e-book The International Experiences of First-Year Teachers

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Second-grade students revised and rewrote their stories one time, while sixth-grade students revised and rewrote their stories multiple times. The teacher also included grammar activities as a part of her written-expression instruction. In spelling, students completed a pretest on Monday and a final test on Friday. On Tuesday and Wednesday of each week the students practiced the words using the cover-write-cover method: They covered the word, wrote it, checked it, and then repeated the process. On Thursday, the teacher taught students study strategies for their upcoming spelling test.


Mathematics Instruction. Mathematics instruction for both the second- and sixth-grade students focused primarily on the mastery of addition and subtraction of two- and three-digit numbers, with a special emphasis on place value, regrouping, and borrowing see Note 1.

When introducing new mathematical skills, our teacher used manipulatives and hands-on activities. As the students became more proficient, the teacher faded out the manipulatives to ensure mastery of concepts at an abstract level. At the end of the year, when students were proficient in the addition and subtraction of two and three-digit numbers, our teacher introduced single-digit multiplication and division.

Our teacher also taught strategies for solving word problems. She instructed the students to first underline key words in the word problems.


She then talked about the meaning of the key words e. Finally, she had the students write the equation, solve the problem, and check their answers. Our first-year teacher considered the school climate to be supportive for both students and staff. The general education teachers, special education teachers, and educational assistants communicated on a daily basis.

In addition, special and general education teachers tried to be flexible and accommodating for one another.

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For example, if the special education assistant was providing support for students in a general education classroom, he or she also might help non-special education students in that classroom who were having difficulties. Similarly, children who were not in special education but who had significant difficulties in reading or mathematics might be included in special education pullout groups.

Our Teaching and Support Staff

Our teacher reported that the supportiveness and collegiality between the general and special education departments allowed for joint problem solving. Consequently, resolving students' academic and behavioral problems was viewed as the shared responsibility of both general and special educators. Our first-year teacher felt well supported by the school administration and by the other teachers in the school.

Because the school did not have a formal mentoring program, our interviewee sought out her own mentor. Our teacher states that she chose her mentor because she and her mentor "had similar personalities and teaching styles. The other experienced teachers in the school were also supportive, providing consistent help in locating resources and materials and giving sound advice on managing students' behaviors. In addition, they introduced new teaching techniques and interventions to our teacher.

Programming for Students with Diverse Needs. One of the biggest challenges faced by our first-year teacher was trying to program for the diverse group of students on her caseload. One of our teacher's greatest challenges was working with a second-grade student who had severe reading and behavioral difficulties.

This student received services from a reading specialist outside of school hours in addition to the services provided by our first-year teacher. The specialist not only worked directly with the student but also offered our teacher advice on educational interventions that were appropriate for the student. Our first-year teacher found this special service to be helpful in terms of programming; however, she often found it difficult to implement the suggested interventions because the student refused to work, worked poorly in a small group, and initiated power struggles with the teacher.

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To more effectively instruct this student, our teacher pulled the student out of the small-group setting and provided him with one-on-one instruction. In addition, she, learned to avoid power struggles with the student. For example, if the student refused to write during class time, our teacher provided him with a different task for 5 to 10 minutes and then returned to the writing task.

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Similarly, if the student disagreed with the teacher on a particular fact e. Our teacher felt that over time she learned to better understand and accept the student's behaviors, and to deal with those behaviors in a calm manner. Another challenge faced by our teacher was programming for a sixth-grade student whose reading level was significantly below that of the other sixth graders receiving services from our teacher.

To meet the academic needs of this student, our teacher placed the student in a second-grade Pullout group. Our teacher considered this solution to be less than ideal, given the mismatch between the student's age and the materials used for instruction, but the teacher believed that she had few other choices. Her preference would have been to instruct the student one on one, but there was no time during the school day to do so. A final challenge faced by our teacher was programming for a student who had recently immigrated to the United States and did not speak fluent English.

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Although the student did not qualify for special education services, our teacher included her in a pullout group because the student experienced serious difficulties in general education and because the general education teacher was not sure how to integrate the student into the classroom. Further, the ESL teacher felt that the student's academic difficulties were more severe than those of same-aged peers with the same native language.

Our teacher found it a challenge to instruct a student with language proficiency problems. The techniques she used to teach her included rereading directions when necessary, having other students model academic behaviors, and relying on nonverbal prompts and gestures e. Other Challenges. In addition to the challenges presented by diverse student needs, our first-year teacher faced challenges related to scheduling and parental involvement. One of her first major challenges was to set up a schedule for her pullout groups.

