September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

A Year in the Life of Two First Year Teachers: Part Two

Posted: Friday, October 1st, 2010

by Rick Pomeroy, with Sara and Ellen

In our last issue, you were introduced to Sara and Ellen, two first-year teachers, one in northern California and the other in southern California, both of whom are teaching chemistry.  In the first edition, we learned a little bit about their anticipation for their first days of school.  This month, we get a short glimpse into how their years began.  Sara started school in early August and Ellen two weeks later.  Please feel free to send comments or questions to Sara and Ellen at

Rick: How did your first official day of teaching go?  Were there any surprises?

Sara: Because we are on alternating block schedule, I actually had two first days of school.  The first day was with my natural science classes, where I did a lot of “getting to know you” exercises.  Many of the students in these classes are not-quite-college-bound students and often have behavior issues, so I thought it would be best to just spend the first day forming a solid relationship with them and give them a chance to get to know me.  It seemed to go really well, but I could tell right away that one of my classes in particular would give me a bit of trouble.  My chemistry classes were absolutely wonderful.  They were very concerned about the difficulty of the class, but seemed relieved when I told them that I wanted them to succeed in my class and that, while chemistry is a very difficult subject, I was there to help them.  I did a demonstration for them, and, instead of just saying “Wow, that’s cool,” they were asking me questions about what was going on and trying to analyze it.  I thought that was great, and it got me even more excited to be teaching them.

Ellen: I found the first day of school to be pretty chaotic and fun overall.  We are on a block schedule, so there are four 90-minute periods each day.  I teach two chemistry courses and one Project Lead The Way Principles of Biomedicine course.  For the chemistry classes, I introduced myself by using a PowerPoint, had the students introduce themselves, and I also performed a few demonstrations for the students.  We then had a class discussion about what science and chemistry are, etc.  Both classes were a lot of fun and full of students who participated.  For the biomed course, I did the same introduction as chemistry, and then we watched a video I made for the beginning of the curriculum.  It was a great way to start because students used collaborative groups to assess the situation they were shown.

The chaotic or surprising part of the day had to do with all of the schedule changes.  My rosters showed between 32-36 students for each class; however, about 40 students showed up for each of my classes, so right from the beginning I needed extra desks andchairs and a brand new seating chart for each class.  That being said, the students were amazing about it and helped me find seats for everyone.

Rick: Now that the first weeks of school have passed, what do you wish you had known before the first week of school?

Sara: Due to budget cuts, there was only one day of before-school meetings, and that only lasted about three hours.  I was given so much information that I forgot half of it and couldn’t even think of other questions to ask because I was so overloaded.  Now that a couple weeks have passed, I am just now getting a lot of the information that I should have known before school started.  Much of it, though, were things that I would never have thought to ask until it actually came up.  I wish I had known all the punishment policies of the school, such as tardies and giving detentions, so that I could integrate them with my own policies.  I also wish I would have known exactly what equipment my classroom should have.  I was missing remotes to the TV and the projector, and I didn’t have a filing cabinet or chair.  I wasn’t sure what I was responsible for getting or what my classroom should have.  Thankfully, I found an extremely helpful custodian that supplied me with a chair and filing cabinet, and, eventually, I was given replacement remotes for the electronics.

Ellen: Well, my situation was a little different because I was a student teacher and a long-term sub all year last year at this school.  So, fortunately, I knew a lot of the policies from the previous year.  The only policy change I wish I had been aware of was how to deal with an IT issue.  By the time I found the form to fill out to get some of the computers fixed, every other teacher had already turned theirs in; needless to say, I am still waiting.  Otherwise, my school did a great job at the meetings of notifying teachers of school policies.

Rick: What would you like to ask other first-year teachers?  (First-year teachers, please send your replies to

Sara: I have had somewhat of an interesting transition into this department.  The chemistry department in particular (there are four other chem teachers) is extremely established.  During my student teaching year, I felt very much at home with much of the department, which operated like a family, and everyone would eat lunch together.  Here, teachers eat lunch in their own classrooms, so there isn’t much interaction, and the other teachers operate similarly with just a few differences.  I am used to more collaboration, but it is hard when the other teachers are so established already.  I don’t feel like I am being left out or anything; everyone is very nice and helpful, and they always check up on me to make sure I don’t need anything.  But I guess I was just expecting something more like my student-teaching experience.  Is any other new teacher going through an awkward transition like this, either good or bad?

Ellen: The teachers I work with are absolutely fabulous people.  They are always willing to help me with everything, but our teaching styles are very, very different.  Some teachers say not to smile for the first week, and others do labs or demonstrations to engage students from day one.  I want to know how other teachers schedule their first days of school.  It seems that there are many ways to go about introducing students to the new topics, and I am interested in trying some new strategies.

Rick: Thank you, Sara and Ellen, for giving us a short glimpse of some of the feelings that many of us have forgotten.  It is great to hear your stories and your enthusiasm for teaching.  Next month, we will provide some of the answers to Sara’s and Ellen’s questions and hear about  some of their early successes.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis and is a past-president of CSTA.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.