Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of individuals with teaching interest had been on a steady decline since the 1990s. Language teachers are one of the most-impacted groups. A lack of language teaching professionals challenges the educational quality and access to diverse linguistic skills for students. Factors such as low salaries, demanding workloads, and complicated pathways to become a qualified bilingual educator contribute to the problem. Shortages hinder learners’ language acquisition and cultural understanding.

The numbers are not much better for those who make it into the teaching profession. Over 40% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching. The same factors that prevent individuals from entering the profession, aid in pushing teachers out.

Lending a Helping Hand: The Power of Support

Despite these alarming trends, leaders in language education are not just sitting around hoping it will improve. Over the past five years, Hannah Rae Joseph has been running the N.E.W.B.I.E. (New Educator Welcome Box Initiative Experience) Project. The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project provides care packages to new language teachers early in their career to help create connections and support networks. Originally, Hannah focused on her home state of Alabama. However, this year Hannah collaborated with Ellen Ericson and Emily Brown in Illinois to expand the N.E.W.B.I.E. project outside of the state of Alabama. We recently interviewed Hannah, Ellen, and Emily about this innovative and caring initiative.

Hannah Rae Joseph – Alabama AATSP

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

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Hannah Rae Joseph.

My name is Hannah Rae Joseph and I’m an eighth year Spanish teacher at Spain Park High School in Birmingham (Hoover), Alabama. I’ve taught Spanish Levels 1 and 2 all eight years and I’m also an Educational Consultant for the Pulsera Project. Last year, I became a National Board Certified Teacher and I’ve also served as both the Vice President and President of the Alabama Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP)!

What is the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project?

The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project is a way of acknowledging first year teachers during a tough year by providing encouragement and helping them know about the resources that exist to support them. Teacher burn-out is REAL and, after the pandemic, it is at an all-time high. The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project combats this by sending 100% free care packages to first-year World Language teachers in Alabama and Illinois. The boxes are timed to arrive at the end of the first nine weeks which is often the first big challenge for new teachers.

teacher newbie packet.

How did you come up with the idea for the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project?

My first year of teaching was HARD and I frequently left school in tears! I was not a “solo teacher” and I had the support from others but I STILL struggled that first year comparing myself to other classrooms and constantly feeling a step behind everyone else. By my third year of teaching I suddenly found myself as President of the Alabama Chapter of AATSP and I knew I wanted to do something for those first-year teachers since, at year three, I still felt “new” myself. I remembered when I was in college during my first semester I received a care package out of the blue and how much joy it brought me, so I talked with the AATSP-AL board and we spent $50 that first year purchasing supplies to make small boxes for eight new teachers. It was important to me that while we began this project out of AATSP, that it supported teachers of ALL languages.  The next year I got the idea to contact educational companies to seek donations of supplies and we sent 15 boxes. Since then we’ve seen growth each year, sending out a total of 49 boxes this year!

What is your goal with the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project?

My goal is to increase retention of World Language teachers. It seems as though more universities are reducing their language programs and, at the same time, secondary schools are cutting language courses. As a result, it is more important than ever that we support the language teachers we have to maintain and grow World Language education. I hope these boxes reach a teacher right at the moment when they need support the most. I want it to be the thing that gets them over the hurdle of a difficult day and motivates them to continue down the rewarding path of education.

What has been the reaction of the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project by the new teachers?

I have actually never known one of the new teachers to whom I’ve mailed a package and I’ve never seen one delivered, so I can only hope it’s a surprise that brightens their day! The reaction of peers and donors has been an outpouring of support and it is amazing to see people go out of their way to help build this project. Just last year, one of our donors, Royal Cup Coffee in Alabama, had a connection to the educational group A+ College Ready and connected us via Zoom, which led to us being provided even more resources for the boxes!  

How is the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project funded?

The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project is funded entirely through donations and sponsorships.  As soon as school gets out in May, I begin working on the fall boxes by sending emails seeking donations. I have tried to build mutual partnerships that allow me to both advertise educational products, while providing the “N.E.W.B.I.E.s” with quality treats.  Not all products are donated, though and, particularly the first several years, a lot has to be purchased. I received donations from AATSP to purchase some start up supplies and now have an Amazon wish list where I post the needs for the boxes. While the value of the boxes themselves can top $100, the cost of shipping can also be pretty expensive and is another aspect I had to figure out early on. In Alabama, the cost is sponsored by two groups (Alabama World Language Education Foundation (AWLEF) and AATSP-Alabama) while in Illinois, private donors sponsored their shipping costs this year.

What is your plan for the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project?

The long term plan would be to grow the project so much that it is known throughout the education community. So much so, that as soon as a principal hires a first year teacher they know how to reach out to The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project and request a box for their language teachers!  There is a LOT of growth needed before getting there, but it’s a dream!

