March 2, 2012

Saint Theodora winners offer practical advice for new teachers

By John Shaughnessy

Lisa Vogel doesn't hesitate as she shares her best piece of advice for new teachers.

"Never lose that idealistic vision that you can change the world," says Vogel, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Mary School in North Vernon. "Teachers need to always believe they have the power to make a difference no matter how grim the situation may become.

"It is also imperative that teachers love and accept the students for all their good and for all their mistakes."

Vogel shared that advice as one of the five winners of the archdiocese's Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award for 2011-12. The other four winners offered this advice for new teachers.

Be prepared, be persistent

"Even though it may take all of your time in the beginning of your career to create notes or create lessons, the more you do the better things will work out down the road," says Stephen Buell, a sixth-grade teacher at the consolidated St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gabriel the Archangel School in Indianapolis. "The better prepared, the less likely you will be to be caught off-guard when schedules do not work out.

"Another piece of advice would be to stick it out. What does not kill you only makes you stronger. This applies to teaching. Every day that seems tough will only toughen you up for those students down the line that need you."

Look out for your students and yourself

"It takes a firm and nurturing hand to teach primary-age children," says Mary Briscoe, a first-grade teacher at Holy Family School in New Albany. "My advice to new teachers would include these thoughts:

"Be flexible. Watch for teachable moments.

"Expect the best, and teach them how to express their love for Jesus and show it to others.

"Start a personal file. When parents compliment you and send thoughtful notes to you, keep them. Hold on to a few of the pictures that children draw and the 'You are the best teacher!' treasures. On days when you are overwhelmed and ready to cry, pull out your file and remember why you chose this labor of love in the first place."

Learn to adapt

"Listen to your students. Education should be driven by students' needs," says Patricia Musgrave, a resource teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

"Successful teachers know when their students understand the material and when they do not. If the majority of the students do not understand the material then look at how the material was presented and decide if you need to present it in a different way."

Keep a sense of humor

"Trust in yourself, seek advice, always be open to new ideas, keep a sense of humor, and know that all teachers had a first year," says Vicki Auger, a second-grade teacher at St. Roch School in Indianapolis. "As a mentor, I also tell them that I will share any and all of my knowledge with them, and in return I ask that they share with me. I always benefit from the one I am mentoring as much or more than they benefit from me." †

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