Letters to a Young Teacher

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jonathan Kozol is a prominent education activist and commentator. But first, nearly 40 years ago he was a young, idealistic public school teacher in inner-city Boston. Letters to a Young Teacher is a series of letters written to Francesca, a first-grade teacher at an inner-city public school, on how to survive that tumultuous first year of teaching.

Letters to a Young Teacher is available for purchase at

Weigh in: If you are (or have been) a teacher, we want to hear from you. What's your advice to new teachers on how to survive the first year of teaching?

Events: Jonathan Kozol will be speaking and signing books
Wednesday, August 22 at 7pm
Barnes & Nobles at Union Square


Jonathan Kozol

Comments [15]

billaki36 from Astoria

I just came across this podcast. What a breath of fresh air. It is so nice to hear the truth about what is really going on. Finally, thank you NYC for presenting the other side and telling what REALLY goes on, not what Bloomberg SAYS is going on.

Sep. 09 2012 11:07 AM
Alice McIntosh from Bronx, New York

I am interested in reaching out to other (I am finishing my second year cohort 18)Teaching Fellows who have left DOE. I was recently fired and am planning a public meeting for Teachers to share there stories and perhaps bring attention to the nonsense that goes on at DOE. Would it be possible to share my email address with those who have commented on this site? Please let me know

Aug. 12 2011 08:24 PM

I'm also in the second year of the NYC Teaching Fellows and there's not way I'm coming back for a third.

The overwhelming problem facing teachers in New York schools is incompetent, careerist principals and their own administrative superiors. There are plenty of good principals, however, and the contrast between a school with a good principal and one with a bad principal is startling. It is nearly impossible to teach effectively at a school with a bad principal and you will suffer emotionally and professionally. Forget what the movies say; if you are in a mad house with students who are allowed to scream and punch and kick each other, and where supplies are misdirected, you're not getting much accomplished.

My advice: do everything possible to find a school with a good principal (good based on what the current teachers at the school say, not on the act the principal puts on). If you can't find a good principal for your first year, try to get a leave of absence while you take another job and spend all your free time searching for a good principal for the next semester or school year.

Nov. 10 2007 11:17 AM
irene from New York

I had big dreams of becoming a Teacher and joined the NYC Teaching Fellows. I only lasted seven months. The school was unsupportive and I felt disconnected and disoriented. I worked non-stop all week long until one day I had an anxiety crisis and never wanted to return to the classroom to protect my sanity. I really wanted to teach and felt it wasn't fair that the NYC Teaching Fellows wouldn't give me a chance to obtain a job at another school after I resigned from the school. I'm sure I could have been a great teacher if I was in a school that valued and supported new teachers.

Nov. 08 2007 02:29 PM
kevin from bellerose, ny

have a life outside the classroom. you're entitled. practice practice practice taking time -- at least an hour -- each day thinking about something other than the classroom. ( you will be thinkng of it all the time!)
do not do lesson plans on the weekend!!! have next weeks classes planned out friday or earlier. you will be miserable on sunday, all day, if you don't.
have three back up lesson plans, contained within themselves, ready to use at a moments notice. rehearse and practice these lessons. have them ready. you may wantr to use them when the class is just not into what you're teaching or when you are too tired or unprepared to teach what you've planned ahead of time.
exercise your body. join a gym. it will make a difference in the classroom.

Aug. 30 2007 09:54 PM
Larry from Queens, now NJ

Sorry I didn't hear anything about the fourth season of HBO's "The Wire," which this past year was devoted to telling the story of those trying to make a difference in the public schools of Baltimore. SO MANY of the teachers I have met watched the series for the first time last year - there was a tremendous word of mouth recommdation for the show.

Aug. 30 2007 02:57 PM
Larry from Queens, now NJ

Mr. Kozol seems to have a long-standing crusade against Stuyvesant High School. I gather, from hearing him in the past, that he feels that the school receives an unfair amount of funding, damages other high schools by removing their best students , and is somehow a racist institution.

Listeners should know that:

- Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, on Amsterdam Avenue, received a similar amount of money for their rebuilding.
- Attending Stuyvesant is designed for to BENEFIT these students, and does a TREMENDOUS amount more good than not for the city's students.
- Admission to Stuyvesant is based purely on merit, as everyone knows. For Mr. Kozol to even hint that the school is racist is dead wrong, and displays a possible bias against Asians on Mr. Kozol's part.