The short term plan/need is to find a better way of identifying first-year language teachers, particularly those in private schools or solo teachers. Finding the first-year teachers is honestly the hardest part of the entire process. I’ve learned, at least in Alabama, there is no “master list” of who teaches world languages and finding the teachers (who are often solo teachers) is challenging. Each year, I send hundreds of emails and try to reach every principal at a public high school in Alabama as well as the department chairs of universities who may have recent graduates. I publish announcements on sites for principals. Social media has definitely been the best form of advertising!

How can people get involved in the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project in their state?

Anyone who is interested can play a role in The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project! Knowing about the project is the first step and helping spread the word, or nominating a teacher is at the core of the mission! For those who would like to financially support the project’s growth we have an Amazon wish list that is “restocked” annually with the needs for the new year!  If your state wants to recognize first-year teachers through The N.E.W.B.I.E. Project, reach out to me and we can talk about partnering with your state! It just takes a little logistical planning (particularly on the coverage of shipping costs), but expansion is the goal!  This is the first year of a partnership with another state (Illinois) and the process has gone very smoothly in this first expansion!  Only 48 states left to get involved!

What else do you want people to know?

I LOVE making N.E.W.B.I.E. boxes! Right now I am making and filling each box myself and it is truly a labor of love. From folding the boxes, to designing inserts, writing names on the materials, and personalizing the items for the language of each first-year teacher… It’s all done by hand and out of my house. This process takes up about five months of my year and, when divided out, it comes out to around 20-30 minutes spent packaging each box from start to finish. As the project grows, I realize eventually I may not be able to handle the demand all on my own, so I enjoy these days of personalizing the experience for each new teacher and I hope they know how special they are when they open up their N.E.W.B.I.E. Box!

newbie boxes.

One State at a Time

The N.E.W.B.I.E. Box Project has now expanded outside the state of Alabama. This past fall, Hannah worked with Ellen Ericson and Emily Brown from the Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) to welcome new teachers in both Alabama and Illinois. Ellen and Emily shared their experience with us. 

Ellen Ericson and Emily Brown
– Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL)

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

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Hi! My name is Emily Brown and I teach Spanish at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, IL. This is my fifth year teaching Spanish, and I love having the opportunity to teach a language to students so they can use it in the future. Before teaching at Sandburg, Ellen was my coordinating teacher for my student teaching! We have stayed connected through the Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) through serving on the Board, presenting at conferences together, and creating a Novice Teacher Support Group for teachers needing support. It has become a passion of ours to help new teachers to the language teaching profession and support them through their first years of teaching.

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Ellen Ericson.

Hi! My name is Ellen Ericson. I teach at Mahomet-Seymour High School in Mahomet, Illinois and have been teaching for 27 years. I have taught all levels and ages from kindergarten through adults. I have served on the ICTFL Board in a number of capacities. I am currently the Past President of ICTFL. 

How did you hear about the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project?

We first heard about the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project when we were presenting at the AATSP Conference this summer in Salamanca. We attended a session hosted by Avant, and while we were chatting, we heard about Hannah, a teacher in Alabama who creates boxes for first-year language teachers to help in supporting novice teachers. From there, we instantly knew we needed to inquire about expanding this initiative to Illinois to support our new language teachers too. 

How did you become involved with the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project and why?

The two of us have a passion for helping teachers who are new to the language teaching profession, and when we heard about the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project, we knew we wanted to put forth the effort through ICTFL to support teachers in more ways. We immediately took this idea to the Board during our summer ICTFL Think Tank meeting, and we had an overwhelming response of support by all members of the Board. 

What is your goal with the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project?

We know how difficult it is to be a first-year teacher and experience all of the “firsts” of teaching. The goal of the N.E.W.B.I.E. box is to let new teachers know that they are supported and valued, as well as letting them know what resources and state organizations exist to support them. Our goal is to make a connection between new teachers and organizations like ICTFL so first year teachers know that there are even more people supporting them outside of their school. 

How can people get involved in the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project in Illinois?

Do you want to donate to our boxes? Want to help coordinate them? Want to help plan the programming for our Novice Teacher Support Group? Contact us! We are always looking for more people to get involved! Email us.

Working to turn the tide

By starting small and using her network to gain momentum, Hannah Rae Joseph turned an idea into a budding initiative to build a cushion of support and surprise for first-year language teachers. If you would like to join Hannah, Ellen, and Emily in this effort by bringing it to your state, nominate a first-year language teacher, or donate to the cause, visit the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project’s website. 

Avant is a proud contributor and supporter of the N.E.W.B.I.E. Project.