Anthony Sparks made it through his first year of teaching.
“It was a rollercoaster of emotions, stressful planning, working with parents,” says Sparks, a graduate of UNCG’s School of Education who teaches math at Page High School.
He was back in the classroom Monday and Tuesday as part of UNCG’s Yopp Institute for Beginning Teachers. And he was surrounded by other teachers just like him.
“This is very helpful, helping us hash out our first year and learn from our mistakes,” he says. “The most important thing I get out of it is the fact that there is a commonality with what’s happening.That I’m not alone.”
The Yopp Institute is a free, two-day workshop held each summer. Only first-year teachers are accepted, and about 60 teachers from Guilford County and surrounding areas registered this summer. They receive a small stipend and certification credits for attending.
Although the Yopp Institute is not limited to UNCG alumni, many of the teachers who attend are UNCG-trained teachers. Guilford County Schools employs about 30 percent of UNCG’s teaching graduates.
Laura Smith and Sue Tawney, both veteran teachers with Guilford County Schools, led the sessions, held on the UNCG campus.
“It really offers support,” says Smith, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at UNCG. “You are with a bunch of people who have had the exact same experience.They can really empathize with each other. They’re all in the same boat.”
“It’s all about reflection, a focus on them as teachers and who they want to be,” Tawney says. “I look forward to it every year. It is what gives me a shot in the arm. I get to see that enthusiasm and remember what that’s like. It’s a chance for me to reboot and recharge.”
Reflection is key, says Christy Marhatta, a teacher at Gibsonville Elementary. She is also building a network of friends to rely on down the road.
“In that first year, we’re just trying not to make too many mistakes and learning from any mistakes,” Marhatta says. “Here, I can bring in things that happened to me this year, and I’m learning that this same thing has happened to everyone else in this room.”
The workshops include discussion sessions, small workgroups, case studies and panels. This year, the teachers heard from a panel of parents and a panel of principals.
“There is so much input to take in, from students, parents, administrators,” Smith says. “As a teacher, you have to become an excellent manager of people; it’s one of those on-the-job things. These panels free them up to take someone else’s perspective.”
Cyteria McSwain, a lateral-entry teacher at Jones Elementary and mother of three, agrees with Smith.
“The parent panel was great,” McSwain says. “Sometimes I forget to put my parent hat back on and connect with the parents.”
She was looking forward to hearing from principals as well. “I’d like to get a sense of, ‘What are you thinking when you walk into a classroom?’ Here, we’ll get that in a more relaxed mode, as advice versus here’s what you need to do right now.”
The Yopp Summer Institute is supported by UNCG alumna Jo Yopp and her family through an endowment to the School of Education. For more information, contact Christina O’Connor in the School of Education at 336-256-1082 or firstname.lastname@example.org.