Five years ago I became a high school biology teacher in a small public high school in Brooklyn, NY. I remember being really excited before the start of my first school year. I didn’t have much experience prior to starting – I was part of the NYC Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program – but I had learned some interesting teaching techniques during the summer training courses. I was eager to try them out in my own classroom, and to make an impact on the lives of my students! Then the school year started and I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was completely overwhelmed and my classroom was a disaster. My students refused to do any of the work I assigned and paid little attention to the lessons. On a particularly memorable day I gave a unit test and my students banded together and refused to take the test, spending the test period chatting about their weekends instead. I couldn’t even begin to think about the things I had learned during my training – things like differentiating lessons, heterogeneous grouping, and all of the techniques for effective classroom management.
Looking back on that first year of teaching and what made it so difficult, I realized a big problem is that new teachers are often overwhelmed with so many different tasks they have to manage simultaneously that they can’t focus on doing any one thing particularly well. In my previous job as a management consultant, we would spend a lot of time working on one deliverable, the move on to the next. As a teacher, I had to juggle many tasks daily, such as planning the next day’s lesson, creating classroom materials, making copies of said materials, conducting parent outreach, attending staff meetings, grading student work, and putting up bulletin boards, just to name a few. This prevented me from focusing on some of the key things that a new teacher needs to learn in order to be successful – effective classroom management and planning good lessons. My students and I both suffered as a result.
This experience is what started the idea behind The Graide Network, a service that eases the burden for new teachers so that they have more time to dedicate to working on the things that are going to make the biggest immediate impact on their students. The Graide Network creates a marketplace that allows new teachers to find online, on demand teaching assistants, or “Graiders,” to grade and provide feedback on student work. By freeing up this task that takes up many hours each week, teachers might be able to dedicate this extra time to finding ways to actually implement the tools they learned during training into their classrooms. Rather than feeling constantly overwhelmed, they can actually improve as new teachers and do what they became teachers to do – make an immediate impact on the lives of their students.
Chen Liu spent four years as a New York City high school science teacher. Chen also trained new teachers for The New Teacher Project.