Aug. 30 2007 02:55 PM
Larry from Queens, now NJ

Leonard referred to underfunding of schools.

Times have changed, Leonard. I refer you to the NY Times education article of June 10, 2007. Here's an excerpt - "New Jersey's Abbott districts, the urban school systems that sued the state 26 years ago to gain equal footing with affluent districts, are now among the highest-spending school districts in the country... The districts spent more money per student than most rich districts in New Jersey in 2004-5"

If there's a problem with funds, let's look at what local school administrators are doing wrong and spare what seems to be the standard criticism directed towards what is called the 'more affluent' districts.

Aug. 30 2007 02:42 PM
tamara from ponce inlet, fl

Positivity is so important. Stay away from those on the faculty who speak derisively of their students or are on the verge of burn-out themselves. Stick with the winners. And don't be afraid to ask for help.

Join the union.

And most importantly, maintain a schedule that allows you to destress and be healthy. Make time for yourself, and do your best to not take work home with you, though you've realized by now that won't always (or usually) be possible. It does get better!

Aug. 28 2007 10:46 PM
debbie from Astoria

oh! one more thing!

be POSITIVE with the students. always find someone doing what you want to see & praise that kid. say something nice to every kid every single day.

and, be honest -- not phony! if they can do better, let them know you expect more, not less, from them.


Aug. 22 2007 06:46 PM
debbie from Astoria

I am a Teaching Fellow about to begin my 3rd year of teaching high school English. The first year was the hardest year. After the first summer, I actually didn't want to go back, but I wanted to complete my commitment (both for personal & financial reasons because I would have had to pay them back for graduate classes if I'd quit early!). The second year was a lot better because I was much better at the job. I'm hoping the third is even better.

My advice to a first year teacher is to find a more experienced teacher you can trust & ask that person everything. Observe classes if you can. I think you learn a LOT from seeing other teachers in action. In the classroom, always think of planning in terms of what you want them to DO & how you will know they have completed the activity successfully or unsuccessfully.

Finally, have a TON of patience with yourself. This job takes YEARS to get good at. It doesn't take weeks, or even months. Years.

And, avoid the cynical teachers or at least realize that they are only venting & have the right to vent. They will bring down your spirits if you imitate them or get into cynical discussions.

I wish you the best!


Aug. 22 2007 06:43 PM
Courtney from downtown advice is to not be too idealistic. be prepared to question everything you know about what is just and fair, as well as what you know about yourself.

Aug. 22 2007 01:03 PM
Cherith from Manhattan

I am a New York City Teaching Fellow entering my 5th year. I would not have made it if I did not have many talented and invested senior teachers supporting me during my 1st year. This is the hardest job I have ever had. I was a business and technology consultant for six years working 60+ hours a week and traveling all over the world to be beaten up by clients paying a lot of money for that privilege. Teaching is still harder because you feel as though you are never doing enough to help the students in your care. There is always something more I could be doing.

The thing that would make a real difference in my ability to reach every student in my classroom would be to LOWER CLASS SIZE. In a class of 30 students there will always be someone I cannot get to. In a class of 30 students with an hour a day I get 2 minutes per child. The mathematics of it is confounding. We are a rich country with the resources to build the best military in the world and to send foreign aid to countries who need it. Surely we can find more resources to make a difference in the lives of our children by lowering class size.

Aug. 22 2007 01:02 PM
Courtney from downtown

I was a NYC Teaching Fellow for one year. I quit after one year because I had no help from my administration, my fellow teachers were disgruntled and hostile, and my students were violent (though I loved them individually). There was no room for me to be creative or intuitve in my school. I was written up when I spoke out against ridiculous school and district policies. My opinions made me a target from admin. I was even written up for using my slotted sick/vacation days. (I was made sick constantly by my second graders).

Aug. 22 2007 01:01 PM
T. Meyers from New York City

I became a New York City Teaching Fellow after a course at Michigan where I was exposed to Mr. Kozol's work. I am a young African American female from the inner cities of New York, but a year and a half later, I have just resigned from the DOE. I could not simply work under such incompetent administrations.

My advice to new teachers: be an ADVOCATE for your yourself, for your fellow teachers, and for your kstudents.Of course you don't want to make waves in the beginning of your career, but at the same time if you are too quiet, too passive and too permissive, the results will be the same.

Aug. 22 2007 12:49 PM

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