Interview with co-editor Kelly Dawson Salas

Kelley Dawson Salas is a Milwaukee teacher who has been involved with Rethinking Schools since she was a new teacher herself in 1999. Kelley collaborated wtih fellow RS board members Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, and Stephanie Walters on the just-published, expanded, and revised The New Teacher Book.

Rethinking Schools asked Kelley a few questions about the new edition.


RS:  How is The New Teacher Book different from the original?

KDS:  We wanted to thoroughly update the book to reflect the changes that have happened in education since it was first published, and to include some of the great articles that have appeared in our magazine since then. This is a really important time to reach out to new teachers, especially those who hope to teach from a social justice perspective.

We restructured the book, adding a chapter on discipline and one on curriculum, standards and testing.

We also created a better balance of articles focused on elementary, middle and high school teaching.

The New Teacher Book has been very successful with teacher educators and induction programs, and this will make it even more reflective of the needs for preparing new teachers to be successful in the classroom.


RS: In the first edition, I loved the Q&A columns.

KDS: We added some new ones this time, including, "What should I do about the parent who keeps showing up in the classroom unannounced?" and, "What should I wear to school?" There's also a new one on how to handle being evaluated by your principal.


RS: How has being a new teacher changed since you started, a little more than 10 years ago?

KDS: The biggest change is all the pressure about standardized testing that affects to such a large extent what happens in the classroom. For many new teachers, this is all they know: being told what unit they should be teaching each week, constantly having to give benchmark tests, having very little time to develop or teach curriculum that's based on what students need and is relevant to their lives.


RS: How did you respond to those changes in The New Teacher Book?

KDS: The chapter on curriculum is now titled "Curriculum, Standards, and Testing." We have added several articles on how to deal with standardized testing and prepackaged curriculum, including Melanie Quinn's "I Just Want to Read Frog and Toad," and Kelly McMahon's "Testing Kindergarten," which show how the testing craze has affected our youngest learners.

As we put the book together, we wanted to get teachers to think about what role testing plays in our students' lives and to get them to ask: How can I keep it from taking over my classroom?

One interesting development, I think, is that more teachers are questioning all the tests and scripted curriculum than a few years ago. We hope this book will support that questioning, so new teachers don't feel that they are alone in feeling that something is really wrong.

In fact, the last chapter is "Making Change in the World Beyond the Classroom." This chapter talks about why it is important to join with other teachers and with parents to try to change policies that hurt kids, and to fight for what will help kids. I remember an example from my first few years of teaching where we started a coalition to keep fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests out of 2nd grade.

Although it might seem like more work to have to spend time outside of the school day fighting for fairness for our students, I've found that this is what actually keeps me in the teaching profession. Connecting with other like-minded teachers has been really important to me, and we hope this book will open the conversation with new teachers and encourage them to stay in it for the long haul.