keep going

A Letter: Dear Experienced Teacher in a New Situation

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

SHARE THIS STORY: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+

Welcome back to school! For some reason, whether by choice or mandate, you find yourself in a new situation this year. Perhaps you changed grade levels, classrooms, schools, districts, or even crossed state borders. You crammed things into boxes, worked extra hours to unpack them, scavenged to find the things you need in your new situation, and started a massive “To Do” list for all the things you KNOW you need to do—but haven’t found time to do yet. I totally get you. That was me last year!

At the end of 2015-16, I mustered up the courage to leave a position I loved in a classroom where I had been teaching for six years. Everything in that classroom was exactly the way I liked it. In fact, I used to have nightmares that someone was forcing me to move classrooms and I was asking who was going to pack my stuff, paint my walls, move my cloud light covers, and put up the Velcro where I can stick pens out of reach. Well, last year I got the chance to live that nightmare out. It was exhausting, but I’m writing to tell you: You can do this!

Being an experienced teacher in a new situation was a little bit like being a second year teacher all over again. I knew what I needed to do, but finding time to do it ALL was really challenging. Here’s my three biggest takeaways from the experience:

First, I developed deep respect for teachers who have experienced switching grade levels or moving classrooms to meet the needs of the school. I realized that it takes a huge amount of energy to learn new curriculum and organize a classroom. (Being totally honest, my classroom still isn’t organized the way I like it yet!) Further, I realized how much energy it takes to get familiar with a new district or organization’s policies and procedures. There were surprises all year long that created stress because I did not know to prepare for them. These unexpected things, however small, required late nights and working weekends to balance my workload and accomplish tasks. Now, I see the importance of teachers reaching out to colleagues who have switched situations to make sure they can anticipate upcoming events or expectations.

Second, I learned that experienced teachers in new situations need support—even if they seem to have everything together. My new district offered a few “onboarding” trainings that helped me understand the district as an organization and understand the teacher evaluation process. I found these really helpful and recommend that other organizations consider the practice. As I blended my past professional experiences with new practices in my district, I found there were times of dissonance when I disagreed or needed clarification about why we do something in a certain way. I appreciated when others would listen to my questions and thoughtfully consider my alternate ideas instead of dismissing them with comments like, “That’s just how we do things here.” Now I see the importance of paying this forward to colleagues I meet in the future who bring their own professional experiences and knowledge that could help me improve my own.

Third, I had to learn to be good to myself. I had to accept that a To Do list is just a To Do list—not a list of shame detailing incomplete projects or failures. I had to prioritize some things for Year 2 while I focused on Year 1. And this year, I am basking in the glory! Two weeks ago, I had the luxury of hanging a shelf that helps my team organize a messy area and store personal belongings out of student reach. It felt like a huge victory! I’ve known that I wanted a shelf in that exact spot since about the second week of school last year, but I never had time to purchase or install it. Last year, I was exhausted and worn out from keeping up—but this year, I have energy to take things to the next level. Looking back, I can see that last year was worth it. Perhaps the first year in any new situation is like an investment. It was for me.


So if you are an experienced teacher in a new situation, hang in there. You, too will find future victories! Be good to yourself, reach out for help from colleagues, and remember to pay it forward when you meet another experienced teacher in a new situation down the road.


Feature image credit:


Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

Comments 11

  1. Sandy Merz

    This is exactly what I’m experiencing right now. After years of teaching 8th grade engineering and algebra, I was moved to 7th grade science and 8th grade language arts. I kept the algebra. The change to science came because we needed someone with the certificate and I was the only option. I picked up the language arts because we had an open-position and I was asked to take it on as a 6th class – for proportional compensation. I fou nd out about these changes a week before we reported (through no fault of our admin team.) My approach from the beginning was to pace myself. My first science and language arts lessons weren’t that great, but as things are settling down and I’m doing some more thoughtful planning, I’m pretty much enjoying the work. It’s been awhile since I created new lessons and projects from scratch. The science comes pretty easy, but without a colleague’s help, the language arts would be tough. I have to say that I’m not looking forward to grading so many essays, but so far each time there’s been two or three students who have written such good stuff that it’s been worthwhile.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Sending lots of positive thoughts and energy your way Sandy as you tackle these new adventures. I think our stories go to show that, no matter how long you’ve been teaching, there are things to learn and teaching is CHALLENGING! The challenges help us all connect back with the feelings of being a first or second year teacher–and hopefully reminds us all to help colleagues when we can. I’m so glad you’ve got a supportive team that collaborates :) Way to go for volunteering to take on a new content area for your school. The kids will never even know how grateful they should be that you filled that position :) Wishing you a great year!!!

