First year teachers

First-year teachers (l-r) Julio Escobedo, Amy Myers and Nick Brooks.

Today is the last day of school for 21,000 Racine Unified students and their teachers. It’s a time for excitement – and reflection. At the beginning of the school year, The Journal Times asked three first-year teachers about their plans, hopes and fears. As their first year of teaching drew to a close, those same teachers answered another set of questions, this time about their best and worst classroom moments and what they’ll do differently with students next year. Read their responses below.


Julio Escobedo

Julio Escobedo, 35, of Kenosha, teaches third grade at Wadewitz Elementary School, 2700 Yout St. He came to teaching from a career as a senior research specialist, managing student data for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

What was the biggest surprise of your year?

How difficult it was to assess kids’ reading abilities by listening to them read and taking notes on items like pronunciation and fluency.

It was surprising “the amount of work that went along with that, learning how to get this done on time, wondering, ‘Will I get in trouble if I don’t turn this in on time?’”

Kids’ reading assessments were turned in on time but not easily.

“Hopefully that won’t be as overwhelming next year.”

Was there a moment you thought teaching may have been a bad choice? What pulled you through?

“In October there were quite a few things” like classroom management and doing testing that “had me overwhelmed. … Some of the kids just wouldn’t listen. There’s always a handful that make you go, ‘Oh God.’”

But the principal “was very positive and (pointed out) things where I needed improvement. At the beginning I tried to be nice to the kids and they can take advantage of that so he was like, ‘You might want to be tougher on them.’”

Did you have lessons or activities that fell flat or failed outright? How did you improve them?

“At the beginning I expected all the kids to be good spellers” so some writing assignments ended badly.

“So what I did that really worked was create a list of high-frequency words and had them practice them. Every week we would go over so many words. … I saw a significant improvement (in their journal writing). I mean, not every single word, but it was much better.”

What was the best moment of your school year?

“My students did really well on their (Measures of Academic Progress standardized year-end) test.” In math, 95 percent of students improved from the beginning of year test to the end of year test. In reading, 75 percent of students improved.

“Most of my students met their target so then you feel like it was worthwhile.”

Will you have the same job next year?

Yes.


Amy Meyers

Amy Myers, 24, of Kenosha, teaches seventh-grade math at Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School, 3601 LaSalle St. Myers graduated from college in 2011 but a poor job market and knee surgery kept her from teaching – until this school year.

What was the biggest surprise of your year?

“I student-taught in eighth grade and I always thought I would want to go older but I really have enjoyed seventh grade and I think part of it is this is a really hard stage of development. I have told some of my classes that no one looks back on middle school and says, ‘Oh I wish I could go back to that.’ But it’s been really rewarding to walk through it with them.”

Was there a moment you thought teaching may have been a bad choice? What pulled you through?

“Back in October, there was a situation where I had a couple students in the room (who were verbally causing a commotion). It was the first time that things kind of got out of control where actually someone else had to come in and help calm things down. … It was like, ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing.’”

“From the support of the staff around me, just encouragement of, ‘You did the right thing,’ ‘You’re doing a good job,’ and I actually had a couple students come to me and apologize, that was how I got through it.”

Did you have lessons or activities that fell flat or failed outright? How did you improve them?

“In the math book it gives you: This should take one day. This should take two days. So I was trying to follow that lesson layout and we got to the first test and the kids just totally bombed it.”

After that lessons got slowed down and “I’ve had to do a lot of going back over it.”

What was the best moment of your school year?

“The progression of watching the kids mature.”

“Kids would be mad or frustrated but couldn’t tell me why. Now they can communicate that. I’ve definitely tried to work on it with them. In class if they say, ‘I don’t get it,’ we try to redirect and say, ‘OK, what don’t you get?’” 

Will you have the same job next year?

Yes.


Nick Brooks

Nick Brooks, 26, a Racine native, teaches seventh-grade geography at Mitchell Middle School, 2701 Drexel Ave. Brooks, a Park High School and Carthage College graduate, had been a substitute teacher but didn’t have a classroom all his own until this school year.

What was the biggest surprise of your year?

“Halfway through the year I had my students write letters to the Dalai Lama … I thought with this particular group they wouldn’t be interested in sitting down and writing a letter but all of them did it and they were really, really heartfelt.”

Students could write about something they learned in a Buddhism lesson or about world peace.

“Students always write about what they’ve learned, not so much about their feelings and their thoughts, (but) this group of kids did. They wrote about how to make the world a better place.”

Was there a moment you thought teaching may have been a bad choice? What pulled you through?

“It’s just wondering if the stuff you’re doing is having an impact. I hit a lot of those moments about halfway through the year and the thing that got me through it was a few of my students who have told me I’m a good teacher and I inspire them, and really it’s the staff at Mitchell is extremely supportive … just reassuring each other and lending an ear when you need someone to talk to.”

Did you have lessons or activities that fell flat or failed outright? How did you improve them?

Some lessons were taught too fast for students to understand and some activities just did not work, “so you have to throw it out and start something new at the last minute” and that adaptability is hard.

To work on it, “I have a mentor that was assigned to me: (fellow seventh-grade teacher) Bill Ticha. He’s been fantastic … I usually run ideas by him and he helps me come up with solutions.”

What was the best moment of your school year?

“I had my students out doing an archeological dig. I actually buried stuff in our long jump pit and they had to dig it up. Just seeing them dig that up and be able to have a hands-on experience.”

Will you have the same job next year?

Yes.

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