First Year Teacher Reflections: John Ader

Stephanie Huie

Westchester Middle School Language Arts Teacher

The following speech was given at the New Faculty & Staff Orientation on August 29, 2019, to the 45 incoming members of the Windward community.  

Good morning everyone, and welcome to Windward.  

My name is John Ader. I am about to begin my second year at Windward’s Westchester Middle School.  This year will be my first year with lead teaching responsibilities. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here with you this morning, reflecting on my first year. Just one year ago, I too was sitting where you are now being bombarded by an onslaught of emotions: excitement, trepidation, determination, fear, nervousness, and, ultimately, frisson, that chill or goosebumps feeling one gets when they are about to start something new. I had no idea what to expect of this private school of which I knew little about. However, as the orientation and the first few weeks of school progressed, I knew I not only found a place where I could truly make a difference in the lives of young people, but I also found a place where I could thrive as a person and an educator.  

Over the next few days of orientation, you will hear about our amazing students. You will hear about their brave journeys, difficult experiences, and the diligence they exhibit every day. I love our students; they are hardworking, kind, and, most importantly, they have a strong willingness to learn. I recommend volunteering for the middle school Friday field trips after-school and using your time during lunch and recess duty, as well as afternoon pick-up duties, to get to know these remarkable children. Our students certainly make Windward a fantastic place to work, but I also want to focus on the heroes of Windward, your future colleagues.   

Before I explain why these heroes are unique, let me give you a little background about me and what brought me to Windward. After finishing my undergrad, I was a bit of a lost soul; I had no idea what I wanted in life. I had so many different jobs and internships, but nothing jumped out and grabbed my attention. My family had always pressured me to become a doctor, a lawyer, or a politician, something they deemed respectable and worthy of their little boy. Despite having a degree in history and political science, I landed a good job as a junior accountant at a medium-sized Manhattan accounting firm. I enjoyed the lifestyle this job afforded me, but it was still just a job; I did not feel fulfilled, and I certainly did not feel it could be my lifelong career.  After three years working as an accountant and moving up the corporate ladder, I was extremely unhappy with where my life was going, and I was becoming physically ill from the stress of my job and knowing I was doing something for which I had no passion.  

It was at this low point, almost by fate, that I became aware of a program to teach English overseas.  I was twenty-five at the time and I knew that if I didn’t make a change, I was going to regret it for the rest of my life. I signed up for the program, received my certification, and was on my way to Japan to teach English and hone my craft. This was quite a drastic change, but I knew almost immediately that teaching was the career for me. I was a public middle school teacher in Japan for three years. Every year, I was moved to a new school as was the policy to maintain fairness. This movement was interesting for me because I was able to experience several different school settings and work with several different teaching teams. I worked in both high and low socio-economic areas. I had a wide array of class sizes ranging from a standard twenty-two students and up to a staggering thirty-nine students. Working with colleagues with many different personalities, I observed teacher’s lounges which were quiet and business-like to ones that were jovial and cathartic. Over the course of these three years, I taught nearly 900 students and had 150 different coworkers. So, when I started at Windward, I thought I had seen it all, but, boy, I was mistaken.  

The community at Windward is one that may, at first, seem daunting to join. From your first week in the classroom you will see your mentor teachers and others effortlessly use research-based teaching techniques that seem as if they will take a lifetime to master. The first time I saw my mentor teacher help a student decode a challenging word, I felt as if I was hearing a different language. “What does the ou vowel team say? That is an unstressed schwa sound. That’s a consonant -le syllable.” I knew that I was going to be challenged at Windward, and that is one of the main reasons I felt it was a good fit for me. I wanted to work in an environment that was using meta-analyses to develop its teaching techniques. In addition, I wanted to continue to grow as an educator for the betterment of my students. I saw the wide chasm before me, between where I was and where I wanted to be, wanting to help my students as effortlessly as my mentor had done for them. The one thing I didn’t fully understand in this first week of school was that the chasm before me was not as wide as it seemed, because along the way, I would be working with some of the most thoughtful and compassionate coworkers I had ever met. My mentor teachers were willing to share their lesson planning and answer any question I had. They gave me opportunities in the classroom to practice what I was learning through the Windward Teacher Training Institute and clarify anything I might not have initially understood. I had worked with coworkers who were helpful before, but this was different. My colleagues didn’t just want to seem helpful or to be kind. They actively cared about making me a better teacher.  

At Windward, helping our students is our number one goal. To achieve this goal, everyone understands we must work together. I believe this culture of collaboration, support, openness, and compassion was fostered by each and every teacher and administrator that came before us. I have never in my life received such helpful and specific feedback while also knowing that making mistakes was going to be part of the learning experience. I wholeheartedly believe Windward to be a unique environment where students, faculty, and staff members alike can grow and become better members of society.  As I said before, Windward was my fourth school setting, and, let me tell you, what happens here is not typical. I truly had an amazing first year at Windward and I can assure you, if you come in with an open mind, a willingness to ask questions, and a drive to become a better educator, Windward is the right place for you.  Like me, you will want to walk in the front door every morning, motivated to learn and grow in this unique environment. 

I’ll leave you with a quote attributed to Sir Isaac Newton but can also be traced back to a Latin phrase that I feel is particularly apropos. 

“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”   

For me, seeing further is helping our students by becoming a better educator, and those giants, they are the members of the Windward community that came before us and made this a wonderful place to work.  

Thank you everyone and I wish you all an amazing first year at Windward!