  2. Leah Clark

    Last summer I moved from Henderson, Nevada where I taught for three
    years back home to Phoenix. While I was thrilled to live closer to
    friends and family, I was terrified to teach at a new school in a new
    district. My first semester was rough. Navigating school policies,
    working with new colleagues in professional communities, and simply teaching
    brand new content made many days difficult. As you said, “I had to hang in there” and adapt to a new environment. This is not easy, especially as teachers because we are so reflective and expect much of ourselves as experienced professionals. I had to remember that sometimes a lesson does not go as planned and not to take everything personally. While I am an experienced teacher, that does not mean I am experienced in the culture and content of a new school and grade level. Even as a second year in my district, I still feel like a brand new teacher. But it gets easier everyday.

    The one factor that changed everything was reaching out to other teachers on campus and creating supportive relationships. The men and women who were once in my shoes offer priceless advice, guidance, and friendship. Finding just a few buddies made all the difference.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Hi Leah! Great advice for teachers facing similar circumstances. I’ve never moved states in teaching jobs. I can imagine that created even more challenges than I have faced in my situation change. I completely agree about the importance of colleagues and collaboration. That made a big difference for me personally, too! Hopefully the “newness” will wear off completely for both of us this year :)

  3. Donnie Lee

    I can totally relate to what you have written. I have resisted leadership positions for several years because I had my classroom the way I wanted and I didn’t want to leave it. Last year, I was “volun-told” that I would be moving grade levels. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, it is time to pack everything up finally and move it. Do I really want to move it to another classroom?” This was a motivator for me to finally move out of my comfort zone and step out of the classroom. Instead of packing my stuff up, I opened my door and let my colleagues come in and collect materials from my 12 years of teaching.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Wow, interesting story Donnie. You certainly made some lemonade out of those lemons :) Still, it makes me wonder if some attrition in our profession could be related to mandated grade level or classroom switches for teachers out there. Now that I know how much extra work and pressure it takes to be in a new situation, I would be incredibly discouraged to have such stress forced upon me. Yet, I know these things happen to school-aged teachers all the time. Just last week, a third grade teacher was transferred from another campus to my campus because of our numbers. She’s got a great attitude, but I feel so much compassion for her as she gets settled a few weeks into school. It seems to me that administrators should put great effort into protecting teachers from undesired situation changes that might make them throw in the towel instead of starting over. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Beth Maloney

    Wow, Jess, you really nailed such an underappreciated or understood yet crucially important topic. The sheer amount of effort and the steep learning curve aspects make such changes in our profession daunting. But as Donnie pointed out below, that is when our biggest shifts and realizations occur. That was so true in my move from early childhood to 5th grade. Great piece.

  5. Treva Jenkins

    Thank you so much Jess for this post. It really resonated with me and so many other veteran teachers. It truly inspired my latest blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences with change. One of the ways we can cope with these type of changes is building up our own resiliency. Resilient teachers can have a profound effect on the school climate and culture. Change is never easy and it helps to have blogs like this to encourage us.. You’re awesome Jess!

  6. Lisa Moberg

    I have also packed up and moved to another grade level, and it is funny how much I can relate to new teachers this year!! I love the idea about the “onboarding” trainings from district. We don’t have anyone left ifrom last year’s grade level team to help guide me, and sometimes I feel pretty lost. I just found my massive “To Do” list from 2 months ago… it’s not all done… but I am letting that go, too. ha ha

Leave a Reply to Sandy Merz Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *