Transitioning Back to School



The optimal place to plan for the first day of school.

This morning marked an important day in my annual end-of-summer routine: the return of the back-to-school nightmare. It’s the same every year, ever since I started teaching five years ago. I show up to school, ready for a smooth first day when I’m handed a student schedule instead of a teacher schedule. I try to explain to the school secretary that there’s been a mistake, but she only shrugs and tells me that it’s my choice which schedule to follow, but if I don’t report to Algebra 1 in five minutes then she’ll have to call the school’s truancy officer, who will have to arrest me. I follow my student schedule all day, trying to explain to all of my coworkers that I’m their colleague until I go to the last class of the day, which is my own English class. There’s a sub in the room, and now I have to try to explain that I’m the teacher while all of my students argue that I can’t be the teacher since I sat next to them earlier today in Bio. Somewhere while I’m trying to plead my case and regain control of the room, I wake up.


I’ve never met another teacher who hasn’t had a recurring back-to-school nightmare at one point or another, and while none of them are the same, they all stem from the same anxiety that makes us shudder when back-to-school commercials start running the week after the fourth of July. Sure, some of these feelings are perfectly healthy, but if it’s starting to define the final days of your summer vacation, here are five strategies to cope.

1. Use this time to plan your first day, first week, first unit.

This seems like an obvious one, but if you’re like me, sometimes it’s easier to avoid the problem rather than deal with it head-on. If I pretend that summer isn’t ending, then it won’t really end, right? Something about sitting down and planning how you’re going to use my class time at the beginning of the school year can feel really overwhelming, but knowing that you have the first few days taken care of will help you to savor the last few days of summer instead of worrying. Planning out the first few days in detail will also free up your time to do more important things in the first few days of school, like learning your students’ names, getting a head start on building parent relationships, or just going outside and enjoying the sunlight before the days start to get shorter.

2. Look back on last year with a critical eye.

The beauty of education is that we get to hit the “refresh” button at the beginning of each new school year. Now that you’ve had some time to put school out of your mind, you might find that you have a new perspective on the choices you made. If last year was a particularly rough one (we’ve all had some years that were harder than others), how did your choices contribute to it? For many of us, it’s only after time has removed us from the experience that we can look back and acknowledge our own mistakes or shortcomings. Taking some time to look back and consider the ways in which we can improve only makes us better.

3. Make a big change.

Now is the time to revamp an old routine, scrap a new policy that wasn’t working anymore, or add a fresh new idea to your curriculum. This is especially true if you’re having trouble feeling anything close to excitement about a new year. Were kids buzzing about a great new study tool their Math teacher used? Ask your colleague if she doesn’t mind sharing. Dreading the stacks of grading that are only a few days or weeks away? Check out this YouTube series on strategies to combat those piles of paper. Sick of students losing the resources you spent hours putting together for them? Spend some time exploring the world of interactive notebooks on Pinterest. Freshening up your content, routines, and strategies will give you something to look forward to, and your students will pick up on that excitement.

4. Find a support network.

Jennifer Gonzalez over at the Cult of Pedagogy calls this “Finding Your Marigolds.” To paraphrase, planting marigolds near garden vegetables typically helps those other plants grow larger, healthier produce. On the other hand, the presence of a walnut tree typically will produce smaller, sicklier fruits and vegetables. Your support network should help you to feel excited about your job and challenge you to be better. These people might be your mentor or coworkers at school, but they could also be fellow union members, your cohort from your teaching program, or family or friends in education. Finding these people and engaging with them now will help you talk through your anxiety and feel part of a bigger picture as the school year starts.

(Shameless plug time: Still looking for your support network? Come to the New Member Committee’s annual professional development conference, Just for New Teachers, on Saturday, 4 November. Registration is already open!)

5. Enjoy the last few days of summer.

Look, in just a few days, kids will be sitting in front of us, whether we like it or not, and  we can choose to find that fact oppressive, or we can find it liberating. It won’t be long until the weather cools down, the days start to get shorter, and we’ll all be driving home in the dark. You know what you won’t regret then? Spending that last beautiful weekend of summer vacation at the beach instead of at school slaving over a rubric you won’t need until the first week of October. Take this time to do what makes you happy outside of school, and you’ll feel more ready for the work you’ll soon be doing every day in school.


Have another tip for early-career educators getting ready to head back from summer vacation? Leave a comment below!

Post written by Emma Hensler, a MTA New Member Committee Member and English teacher at Rockport High School. You can follow Emma on Twitter: @emhenzz

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


New Member Committee Members on the New Member Program


New Member Program at Summer Conference

The MTA’s New Member Committee is made up of educators who got involved in the union in a variety of ways.  Some knew about unions from a young age and others stumbled upon what the MTA offers once they started teaching.  We polled the members of our committee to get more insight into why they attended the New Member Program and how that has shaped their teaching practice and also their union involvement.    

Here is what our committee members had to say!


Why did our committee members attend New Member Program?

The New Member Program is a FREE track through MTA’s Summer Conference for educators in their first 5 years in the profession.  There are workshops for all 5 days of the conference on topics that range from the history of the union to how to get involved.  The week is also packed with opportunities to network and connect with other educators from around the state.   

Three of our members said they got involved because their local president recommended the program.  Two others were introduced to the idea by a former participant or from a member of the committee.  Mostly, they wanted to learn more about the union in a fun environment and how they could get involved.  

“It sounded like a fun “teacher summer camp” and I was encouraged by past participants in my district.”

“As an undergrad, I was a student member of MTA, and really enjoyed that part of it, so I was looking forward to getting more involved in my union.”

“I attended the New Member Program because I was friendly with the union president at the time. She recommended to me that I go through the program to learn more about the union so I could get more involved at my local level. Also, the program is free!”


What was our major takeaway from New Member Program (either as a participant or presenter)?

Many of our committee members mentioned their major takeaway was the connection and camaraderie with all of the other new educators in the state who participated in the program. There are so many opportunities to network during Summer Conference’s New Member Program!  Making these connections helps to reassure new members that they are not alone! New teachers across the state are facing the same kinds of speed bumps, barriers, and roadblocks.

“That there are extremely talented, creative, intelligent, and insightful MTA members who are committed to improving the collegiality, professional capacity, and personal well being of their fellow educators!”

“My major takeaway from the New Member Program was that unions are as strong as the people in them. If we don’t use our union, then we don’t really have a union.”

Another takeaway is understanding more of what the union has to offer its members.  Going through the New Member Program will help new educators figure out how to safely get involved with the union and even how to read and understand their contract.

“My biggest takeaway was the importance of being an informed union member.”

“There are a lot of different ideas of what the union can do/be for people – it is important for us all to remember that we have good ideas to bring to the conversation and to allow for the possibility that each individual does not have a monopoly on being right. Additionally, it is important is that we all participate in the union to generate its strength and that we remain unified in support of each other; solidarity may be the most important principle, especially as we confront so many anti-union, anti-public education forces in the coming months and years.”


How has the New Member Program made us better educators?

Attending the New Member Program has given the participants and our committee members more confidence as educators: confidence to present to peers, confidence in our own pedagogy, and confidence in our decision making in the classroom and professionally.    

“It’s provided me with an incredibly rich professional learning network that I can go to at any time for trustworthy resources, critical feedback, or necessary encouragement.”

“Gosh, I really can’t think of any way that the New Member Program and participating in the New Member Committee have not made me a better person in general! Really, the most impactful part of the New Member Program to my practice as an educator has been the opportunities to discuss teaching with so many educators from so many backgrounds/subjects/grade levels; to speak with each other about what we do and how we approach pedagogy has generated so many new ideas that I have put to use in my classroom. It has been further gratifying to know that the crazy parts of teaching that I encounter so regularly are not unique to my own situation and to have colleagues with whom to share such experiences.”


How has the New Member Program made us better union members?

Understanding what the union is and does is the integral part of the New Member Program at Summer Conference.  For many of us on the committee, going through the NMP sparked an interest in becoming more involved in the union at the local, state, or even national level.  It helped us find a way for our voices to be heard where they are needed the most.  We have made such important connections with expert educators from around the state who had welcomed us as new members and had taught us the importance of being an involved member.  


“It’s broadened the amount of engagement and commitment I have to the organization & increased my willingness to promote and encourage participation in association activities.”

