No Longer About Wall Space

20170210_131014Like many of my fellow educators, I’m a control freak. Therefore, I hate the time between Christmas and February vacations, since winter weather frequently denies me control over day-to-day life, especially in my classroom. Even in this (relatively) mild winter, a new presidential administration with a particularly concerning pick to lead the Department of Education has made it feel like the ground is moving a little too quickly underfoot. By the time we get to March, the longer days make it possible to see the light at the end of June, but despite the fact that every resource on teaching will tell you that disillusionment is supposed to hit sometime around Halloween, for me it’s always hit right about now.


This feeling of disillusionment peaked for me during my second year of teaching, in the winter of 2015. You might remember that winter as the one that broke Boston’s snowfall record. Constant anxiety about whether or not school would be cancelled, paired with the daily fight to keep my students engaged despite interruptions to the schedule meant that I was frustrated regardless of whether or not school was in session, and it took a real toll on me mentally.


One morning, feeling particularly adrift after a two-hour delay forced me to scrap another day’s worth of lesson plans, I felt like I had to take control of something. Looking around my classroom, it occurred to me that part of the problem was that I wasn’t excited to spend time there, and if I didn’t feel excited here, how could I expect students to feel any differently?


I hadn’t felt this way my first year, so what was different? The answer was written on the walls–or would have been, if anything had been on the walls. When did my room become such a cold, sterile, boring place? Even as a student teacher, I had always used my wallspace as a resource, but this was the first year of my school’s 1:1 initiative, and I had, like any good second-year teacher, adopted every new strategy, app, or gimmick that I’d come across. Why make a reference poster when I could make a slide or an infographic? Why make an anchor chart, when I can just share the graphic organizer on Google Classroom? In my effort to keep my district happy, I had inadvertently given other people control over the day-to-day choices in my classroom, and I’d consequently lost the bright, colorful and engaging classroom space that I had loved. By the end of the day I had used my Amazon Prime account to buy a giant roll of butcher paper (800 feet for about $40…I’m still using the same roll two years later) and replenish my marker supply, and I haven’t looked back since.


Using wall space as a learning space isn’t exactly cutting-edge, but as the anchor charts slowly started to return to my walls, my class dynamic changed for the better. I’ve always struggled to feel comfortable giving verbal praise in class, but displaying a student’s work sends a clear message that I’m proud of them. When a student insists that we’ve never discussed themes in The Odyssey, I can point at the list we’ve been building every day over the course of the last six weeks. Most importantly, the classroom itself becomes an artifact of the progress that students have made over the course of the year, and seeing our progress empowers me and my students to keep working toward tomorrow.


We work in a profession where between winter weather, flu season, district initiatives, national politics and a host of other factors, it’s easy to feel powerless. For those of us with the majority of our careers ahead of us, that feeling of powerless can be magnified, especially if we’re still working toward professional teacher status. However, when that feeling of powerlessness sets it (and it will set in), it’s also important to remember that, in the words of fellow NMC member Gene Reiber, you are the most important thing in your classroom. You have control over how you make students feel, the values you choose to emphasize in your class, and the outlook you bring to school every day, and no administrator, district initiative or Secretary of Education can take those things away from you. Once I figured out how I expressed those three constants, I felt a little more comfortable drawing a line in the sand and reclaiming who I was as a teacher, and hopefully you will too.


If not, keep at it! Summer is coming…


Post written by Emma Hensler, a MTA New Member Committee Member.

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!


Women’s March for America


I remember occasions in my childhood, more than I can count, of being awoken in the early morning hours of a Philadelphia Saturday, an hour or two before sunrise, riding to a bus in the back seat of my parents’ car as the sky lightened, and then riding down to Washington, DC, with a group of people brought together in support of a cause. At this point I really can’t recall any specific reason for the protests; surely each one regarded pushing for economic and social justice for all in the USA. What stands out in my memory decades later (holy cow, I’m old enough for my memory to have a “decades later”!) is the importance that I felt of being included in what I took to be significant moments in our nation’s history. I revere this collage of memory.

January 21st, 2017, matches those memories, and in some ways eclipses them.

It could be that now, as an adult, I am aware enough of the world to fully understand the importance of engagement and collective action of citizens. I have spent several years working together with education colleagues from throughout the state toward the goal of great public schools for all children in Massachusetts. It gratified me to share the Women’s March for America with many of these friends in person in Boston, and via Facebook in Washington, DC.

