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Charter Board Partners

Back to School for the Very First Time

October 02, 2017 | by Shereen Williams

Shereen Williams is CBP’s Chief of Governance and Recruitment. This is the first in an occasional series of posts by or about members of the CBP staff. 

While I don't remember what I wore that very first day, many of the other details are crystal clear. When I started teaching in NYC in September 1992, I was a 22-year-old native New Yorker and a newly minted Teach For America corps member. My file number, the unique identifier for all NYC teachers, was 686868, and my annual salary would be $26,375.  That first day I met my 29 eager little first graders in a newly-built school that wasn't quite finished. We had chairs, but desks and the door to the classroom would come later in the week. 

It is those memories that sprang to mind when I received an email this past summer asking if I would participate in a panel for new teachers. The KIPP Capital Teacher Residency Program had 90 new teachers who were spending the summer getting ready for their very first day of school ever. 

I was one of four panelists who answered questions from the moderator and also from the new teachers in the audience. So, what did I say to these new recruits? How did I prepare them for the toughest job in the world? How did I inspire them to make every day a great day for their students?

I told them that although I only spent six years in the classroom, I am and will always be a teacher. I’ve had some good jobs and some bad ones, but in every single one of them, I was a teacher. The skills and experience you develop as a teacher—such as creativity, the ability to explain things well, and to plan and present well--will serve you well for a lifetime. Everything is a lesson plan!

I told them: Even if every single student in the school is African American and even if most of them are low income, do not paint all of those children with a single story. They and their families each have a unique story.

I also told them that there would be days when they might just go home in tears.  On those days it’s important to reach out to their peers, maybe go have a drink, and go right back the next day determined to be better.

There’s nothing more terrifying than your first day in the classroom. But I am confident that each of them had a great first day, and that each year will be better than the last.

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