“The NMP made me a better union member because it made the union less intimidating. Before, I thought that the union was all about legal services, retirement, negotiations, and other “heavy” issues. Now I understand that, while those are all important, the union is ultimately a whole bunch of people just like me. NMP also helped me better understand different roles at the state and local level, which gave me the confidence to step up and be a building rep in my local.”

Going through the New Member Program was a great way to learn about the laws and mechanics of what our union and to build relationships along the way.  Each of us on the committee took a different path to get involved in the union, but no matter the path, are better educators because of it.


Please sign up for the New Member Program HERE. Check out other offerings at the MTA’s Summer Conference HERE. We hope to see you this summer!


Don’t forget to follow the New Member Committee on twitter!










Does Your School Need a Catie’s Closet?

MTA-CC2As teachers, we all have come across students who wear the same, maybe unwashed, clothes to school every day, the students who miss school often, and the students who struggle with low self-esteem to the point where academics are severely impacted. Our immediate instinct is to help because we want every student who walks into our classroom to feel secure and confident. Unfortunately, on a teacher’s salary and limited resources, we can’t personally afford to clothe every student in need. What else can be done? Your school needs Catie’s Closet.

Having Catie’s Closet in your school gives students direct and immediate access to the materials that they need whether it is toiletries for the weekend a dress to wear to the dance Friday night, or a fresh wardrobe for the new season. This eliminates a major obstacle, the need for additional transportation, which can be extremely difficult for students who are already living in poverty. To this day Catie’s Closet helps more than 25,000 students daily at 37 schools in MA and NH. Your school can be next!

Last month, the MTA New Members Committee hosted their first Day of Service event at Catie’s Closet in Dracut, MA. A our group of committee members, MTA staff and even some of our family members spent a few hours sorting through mountains of donations. One group opened bags and sorted through clothes, shoes, toiletries and accessories while another group folded pants and put shirts and dresses on hangers. We all left extremely impressed with this amazing organization.


During our time there, we learned how Catie’s Closet provides clothing and toiletries to students right within their school. Think of it like a mini clothing store hidden away in your building and students who are identified as in-need are able to go “shopping”, free of charge. There they will find current trends in clothing. One of the major differences between other donation centers and Catie’s Closet is the care the organizers and volunteers take in choosing the articles of clothing suitable for the specific age group. You won’t find your grandmother’s clothes (unless she’s super cool) in any Catie’s Closet. Volunteers (like us!) keep a finger on the pulse of current style trends and know what the kids are wearing. Remember, their goal is to increase students’ self esteem, not single them out.  


At this point, a few things may be running through your mind…

… I want to volunteer at this impressive organization!


That’s what we thought, too! Upon our arrival at their distribution center in Dracut MA, we were greeted with friendly faces, given the run-down on what we were going to be doing, and then put to work. Which didn’t at all feel like work. It was possibly the most fun that I had ever had volunteering. My favorite part was sorting through the bags of donated clothes and determining what items were worthy of Catie’s Closet’s clients and which ones go back into the re-donation bin.

We were not the only ones there that Saturday, either. There were other drop-in volunteers and regulars. Everyone was super friendly and the overall positive atmosphere was contagious. I not only recommend volunteering, but I will be going back myself to do so. Have children? Show them how communities come together to support one another by bringing them down to volunteer as well.

… I don’t have the time to volunteer, BUT I want to help!  


Great! There are several different ways to do this.

  1. You can drop your clothes off at their distribution center in Dracut, MA. They will even come out and help you with your haul.  
  2. Make monthly donations! For as little as $15 per month, you can provide a year’s supply of toiletries, undergarments and seasonally appropriate clothing to the children in your community.
  3. Host a drive! There is a step by step how-to for you to follow on their website. (Bonus: This is a great leadership opportunity for you to engage parents, community, students and teachers in a school-based activity!)

… My school NEEDS this!

Does your school have a 50% or more poverty rate? Does your building have an unused room? Do you want to increase student attendance and self esteem while lowering the occurrences of bullying? Sounds like Catie’s Closet needs to be there! Contact them and get started on your way to making a positive impact on your students, TODAY!


Post written by Nichole Masse, a MTA New Member Committee Member and Grade 7 Humanities Teacher at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School. You can follow Nichole on Twitter: @MasseNikki

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

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!