A Review: Letters to a New Teacher

jim burke

Letters to a New Teacher is written by author and veteran teacher, Jim Burke. The letters began when new teacher, Joy Kraijeck joined the staff at his school. He encouraged her to write down any questions she might have on a notecard. He got her first question: “How do you manage a group of thirty-five sophomores who won’t stop talking and pay attention?” It was then that Jim Burke realized that a word or two scribbled down on a notecard would not be enough.

He began writing letters back to Joy. In them, he reflects on his own teaching beliefs and processes. He works through her questions thoughtfully, instead of just giving her black and white instructions. Jim Burke focuses on the motives and feelings of teaching first, and then he addresses issues of practicality.

I absolutely loved the format that this book was written in. Every chapter is separated into a question, like “How do I know if I’m making a difference?” and “Do you ever doubt yourself as a teacher and worry that you will fail?” These questions become more complex as the school year progresses, and Jim Burke’s responses build strongly upon one another.

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Joy’s are questions that have been burning inside of me. Burke’s responses are light-hearted, deeply encouraging, and incredibly practical. Reading his letters  have helped to quell some of my deepest teaching fears. Joy’s questions came authentically as the year progressed. These were problems that I will inevitably face in my first year of teaching, and if I don’t have an older and wiser veteran teacher, I at least have Jim Burke.

His letters offer insight into his many years of earned wisdom. Though he was writing to Joy, his advice and words of encouragement can apply to any first-year teacher. I plan on buying this book for myself before my first year. When the hard times come, I will pull out this book, find the chapter, and try to remain calm.

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