It could be that, since I am now several years into my teaching career, I see how my students are impacted by decisions made by adults in their individual and collective worlds. I have experienced nearly a decade of political and policy decisions that have directly influenced my students and my ability to successfully serve them, educate them, and love them. I realize how important it is for me to use my voice to advocate for what my students need, through my union, by writing letters to elected officials and appointed decision makers, and by gathering with thousands of other Americans in protest when the moment demands.

I am certain that my developing memory of January 21st is so significant largely because of the moment.

Inklings of it began in the days leading up as email updates from march organizers increased expected attendance counts by tens of thousands on a daily basis. Empowerment developed after an early arrival, walking past an already-developing crowd across Boston Common an hour and a half ahead of start time, and passing throngs of sign-carriers and hat-wearers headed in that direction through the Public Garden. Emotions welled as I snaked my way through the thick crowd, across the Common and then back in another direction until finally I found the Massachusetts Teachers Association contingent. Some of this positivity was challenged as it took over an hour to move off the Common and into the march itself because the crowd was so large, but this was tempered by collective spirit and good humor.


It seems safe to assume that all of us who educate in public schools in Massachusetts, indeed throughout the country, have experienced feelings of fear, apprehension, even foreboding following November 8th. I tried my best to hope that predictions expressed by others that the rhetoric of the campaign would not carry through the transition and into the new administration would hold true. However it seemed that nearly every day that hope was dampened by a new Tweet, cabinet appointment, or other transition decision; swift actions taken by a new Congress further added to my sense of pessimism.

And yet, January 21st renewed my hope, multiplied it, perhaps even cubed it; the action of the Women’s March for America reinvigorated, encouraged, energized so many of us who wish to see the United States continue to move forward toward progress for us all regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual identity, class, or immigration status. But that march is not simply the exclamation point at the end of a sentence; it is an emphatic opening paragraph to begin a chapter of activism that must be carried through the next two years to the 2018 mid-term elections and then on for two more years to 2020 and the next presidential election, and even beyond that.

For those reading this who have never considered themselves political or activists, it can seem a daunting challenge to move out of one’s personal bubble and into the world of public activism. But there are numerous ways to make one’s entry into this realm, many different options for different styles of involvement. Check out the list below to find ideas for how to get involved and find what works best for you; I simply ask that you do something – contribute your voice to the positive prospects of the future, for it is that future into which we will send the students we educate.



  • Use the Massachusetts State Legislature’s page to find contact information for your Senator and Representative, both in the town where you live and where you work:



  • Take a look at the NEA Legislative Action Center to find current campaigns to contact your legislators on national issues:




  • Go back to Google and research organizations that would interest you by searching issues and topics you find important


  • Engage with people in your own communities – eye contact and in-person conversation can go a long way toward a collective sense of purpose and progress


  • Get active in your local union



  • Keep an eye out for the next rally or march, bring along some friends, and join in!



Post written by Laura Vago, New Member Committee Chair and 7th grade Science teacher in Malden, MA.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LRVago

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!


Difficult Colleague? No Sweat.



Pessimistic. Obstinate. These are just two of the many adjectives one might use to characterize a difficult colleague. And we all have at least one. No building is immune to such a person. So how do we collaborate with these individuals without allowing them to compromise our beliefs about our own professional work? Below are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years about different types of difficult colleagues.

  1. The Negative Neighbor: As painful as this may seem, pause and listen to this person. Whether or not you feel her complaints warrant any legitimacy, I generally find that people just want to be heard. Perhaps suggest to this person that she should bring her concerns to the building rep. Or, if you disagree with her point of view, then take courage- honestly and politely disagree. At the end of the day, transparency is always best, and if your view differs from hers, she’ll be less likely to share her negative thoughts with you in the future.
  2. The Stubborn Department Member: It’s common planning time (wait, is there such a thing?) and you have this awesome idea! Everyone is on board except this person. Like your neighbor above, he is negative and resistant to try anything new because 182 days of textbook work hasn’t failed him yet. Consider for a moment that perhaps this colleague is afraid of failure. I know, I know. We’re educators! We tell our students all the time that they shouldn’t fear failure, because their failures turn out to be their most valuable learning experiences. But realize, too, your co-worker is human. If everyone else is on board, then don’t worry about your inflexible outlier. Hopefully, he’ll see and hear about the success your idea has brought to your fellow teammates, and will, on his own, gradually come around.
  3. The Staffer with No Regard for School Rules: At last week’s staff meeting, the principal requested that there be more adult presence in the halls during transition times. It’s been a week since this meeting, and this person has yet to share in the responsibility. However, this isn’t the only time he’s “forgotten” to pitch in. Oh! And that time in your class when you told Elijah to put away his chips and his ear buds, his response was, “Why? Mr. So-and-so let’s me!” I get it. It’s enough to make you want to march down the hall and yell at Mr. So-and-so for undermining your authority and for not being a team player! But you shouldn’t do that, at least not the yelling at him in front of his students part, and neither should you gripe about him behind his back, because then you’d be no better than your negative neighbor. Rather, have a private conversation with him. Confrontation tends to have a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Again, transparency is always best. Try phrasing your complaints as concerns. Tell him you need his help in the hallway. As for Elijah’s food and music, let your colleague know what your classroom rules are, and ask him to please remind his students that his rules apply to his classroom, and not every teacher’s classroom.


