#23 The First Year Teacher’s Survival Guide with Julia Thompson




Julia Thompson

English teacher — Vriginia

Author of The First Year Teacher’s Survival Guide



 Segment I – Background and Inspiration


Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught? 

Julia Thompson– Julia has taught for 37 years. She teaches 9th grade English at a high school in Fairfax Co., Virginia. Even though she has taught all kinds of subject and all kinds of grade levels, she is a high school English teacher.



 Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher? 

– She has had so many wonderful mentors over time. She believes we all need them no matter what stage of our career we are in. There was one mentor that changed her career, though, and that was her first principal. He stayed with her through the first few years of her career. He gave her solid advice every day, taking Julia under his wing. Whenever Julia needed him, he seemed to be a guardian mentor to help her. He even got her the job that she has now in northern Virginia. What she cherishes is that he could see past the silliness of her youth. He gave helpful advice, practical advice. 

It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.

– Julia has had 10,000 lessons that have gone wrong. Now thing that is nice about education is that there are so many opportunities to learn from your mistakes. 10 years into her career she was transferred from a small suburban school to an inner-city school. Her first day she heard more swear words that she had in her entire. She learned you can not force students to do anything.. especially one with parole officers. She learned how important a good lesson plan is. She learned that the most important thing she could do was connect. Connect, connect connect. She also learned to be super organized because she couldn’t turn her back on kids. She also learned the very worst students in the room deserved the very best from her. 

Why are the language arts and literacy important?

– English is about life. It is about how to live your life. Even though we teach skills, the most important thing that we we do is teach students about the civilized world. We teach about the big issues — love, the true price of immortality, justice, how to build a family.

What is one thing that you love about the classroom? 

 – Julia loves the kids. You would think that after all these years, nothing would surprise her. Yet, every day the students show her something new.

Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies

What book do you recommend to a teacher striving to improve his or her craft?

— New teachers are Julia’s speciality. Her book The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools and Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day
is the culmination of 30 years of work. She saw a need to give new teachers guidance, provide practical tips of how to be better. It has gone through three editions and she has been fortunate to have really good experiences with readers whom the book has resonated. 

What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?

— Julia believes that you can be a part of professional organizations such as NCTE to get quality materials that you can then use in the classroom.


Provide a writing practice that is effective?

 – Julia believes that we you assign something to students, they will immediately move to the final draft. Give them time to brainstorm, organize their ideas, and find some focus and clarity before they write. 

Update the cannon. What book, written in the last 10-15 years, belongs in the classroom?

— She had an experience last year teaching a new text that she was pessimistic about but turned into one of the best experiences of her career. On the 9th grade level she taught Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. EVERY student took to the book. He had done a lot of interviews and while students were struggling with a certain section of the book, Julia wrote him a letter to come to the school and talk to the students. He accepted. A wonderfully charismatic speaker, Beah had the attention of all 453 9th graders during that assembly. Talk about the power of literature.