K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.


As you read this essay, here are some questions for new teachers to consider and for mentors to discuss with new teachers.

Questions for new teachers

  1. Has your commitment to classroom organization and management remained consistent? As you review your current procedures, are there any that require a renewed commitment?
  2. When Smith mentions a waning “belief in students who frustrate you as they repeatedly make the same academic or behavioral error,” which student comes to mind? What progress has that student made since the start of the year? Does it help to focus on his/her accomplishments as Smith suggests?
  3. We know from a great deal of educational research that our beliefs about students can influence their success in our classes. Smith mentions focusing on accomplishments to renew your belief in students. What are some other ways we can try to view our students with “fresh eyes” in the last months of the school year?

Questions for mentors

See our mentor’s guide for suggestions on using this article in small and large group discussions.

  1. How does your new teacher handle no-name papers? Is that system working?
  2. How can you encourage a new teacher to reflect on the classroom procedures set forth at the start of the school year? Consider reviewing your new teacher’s classroom procedures with him/her.
  3. How can you support a new teacher who seems to have lost faith in one or a few students in class? How can you encourage this “focus on success” that Smith suggests?

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The First Year
Essays on the author's experiences in her first year of teaching: the mistakes she made, what she learned from them, and how she used them to become a better teacher — and how other first-year teachers can, too.
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On a small table in the back of my classroom, there is a folder labeled “No Name, No Grade.” My students know that whenever an assignment is turned in without a heading that identifies its owner, I place the ungraded work in that folder. The system has transformed accusations (“I didn’t get mine back, and you know I did that paper, Ms. Smith!”) into quiet trips back to the folder. “This is mine. I must have forgotten to put my name on in. Can I turn it in now? How many points do I lose because it’s late?”

The system saves me the headache of figuring out whose handwriting a paper looks like, and it places responsibility for ownership back on the students. It works well, despite the occasional moment when two students try to take credit for the same unlabelled assignment. We address those issues after class, when I look at the work to see if I can tell whose it is. Often I’ll remember helping a student with the paper or I’ll recognize a student’s style or script. If I do, the student who tried to falsely claim the work receives the normal penalty for cheating. If I can’t settle the debate, no one gets credit for the work. Overall, I believe it is a tough but fair way to teach an important lesson: Check your papers before you turn them in to make sure there are no errors. A part of that check should be making sure you wrote your name at the top of the page.

I share the system not only to introduce a management idea, but to provide context for a comment one student made after finding his paper in the folder marked “No Name, No Grade.” His name was Luis, and his English was limited. He was hesitant to speak in class, but felt comfortable communicating with me through e-mail. And after he recovered his unlabelled paper, he wrote me a note that I still have saved on my computer.

To: my favorit teacher Mrs. Smith

i am very sorry that i forgot to put my name in my project, it is going to happen again.

Of course, he meant to communicate that it would never happen again, but forgot to edit his e-mail — just as he forgot to edit his assignment before turning it in. Still, the message made me smile. It was a reminder that many of our students’ intentions are good and that their efforts are honest. It was a reminder that I should keep my faith and my patience, because kids make mistakes even when you have systems in place to teach them and to hold them accountable. Moreover, they sometimes make the same mistake again and again.

So as we enter the last few months of the school year, remember to maintain the systems you have established. Make sure that your commitments to classroom organization and management stay very strong. But also direct some of that strength to maintaining your belief in students who frustrate you as they repeatedly make the same academic or behavioral error. As Luis inadvertently reminded me, “it is going to happen again” even as we approach the end of the second semester.

Continue to embrace your students, even as they stumble while approaching the finish line. You have helped them get this far. Focus on their progress instead of expressing disbelief that on occasion, they seem to forget everything you’ve worked on this semester — even something as basic as checking to make sure their name is at the top of a page. At this point, more than ever, they need to know that you your faith will persist no matter how many times you need to revisit the lessons. Like mistakes, encouraging words can be repeated — and they should be — again and again and again.