Anyone who’s new to a school remembers that mix of new-chapter excitement and first-day jitters. The same goes for teachers.
That’s why leaders of the Darien Education Association pulled on their bright blue DEA T-shirts, grabbed a stack of Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards to hand out, and invited every new teacher in their district to join them for a round of minigolf and ice cream on the beach.
Also giving a warm welcome to Darien’s newest members were CEA President Kate Dias and Vice President Joslyn DeLancey, who offered words of encouragement and advice. (A 17-year veteran Darien elementary school teacher who headed up her local association for the past six years, DeLancey, too, wore her DEA tee.)
DEA Elementary Vice President Jen Fischer, a third-grade teacher at Darien’s Ox Ridge School, helped organize the new teacher social. Her goal? “I want everyone who walks into school that first day to see a friendly face.”
DEA President Barry Palmer agreed. “We’re here to support our newest teachers and let them know that if they have any questions, they can come to any of us. And once they’re in their classrooms, if they need help, we can point them to the right teachers. DEA and CEA do so much for their members, and having a social like this shows them their union’s work is so much more than what’s in their contract.”
“This is still an uncertain time,” added DEA Secondary Vice President Kate Curcio. “We’re still in uncharted territory with the pandemic, so extra face time with new members is important to make them feel confident. Support is key as they transition into our schools.”
Bringing their ‘A game’
New teachers were grateful for the chance to meet each other and their union leaders.
Sam Parton, a second-career educator who previously worked within the foster care system, was eager to “dive in and get to know people.” Hired as a social worker at the high school, Parton met several of his school’s new hires at the minigolf event, where they cheered him on for scoring a hole in one.
His colleagues, including school counselor Sarah Burzin, echoed Parton’s enthusiasm for connecting with educators not just in their own schools but throughout the district.
“I’m excited!” Burzin said.
“Why not?” added middle school science teacher Callie Jackson. “No one wants to go in blind, so tonight is a good opportunity to meet others. Plus,” she added with a smile, “I like mini golf.”
Also teaming up on the green, music teachers Madi Aug and Elizabeth Ward quickly hit it off. A first-year teacher, Aug is anxious to have her very own classes and get to know fellow educators outside her subject area.
Ward, a fellow recent graduate and newly minted teacher, found it comforting that DEA reached out and provided a chance to meet her future colleagues face to face.
“After a year of seeing my own professors only virtually, this is a welcome change,” said the UConn alum.
High school math teachers Alex Larkin and Gretchen Kmetz, both of whom come to Darien with professional classroom experience, also teamed up and found one of their own—CEA President Kate Dias, a Manchester High School math teacher—in their midst.
Dias stressed the importance of leaning on your union for support and expressed how much value new educators bring to their school communities.
“The work you’re doing is so important, and we’re here for you,” she said.
Having a ball
Larkin and Kmetz, both of whom taught previously in New York, were anxious to come to Darien. The minigolf social was their first introduction to their new union.
Hired midyear last school year, elementary special education teacher Emery Tedesco admitted she had a lot to figure out for herself during the pandemic. She hopes the start of the new school year will help her become better acquainted with her colleagues, and the summer social provided a chance to make that happen.
Understanding her new caseload and her students’ needs will be top priorities, she said, as schools continue to work through the pandemic.
Fourth-grade teacher Kelly Milicia looks forward to “creating a community of classmates and teachers who can support each other and navigate the pandemic as a unit.”
The first day of school for Darien’s new teachers is August 23; students will join them a week later.
On Monday, the Fairfield Education Association held a similar pre-orientation event for its newest teachers in the main courtyard of Fairfield Warde High School. The outdoor meet-and-greet featured a food truck and ice cream truck, and CEA’s Dias and DeLancey came out to welcome the association’s newest hires.
Is your local association is hosting a new teacher meet-and-greet or other member event? CEA’s recently elected leaders, President Kate Dias and Vice President Joslyn DeLancey, would love to attend and welcome your newest members. To arrange for a meeting, contact CEA’s Mary-Pat Soucy at email@example.com.