New teachers gather to learn and network
By Laura Barrett
A uburn Middle School math teacher Kerry Palumbo had only been on the job for a few months when she came to the MTA’s Just
for New Teachers Conference.
Palumbo, who started teaching in September,
had heard about the Dec. 6 event from her mentor
and jumped at the chance to go.
“I have so much to learn,” she said. “Anything I
learn here will be wonderful.”
Palumbo had been a civil engineer for nine years
before leaving that job to be home with her children.
“When I was at home, I had years to think about
what I wanted to do when I went back to work,”
she said. “I realized I didn’t feel like going back to
an office and sitting in a cubicle designing things.
I wanted to get out there and interact with people.
There are different challenges every day, but I love
my job teaching.”
The JFNT Conference is designed for people
such as Palumbo who are in their first four years of
teaching and want to improve their skills in areas
such as differentiating instruction, managing the
classroom, keeping students engaged and learning
about the state’s new educator evaluation system.
The 2013 event was held in Marlborough,
with 161 teachers and 10 student members taking
part. MTA Benefits and other vendors offered free
merchandise and information to those who attended.
In addition to morning and afternoon workshops,
the conference featured a keynote speech by state
Secretary of Education Matt Malone and remarks by
MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan and New Member
Committee Chair Josh Chrzanowski.
December can be a difficult month for first-year
teachers, Chrzanowski told the crowd.
“Those were dark times,” he said, recalling his
own experience. “I went to school in the dark, got
home in the dark. … I was on a waiver and treading
water. I developed an eye twitch that didn’t stop until
Fortunately, the situation improved with time.
Eventually, he said, “Self-doubt no longer rushed
over me like an arctic wave.”
“You’ll work out how to grade all those papers
and be able to watch the game on Sunday,” he
assured the audience. “And yes, the eye twitch will
Chrzanowski’s advice to new teachers was to
make a “smile file,” an idea he got from a colleague
who showed him her file, which was filled with
notes, pictures, cards and origami items that students
had made for her throughout her career.
“When she had a bad day, she told me, she
pulled the file out and went through it, because this
is why we teach — not for the scores or the grades,
but to make a difference in the lives of children,”
Sullivan talked about the MTA’s mission
statement, which calls for promoting quality public
education, protecting the interests and rights of
members and advocating for civil and human rights.
He urged new members to get involved in their local
associations to help further these goals.
“We can’t accomplish our goals by just relying
on our very capable and professional staff,” Sullivan
said. “If our lobbyists can’t demonstrate that the
educators are behind them and feel passionately
about our positions, then their influence is very
“Some of you may roll your eyes when you get
multiple e-mails from MTA saying, ‘Please contact
your legislators’ about such and such bill. Some
of you may want to run and hide when your local
president asks you to join a committee or attend a
school committee meeting. Please remember, we
aren’t doing this to aggravate you. We know you
are very busy. Very, very, very busy. But anything
you can do on behalf of the association is also an
important step you are taking on behalf of yourself
and your future.”
Danae O’Bryan, an eighth-grade English teacher
in Malden, was a long-term substitute before she
landed a full-time job at the Beebe School.
“I thought I was going to like teaching high
school, but I found out I really like teaching middle
school,” she said. “Eighth grade is where I am
supposed to be.”
She attended the conference, she said, because
“being a new teacher and fresh out of grad school,
I always want to be taking classes and meeting new
“It’s nice to network with new teachers who are
experiencing similar trials and tribulations, but also
positive moments,” she said.
In his keynote address, Malone, who struggled
with dyslexia in school, said, “I value good teachers
because it was someone like you who changed
my life. It was someone like you who didn’t give
up on me. If you can put kids at the center on all
discussions and focus on craft, any disagreements
can be worked out. We are about kids first. That’s
why we do this work.”
The last event of the day was the JFNT
Ideas Fair, sponsored by Listen Edition,
Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Microsoft and PBS
Each sponsor offered participants different
teaching tools, resources and apps.
For more information and photos, please visit
http://storify.com/massteacher/mta-s-just-for-new-teachers-conference and www.flickr.com/photos/
New Member Committee Chair
Josh Chrzanowski’s advice to new
teachers was to make a “smile file,”
an idea he got from a colleague
who showed him her file, which was
filled with notes, pictures, cards and
origami items that students had
made for her throughout her career.
Above left, Josh Chrzanowski, a Chicopee teacher and chairman of MTA’s New Member Committee, touches base with two conference participants.
In the photo at right, committee members Erinne Wortham of Bellingham, left, and Kathryn Procter of Agawam help with outreach.
Photos by Sarah Nathan