Family First Adult Basic Education
Advice to New Teachers
(Transcribed from video)

Judy Shuford – Williamson County
I think that is the most important thing that we do is to create an environment so that they want to come back. Because virtually everybody we teach, in the environment where we are, has had an experience where they’ve dropped out. They did not have pleasant work experiences where they were. So our challenge, for us everyday, every single set of students-is to create an environment where they will be happy and they will feel supported, they will feel welcome-that sort of thing. So that’s the very first thing that I work on and I really, really work hard at that-that they are accepted and that they are comfortable around the other students. So what goes with that is humor. We do a lot of humor. A lot of laughing-not that I don’t expect them to do a lot of work and not that I don’t have expectations for them-but at the same time I want them to be comfortable. Environment is a big part of that. So the things that I put up on the wall we may not read every single one of these the length of time that the student is in here. But they see these things we even have them in our restrooms so they read these things and they hear that.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Carole Chitwood – Lawrence County
I really try to show each one of them that they are special and that I do care about them but also more importantly I want them to care about each other. It’s a building process and with each student we start new and that caring grows as they stay. Sometimes that is what brings the student back to the classroom.

Greta Wilburn – Davidson County
The teacher must be enthusiastic herself or himself. They must come in with an energetic attitude. They must be positive because it radiates. How the teacher feels and appears it will affect the classroom. So its sort like you are the facilitator. You set an example. You’re the role model.
And you’ll share with them the importance of an education and the importance of being independent. So if they see you and you are enthused about it and you share ideas and then they will feel the same as well. It’s a source of caring about individuals.

Supporting Adults as Learners

Micki Hendrix – McNairy County
First of all, treat them like adults. That’s the number one thing for me. Is don’t call them your kids or your girls. They are adults and they know a lot more than children know. Maybe they are only on the fourth grade level in a subject, but life has taught them a lot but they are adults and they deserve the same respect as any other adults. My number one thing, students have complained to me about certain teachers that look down on them like they were children or talked to them like they were children and they just really don’t like that. So that’s the number one thing. As far as the skills, you teach people the same. You know you show them how to do it and then you help you do it then you help them do it and then they’re on your own. So as far as the model of instruction you don’t have to change that much you just have to look at them as a contemporary rather than a child. So that’s my number one advice.

Judy Shuford – Williamson County
I-I think if there was one word in adult ed, particularly in Families First, the word is flexible. Be flexible. Because things that you plan just sometimes don’t work out because the people are not there that you needed to be doing something that’s why it is difficult to have a hard, fast, plan. Plus, things come up in the class day that maybe I need to address that lead into a discussion that maybe I was going to do one thing but I shift to another. So I think the main thing is to kinda know where we’re going with things. And definitely plan and have idea of what we are going to do and notes and that sort of thing but be ready when the opportunity comes to do something different that could be more meaningful than what I had in mind.
That you’re willing to shift-I think that it’s important for them to understand that it is not like the eleventh grade English class where the same people come everyday you know where they’re going to go and they’re going to be quiet it’s just all of that. It’s just a little bit different.

Greta Wilburn – Davidson County
Because they are adults, adults need choices to make. I think that it is very important fro them to have ownership in the classroom to make the rules. They can decide if it’s too hot or too cold and have freedom to open the windows or close the windows or do whatever. They’ve decorated this room. They make a lot of the decisions and you instead of me saying for the newsletter for example that we are only going to make this a two page newsletter that’s why I’m going to give them the choice. You have a choice either we can cut some articles down and make it a two pages or we can make a three page. And I try to give them as many choices as possible within the parameters of, “this is work and this is what needs to be done.” But at the same time they need the individualized attention and need to feel comfortable in class so that they will stay and through the caring atmosphere. Because of the fact that it is-in a way the door is open. They can leave at any time. We do want them to come back. It is not like the government is telling them that they have to be here. They to have to be here for their check but the choice is still theirs. If any time that they say that they don’t want to be here then the door is always open. And that is a choice of theirs as an adult. They can make a choice to leave the classroom and that would be fine too.

Developing A Program

Judy Shuford – Williamson County
You are trying to develop a comfort level between the student and us as well as amongst each other. So I would certainly find something to do even a field trip, plan a pot luck where everybody is bringing something to eat but some of the interactive activities where they are working together. I think that’s extremely important. I really do.
And I think that it is important that he builds or she that rapport, with the students where some times they will want to do something so they don’t want to let us down. Now that’s not all of why they are doing it. They are doing it because they need to succeed or want to succeed.