While I could go on in identifying difficult colleague archetypes, it’s not really necessary. If your teach-mates have gotten under your skin, then it’s because you’ve allowed them to. Remember that your colleagues are worthy of respectful and honest conversations, and if they are resistant to your feedback, then don’t waste your time on them. Chances are they are in the minority and not worth the energy you could be spending on important things, like standardized testing (wink, wink).


Post written by New Member Committee Member Miriam Kranz, Middle School Drama Teacher in Southbridge, MA

You can follow Miriam on Twitter @mimik82

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!


JFNT Presenter Series: Dr. Audrey Murph-Brown



I am a veteran school social worker having worked in urban education for 24-years.  Currently, I provide services to academic at-risk students in a K-5 setting and have worked at the middle and high school level. As a clinician, I have worked with traumatized and adjudicated youth each population sharing similar disruptive school behaviors. I have worked with substance abusers, adult survivors both male and female of child sexual abuse, schizophrenics, and parents of abused children. As a college instructor providing human service, child development, and cross cultural studies for adult, I am experienced with the adult learning model creating an interactive academic community.  I have an extensive background in community engagement and family services and bring this skill-set to my role as a school counselor improving the livelihoods of students, families, and communities.

Brief employment background:

–  School Social Worker, Springfield Public Schools 1992-present

–  Adjunct Professor, Cambridge College & Springfield College, respectively 1990-present

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”- N. Mandela


Impressed by Dr. Murph-Brown’s experience? Don’t miss her workshop “Difficult Students: Stay Calm and Know What to Do” at the Just for New Teacher’s Conference!


Thinking of registering for JFNT? Register here.

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!


JFNT Presenter Series: Liz Bettencourt


Find Ways to Reach ALL Your Students!

Hi there, new teachers! Shameless plug alert: I’d love you to attend my workshop at the Just For New Teachers conference on 11/19…..

When you think about differentiating instruction, do you get overwhelmed? Feel like it’s way too challenging? Not even know where to start?!

Well, I’m here to provide you with some really practical, easy-to-manage tools and strategies for differentiating your instruction. We’ll get into how important it is to truly reach all of your students where they’re at, and we’ll explore some specific ways to do so that won’t have you (or your students) tearing your hair out. We’ll delve into providing choice for students based on their interests and learning styles; and we’ll also think about how to assess where students are in terms of skill and content readiness – AND how to use those assessments to inform some differentiated instruction. I promise – we’ll work on some great stuff that you can take right into your classroom with you the very next week to try out!

So, join me! I’m Liz Bettencourt and my workshop is during Session 2 in the afternoon, from 1:25 – 3:25 p.m. and is called Reaching All Students: The Differentiated Classroom. I’ll see you then!


Thinking of registering for JFNT? Register here.

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!

Why Won’t You Go to Just for New Teachers This Year?


So you just got a flyer for the MTA’s Just For New Teachers Conference on November 19 hosted by the New Member Committee. Now what? Why won’t you go?!

Are you concerned about the content of the workshops offered?

Don’t be! There is a plethora of workshops to choose from for all new educators. You can choose to attend a workshop on anything from technology to classroom management to dealing with students with trauma. The workshops also range in content area and level. In addition, we are putting on an entertaining panel discussion full of teachers who will be talking about their experiences in education.


Are you concern about the cost?

