In the Classroom Leadership
Find Your Mrs. P
October 22, 2017
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Jeff Gray

My experience as a first year teacher is not unlike many others in the teaching profession. I was fresh out of school, ready to change the world. My first teaching job found me in a large southern city with a sordid, but progressive history in public education. I was assigned to teach 8th grade social studies in a large middle school located physically in a solid middle class suburb. However, our student population was anything but solid middle class. Through the then constitutional busing policy, our student population was majority minority with a high percentage of free and reduced lunch. Our faculty was full of “newbies” just like me, trying to change the world.

I had just moved to this new city, by myself, after school had already begun. I had to teach by day and try to find a place to live, and everything that goes with moving into a new place, by myself in the evening. My university had done a wonderful job preparing me for public education in the abstract – in that, I was well versed in educational psychology and theory. What I wasn’t trained in was, well, teaching. I was soon sinking, and sinking fast.

While I was assigned a mentor, he was counting the days to his retirement and had no interest in helping me along. It’s is no overstatement to say it wasn’t pretty early on. However, down the hall from me was my saviour – Mrs. P. Mrs. P was elderly (not sure how old, I didn’t ask). She had to use a walker. She never raised her voice. Mrs. P’s husband brought her to school, got her situated in the classroom, went to play golf, and came back to get her at the end of the day. She taught English. While my room was bedlam, her room was organized and efficient. While I was floundering trying to teach, Mrs. P was conveying difficult concepts with ease. I quickly realized that I needed to know what Mrs. P knew. So, every chance I got, I sat in Mrs. P’s room and learned from her. I watched her, questioned her, listened to her. I couldn’t get enough of her wisdom.  

Soon, I started emulating Mrs. P. And, my classroom eventually came under control. We were learning and teaching became fun. Simply put, Mrs. P saved my professional career. I am now in year twenty-five, but I still tap into the wisdom Mrs. P bestowed on me, lo those many years ago.  

In addition to teaching 8th grade by day, I now also teach at a local university as an adjunct in the college of education. When we talk about collaboration as a teacher, I tell my pre-service students about Mrs. P and what she did for me as a new teacher. I tell them when they start teaching to seek out their Mrs. P. She’s out there and willing to help. Find her. Learn from her. Drink in all she has to offer. And, just like Mrs. P did for me, she just may save your professional career.

If we are serious about new teacher retention in public education. If we want the best and brightest to stay in the classroom, we have to do a better job of supporting them early on in their career. We have to make it easy for them to find their Mrs. P. That would be a step in the right direction in solving the problem with teacher retention.

Jeff has taught 7th/8th grade social studies at Ridgeview Elementary School in Gray, Tennessee for the last eight years and adjunct professor for the Clemmer College of Education at East Tennessee State University for the last five years. In addition, he has taught 8th grade social studies and US History in five schools located in three different states. He also served as the American History Lead Teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Throughout his twenty-three years as an educator, Jeff has served as Department Chair, AVID Coordinator, IBNA homofaber and Humanities Area Leader, Team Leader, and Principal designee, along with being FCA and Student Council sponsor. In addition, he has spent a great deal of time leading professional development opportunities for teachers throughout North America. Jeff received his Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 1989 and his Masters in Teaching in 1992, both from East Tennessee State University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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