Greta Wilburn – Davidson County
The first activity that I would recommend for a new teacher is a writing activity. And I would do-what I would say-I would entitle it “Who Am I?” It’s about me. Because you are a new teacher, you come to a new place, a new environment, a new strategy and you really don’t know them and they don’t know you. So a good activity that I would suggest is “Who Am I?” & I would ask such questions as to what I would really want? What is important to me? What is my name & how did I get it? What is one of my goals? What has experience taught me? And what part of myself do I most value? Different types of questions and you can formulate it like into a little puzzle form or a little box form then to do it. And then what I would suggest is, I would give them about five minutes or ten minutes to do it and then I would interact. I would ask them to pair up and see the similarities and also the differences they have. And also the facilitator would participate too. And that’s a start of you knowing something about and them knowing something about you.

Micki Hendrix – McNairy County
We want them to be able to do just add on paper or to calculate something we want them to put into real life and real job situations, so I do a little of both. I have some work force math books that are available and then I have some plain old math books that you can use just adapt them yourself. If you are a new teacher you may want to get a workforce book because that way you don’t have to worry am I getting they are laid out for you.

Carole Chitwood – Lawrence County
My advice to other teachers would be don’t be afraid to try new things. Some things may fail and some things may succeed and every day you are building.

There was a new teacher that started here and I told her, “Look, just day by day you’ll discover new things that work and just keep adding to the program as you go and don’t try to do it all the first day that you begin a job because that’s how programs are built, one piece at a time. Start with a time clock so that students are aware of the time that passes by and then the second thing would be that whatever you do try to do in groups developing a sense of caring and a sense of group work, team work because you can do that GED material or work related material but then it fits in with everything.


Judy Shuford – Williamson County
If we get across to them that we are on a team. I will say to them a lot. “Hey, we are a team.” You don’t have to worry about this. I will say that to them in regard to the essay. I want you to write this essay, and they are like “oh-ugh, they really don’t want to write the essay.” You know they really don’t want to write the essay. I’ll say, “It’s me. It’s just me. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m on the same team you are.” So when you write it for me, we sit down together you don’t have to worry about it. This is not something you have to worry about because we are a team. We need to build that I’m a non-threat-non-threatening person. So that they feel comfortable doing what it is that you are trying to do. I’d say for a new teacher, you can’t just be too, too easy. I mean you know you have to have high expectations but at the same time you have got to have some way that you can build a rapport so that they understand that you are on their team. You support them. You’re going to ask a lot of them. And you’re going to expect a lot out of them. And you can even fuss at them a little once they know that you care about them. So I think with a new teacher they need to be thinking relationships but they need to have high expectations too. I would not lower expectations at all either.

Greta Wilburn
And we all should understand it involves a lot of creativity. You have got to be involved. It’s an involvement program. Ok you are trying to instill these skills, these workforce skills and academic skills and so it means you can’t sit behind a desk. You got to move around. You’ve got to see what is working and what is not working. And you gotta ask for help from students. You got to be willing to ask the students what makes you tick? What works for you and is this working for you? Not feel that you are perfect, that you don’t make mistakes. Because that’s one thing the students have shared with me. Ms. Wilburn that’s one thing we like about you. You never say that you are not perfect. If you are wrong, you will admit that you are wrong. And that’s important.


Judy Shuford – Williamson County
And a lot of what they have done in the past is-they are having to listen to people to tell them what to do. If you don’t do this, this is going to happen. If you don’t do this, this is going to happen. They are used to being in trouble for things that are coming up. We have to empower and motivate them to want to do this for themselves. That they want to do this because, it’s something good for me, not for her. I’m not doing this because she’s going to fuss at me if I don’t. They are used to be fussed at for things. And that’s not motivating for them in my opinion. Fussing at them is not-not what’s going to make them ultimately what to do what you want them to do. They are going to do what they need to do because they see that there is a need for it and they see it’s up to them and they are empowered to do it. And that’s not easy I don’t’ think, but I think it’s a lot easier than fussing at them and trying to force them because that didn’t work. That’s the biggest thing that we are doing is empowering them so everything we do has to be directed toward empowering them cause we cannot do for them-we shouldn’t do for them what they can do for themselves. And yet if they don’t know they can do it for themselves then it’s up to us to let them know I can do this. You can do this.


Produced by
The University of Tennessee
Center for Literacy Studies

In Cooperation with
Department of Human Services

University of Tennessee Video and Photography Center 2001