After many meetings with different general education teachers, she was able to create a schedule. Unfortunately, she had to repeat the entire process in the second semester because of changes in the specialists' schedules. Another challenge faced not only by our teacher but by other teachers in the school was low parental involvement. Many parents were difficult to contact or slow to respond to requests.

Parents often did not attend Individualized Education Program IEP meetings, did not help children with their homework, and did not return documents that required signatures. Our teacher felt that over time she learned how to encourage parental involvement. For example, she learned how to suggest ways for parents to become more involved in the educational process without putting them on the defensive, and how to politely relate what she felt was best for the student without sounding confrontational.

By the end of the year, our interviewee felt that she was adept at communicating with parents, although she acknowledged that this did not always translate into parents' taking action. Learning to better communicate with parents was one of the successes our interviewee experienced during her first year of teaching.

A second success was learning to run meetings efficiently. Our first-year teacher's job required her to conduct many types of meetings, including IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and weekly special education staff meetings at which new student referrals were discussed. At the beginning of the year, our interviewee was uncomfortable running meetings. Even the logistics of setting up a meeting were difficult: Ensuring that all documentation was complete, inviting all responsible parties to the meeting, and creating an agenda for the meeting all seemed to be daunting tasks.

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IEP meetings were especially challenging due to the number of people involved and the amount of information to be covered. By the end of the year, however, our interviewee was much more relaxed and more efficient in running meetings. She attributed these changes to the practice she received over the course of the year and to finding an agenda style that allowed her to cover the material in an efficient manner.

See the Appendix for examples of two types of agendas used by our first-year teacher. By adding structure to her meetings, our teacher found it easier to keep the meeting focused on the student's needs. Our first-year teacher also related several success stories pertaining to student academic progress. One concerned the sixth-grade student with severe reading difficulties who had been placed in a second-grade reading group.

Our teacher tried several different reading interventions to increase this student's fluency and comprehension, and set high expectations for the student. Over the course of the year, the student made significant gains in reading, so much so that by the end of the year several general education teachers commented on the student's improvement. The feedback from the general education teachers gave our teacher a sense of accomplishment and reinforced her belief in herself as an effective teacher.

Our interviewee reported that she felt accountable for the goals and objectives on the students' IEPs. Before designing or implementing new curricula, our interviewee reexamined students' IEPs to ensure that her curriculum matched the needs of the students in each group.

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  • In addition, our teacher reviewed IEPs every few weeks to remind herself of the students' goals and objectives. Formative assessment also played a major role in helping our teacher to shape the curriculum that she developed for her students. Our teacher used curriculum-based measurement CBM procedures to monitor students' performance in reading and written expression on a biweekly basis. In written expression, the teacher collected 3-minute samples of writing and scored and graphed the number of words written correctly.

    In reading, the teacher had students read aloud for 1 minute from text and scored and graphed the number of words read correctly. The teacher also used portfolio assessment techniques. She kept a file folder for each student that included classwork related to each student's IEP goals. The teacher used the CBM and portfolio assessment data to monitor students' progress toward their IEP goals and to evaluate her instruction. Our interviewee saw marked differences in accountability between the general and special educators in her school. She perceived that special educators felt accountable for what was written on the IEP, whereas general educators felt accountable for moving students through the district's curriculum.

    Our interviewee believed that these differences in accountability affected the extent to which special and general educators felt responsible to individual students and parents. That is, formulating and monitoring progress toward IEP goals and objectives compelled special education teachers to focus on the achievements of individual students.

    Similarly, cooperatively developing and evaluating IEPs with parents created a sense of responsibility to the parents. In contrast, general educators felt pressedoften to their dismay-to move through the curriculum, even when individual students were experiencing difficulties. In addition to differences in accountability, our first-year teacher perceived that there were differences in the assessment techniques used by general and special educators.

    In special education, assessments were formative in nature and were used to evaluate student progress toward the mastery of IEP goals and objectives. In general education, assessments were summative in nature and used for the purpose of assigning grades rather than instructional decision-making. Our interviewee speculated that the differences in accountability and assessment were most likely influenced by student numbers.

    With a limited number of students on their caseloads, special educators could focus on individual needs; however, the large number of students taught by general educators often precluded an intensive focus on students' individual needs. In our teacher's opinion, general educators' drive to get through the curriculum and their sparse use of formative assessment techniques precluded more widespread inclusion practices.