It’s actually only $65 and that covers breakfast snacks, lunch, and all the workshops! That’s a bargain when it comes to full day conferences! Still concerned? Remember that $65 is like a mediocre dinner for two or a pair of sneakers you’ll never wear or something else not worth the $65 you spent on it. So put your money to better use by coming to this conference. Still concerned? Since this conference covers part of your district’s responsibility to provide new teachers with 50 hours of mentoring beyond the induction year, you could even ask around at your local and they might reimburse you for the cost. Give it a try! No promises, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Even better, JFNT is free if you are a member of SEAM!


Are you concern that it’s on a Saturday?

We used to hold this conference on a Friday, but many new teachers don’t like missing a day of school. So now you don’t have to worry about leaving sub plans! Also, you can bring a bunch of your new educator friends from all over the state since you know they’ll be available. Everyone in their first 5 years of teaching will be able take something away from this conference.


It’s easy to get to since JFNT is at Worcester Technical High School this year. Worcester is a nice central location. Well it’s definitely easier to get to than having to drive to Western MA from the Boston area (or the other way around which I am VERY familiar with…).


As an added bonus, we are putting on a book swap! Bring your books related to professional practice and you can pick up a new book.


Going to the Just For New Teachers conference is a great way to connect with other new educators just like you around the state. I always appreciated the reassurance that I am not alone in the overwhelming tornado that is being a new teacher.


Here is the link to register right now:


So, why won’t you go to JFNT? What’s your excuse now?


Post written by NMC member Kathryn Procter

You can follow Kathryn on Twitter: @señoraprocter

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!

Joining Us for Summer Conference? Here’s What to Expect!



Summer conference is like teacher summer camp. It is a great chance to network with other teachers across Massachusetts and to learn more about the benefits of union membership. I first attended summer conference two years ago as part of the New Member Program. One of the aspects I enjoyed most about the five days was sharing my story of how I got into education and hearing the stories of others. I had just finished my first year of teaching and in that year I found that I mostly talked about what was going on at school. Sometimes, I felt like I was boring my friends who were not in education by always telling them stories– like the time a seventh grade student ate paper in class! During the New Member Program, it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who were also interested in discussing lesson plans or how to build rapport with students while enjoying wine at one of the many social events. So with summer conference being less than two weeks away here are some things to keep in mind before coming to Amherst.

What to Bring:

If you are part of the New Member Program you will most likely be staying in the North Residence Halls, which are suite-style housing.  They are also air conditioned, so you do not need to bring a fan with you!

You are provided with a linen pack including two flat sheets, a pillow and case, two towels and a blanket. To be honest, I am picky about sheets and blankets, so I always bring my own. If you’d feel more comfortable in your own sheets, bring them! Many people bring their own pillow as well. Also, make sure your bring your own toiletries.

As for clothes, summer conference if on the more casual side. Jeans, shorts and t-shits or casual sundresses are fine to wear. Keep in mind that some events, like the opening day picnic on Monday, are outside. Many other sessions are inside and if you get cold because of the air conditioning, it might be a good idea to bring a sweater or sweatshirt.

Social Events:

One of the best parts about summer conference are the many social events sponsored by different committees of the MTA. Of course the best social events is the New Member Committee Opening Day Dance. This year the dance is on Monday, August 1st (which happens to be the birthday of committee member Jenn Maio). The dance will have a DJ, lawn games and decorations to go with our amazing theme. There will definitely be line dances like “The Wobble” and “Cupid Shuffle” that are always a blast! Earlier on Monday there will be a wine and cheese, which is a great opportunity to get to bond with other members of the program. On Tuesday, there is a social sponsored by the MTA Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Issues Committee and an ice cream party sponsored by MTA ESP Committee & Educators Insurance Agency.

There is also a dance on Tuesday night sponsored by EMAC, the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee. Wednesday night is the Bash, the last big party of Summer Conference that normally has a band.


If you are part of the New Member Program, then you will be pretty busy during the day on Monday and Wednesday. However, on Tuesday you will have the afternoon off. This is a great chance to attend another workshop, check out things in the area or nap.

In Summary:

  1. Bring what makes you feel comfortable in your dorm room, but know there will be sheets and towels for you to use.
  2. Casual dress is acceptable. Remember that there are a few outdoor activities and the indoor locations are air-conditioned.
  3. Be prepared for a bunch of fun social events that provide you with networking opportunities.

So here is my insider guide to help you get ready for the MTA Summer Conference. Tweet, message, or e-mail us if you have any questions. See you soon!


Post written by Melanie Levine, a New Member Committee Member.

Follow MTA New Members on Twitter: @MTANewMembers and find us on Facebook!