big to be realistic.  I disagree.  Over the next few months, we will be taking steps to make real four key goals:

  1. Establishment of the NNSTOY brand:  working with a professional Web designer, we will build our brand and launch a new, dynamic Website by November 30, 2012
  2. Grant procurement:  we possess a generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but it does not fully fund our budget. We need to obtain additional sponsors.  Organizations like ours typically have a minimum of eight to ten funders.  We have work to do.
  3. Establishing NNSTOY as a viable non-profit organization in the D.C. policy arena:  I will be spending a great deal of time in DC over the next few months; I need your help in reaching out to key organizations that can assist us in growing our brand.
  4. Membership recruitment:  I can’t do this job alone; we need every STOY involved in this work.  If you have not joined our revitalized organization, I urge you to do so now.  (membership dues will rise after December 31, 2012)

Megan Allen wrote recently on our Facebook page about her own ‘first day’ back to school after a year working for children outside the classroom.   She described her excitement, as well as her fears, and the outcome of that special day.  I would ask that all NNSTOY members take a moment to reflect on your most recent ‘first day’ and think about how you will make capitalize on your excitement and preparation for this year; and on how you will use your skills and talents to make a difference in the lives of your students and colleagues, so that their future ‘first days’ – for some, occurring today and tomorrow – are positive, productive, and impactful.

With sincere thanks for all that you do for children and teachers,


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