Our Exclusive Interview with Todd, Madeline, and Katherine Whitaker!
1. What motivated you to write Your First Year and why do you think it is an essential read for first-year teachers?
Todd: The first year of teaching is so essential and we wanted to develop a resource so new teachers can have confidence on what to do before the year begins, getting the year started correctly, successful classroom management, and mid-year corrections.
Katherine: My sister and I had very different first years of teaching. We both had many positive aspects, but we each found areas that we struggled in or wished we had had more guidance before given the keys to our own classroom. We wanted to combine what we had learned, with the help of our dad’s educational knowledge, to write a book that could potentially be truly beneficial to first year teachers. Combined, we have all taught at an elementary, middle, and high school. Through this pooling of experiences, we feel we have created some helpful tips and suggestions to make any first year teacher not only survive, but thrive.
Madeline: We wrote The First Year because we all understand how critically important that initial year is for new educators. Teaching is an extremely difficult job, especially if you are new at it, so we wanted to provide a resource that could help beginning educators navigate this complex and difficult experience. We also wanted to provide guidance not only on how to prepare their classrooms, but also on how to handle tough classroom management situations as well as how to work with adults in their buildings.
2. What is your favorite piece of advice in the book for new teachers?
Todd: Find outstanding teachers in and out of the school to emulate.
Katherine: I love the “tweak” and “reset” sections. I was not the best classroom manager my first year. So knowing how to make tweaks and even hit the reset button would have been hugely helpful to me during my first year. Hopefully others will find it beneficial as well!
Madeline: My favorite piece of advice in the book is that classroom management is more about managing yourself than it is about managing your students. The only person you can truly control is yourself, so in the book we worked hard to empower beginning teachers by reminding them that they do have the ability to make their classroom what they want it to be.
3. Why did you include the section on “hitting the reset button”?
Todd: That is one of my favorite parts. Understanding the difference between tweaking and resetting is essential to understand for new teachers.
Katherine: Because I had to do it! I had a vision for how I wanted my classroom to work and tried to get it there with some major struggles. Come October I had to scratch everything and “reset” my classroom, my students, and myself. It is okay to have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to classroom management and this book definitely will show you how.
Madeline: This was included because it is a real strategy that real teachers can and do use! I am currently in my second year of teaching, and I just had to use a smaller version of it this past spring when things were not going as well as I had hoped. It is so nice to know that you do have the power to change what is going on in your classroom.
4. What is the most important thing you would like readers to take away from your book?
Todd: They matter and they can do this.
Madeline: I hope readers feel reminded that teaching is such an incredible profession. Every day brings its own challenges and rewards, especially during your first year. On both those good and tough days, you are making a difference.
5. What or who inspired you to become an educator?
Todd: A former basketball coach.
Katherine: I had a variety of influences during my years of growing up. We talked about education a lot at home, so I grew up very aware and passionate about it. My junior year I had an English teacher named Dr. Allen who changed my life. I would say that she is one of the major reasons I try so hard to build connections and relationships with my students every single day. I am eternally grateful for the advice she gave me throughout the year I had her.
Madeline: My parents definitely inspired me to become an educator. They always reminded me how important education was, and that no matter how teaching is perceived to anyone else, there truly is no greater profession.
6. What is your best memory from your first year of teaching?
Todd: How fun and exciting it is every day.
Katherine: The bonds I formed with my students. Ending my first year was more of a sad experience for me then it was exciting or an accomplishment. The love you have for that first bunch you teach is something indescribable. I swear they taught me more about life and myself then I taught them about math.
Madeline: One of my best memories was on the last day of school. I had such a mix of emotions. I was so euphoric since I had actually made it, but I was also deeply sad that my students were moving on to 4th grade. When the bell rang I dismissed my students to their bus locations. As I was sorting through some papers on my desk, one of my students appeared in my doorway with tears in his eyes. Without saying a word, he quickly walked over to me, gave me a huge hug, and then sprinted out of the class. Although we did not exchange any words, it was such a perfect way to end my year.
7. What is the most embarrassing, awkward, or funny moment from your first year of teaching?
Todd: Too many to mention!
Katherine: I feel like that moment needs to stay between myself and my 3rd Hour class.
Madeline: One day near the beginning of my first year I came across district resources for teaching science in elementary schools. Since it was near the beginning of the year, I still thought that I could implement every exciting idea I came across, so I quickly emailed the district science department about getting extra materials for one of the science experiment where you soak M&M’s in different liquids and observe what happens. They sent all of the materials, including the M&M’s to me the next day. Six months later I had never touched the materials - except I had eaten all of the M&M’s (whoops!). I feel like this story is a perfect example of the first year teacher’s reality – you are so excited and motivated at the beginning of the year and then when reality hits all you really need is a big bag of candy!
8. What is it like being in a family of educators?
Todd: I am one proud pop!
Katherine: I love it. I feel bad when people have dinner with us who are not educators. It seems to be about 90% of what we talk about at the dinner table!
Madeline: It is awesome. I could not be more grateful that I can call either of my parents or my sister anytime I want to share stories or ask for advice.
9. What has been one of the proudest moments of your education career so far?
Todd: Writing this book with my daughters takes the cake.
Katherine: Sometimes the proudest and most impactful moments are the ones no one else would think anything of. I had an English Language Learner student my first year of teaching who had been in the United States all of four days on her first day of 8th grade. She refused to speak any English for months and months and months. I will never forget, it was February and I was running around the room helping students with an activity when I heard someone behind me whisper “Miss. Whitaker”. I turned around and saw it was this young lady and I almost burst into tears. It was the first time I had heard her speak all year, and she said my name. Small moments of growth and connections like that are what make me love my job.
Madeline: Probably seeing my students grow so much in reading. Being able to read is such a critical skill that all humans need to be successful in life. It does not sound very “romantic,” but I really do love helping students become literate!
10. And finally, please tell us your favorite thing about education in one word.