What’s in my desk drawer: Tracy Monaghan takes out her most valuable advice


Meghan Krein

Tracy Monaghan taught elementary school for over 20 years. Now, as an ASU faculty member and iTeachAZ Site Coordinator, Tracy supports new teachers and facilitates professional development for the Tempe school district. We caught up with her and talked about everything from Jolly Ranchers and Red Vines to the qualities that make a successful teacher to how a student’s murder affected her.

Tracy Monaghan

What are the do’s and don’ts of beginning a new school year?

I don’t think there’s a perfect answer to this question, but I’d have to say that the number one thing to help ensure a calm beginning is to be prepared. It’s also important to have a behavior management plan and be prepared for anything — because anything can and will happen. For example, on the first day of school a student of mine (who was literally just getting off the bus) threw a rock and hit a teacher in the head. Yes, there was blood. Welcome to 5th grade!

As far as don’ts, it’s easy for me to say: don’t be nervous. But that’s not realistic, so try not be nervous. Don’t forget about the duty schedule. And, lastly, don’t stay in your classroom until midnight overthinking the first day! Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. (Especially if you’re an iTeachAZ graduate, because you’ve got this!)

How do you advise teacher candidates on how to take over the classroom and make it their own?

The transition will happen naturally and sometimes the teacher candidates won’t have a choice in how the transition happens. It really just depends on the comfort level of the mentor and the relationship between the two. But I think the most important thing is for teacher candidates to get to know their students — figure out what makes them tick. I tell my teacher candidates that every student has a key, teachers are responsible for trying different ones to find out what unlocks that student. Students aren’t data and statistics. They are living, breathing, feeling humans who need to be recognized for being individuals.

What is one essential quality a teacher must have in order to be successful?

That’s a tough one. It would be easy for me to say that being organized is the essential quality, but it’s important to also be compassionate.

Why do school districts seek out graduates of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College?

That’s an easy one: because they are ready. Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College graduates are confident and have a firm grasp of what it really takes to be a teacher. The districts in which teacher candidates are placed during their senior year residency want them because they’ve already been trained in that district's “way,” and they are basically coming in as second-year teachers. It’s a thing of beauty. And by the way, that’s my favorite part about being a site coordinator — teacher candidates coming to me in August as college students and in a very short time making that transition to teacher. It’s amazing.

What has been the most challenging situation you faced during your career as a teacher and how did you overcome it?

Teaching in the inner city presents many challenges, but the absolute most challenging situation happened when one of my students was killed in a drive-by shooting. It emotionally paralyzed me. He was such a wonderful kid: brilliant, kind and a true leader. His death fractured his family, and quite honestly I didn’t think I could continue to teach in the inner city environment anymore. It took time for me to sift through my emotions, but ultimately I think I became a better and stronger teacher. The tragedy reminded me why I had chosen to teach in the inner city in the first place.

Has a student affected your life in a profound way? How so?

I taught in the same school for 20 years. There were countless students who profoundly affected me, but I have to say that dealing with the death of my student was easily the most profound. It shook my foundation. But with all fairness, I can say that I loved all of my students year after year, even the challenging ones … especially the challenging ones! I sometimes run into former students in various places around town. Some are married with children of their own and I feel very blessed to have been allowed to be a small part of their lives.

OK, so what’s really in your desk drawer?

Scads of push pins and paper clips. I was afraid to open the drawer because I was convinced I would get sucked into a black hole of old duty schedules, student data graphs and letters from students. Oh yeah, one more thing: Jolly Ranchers and Red Vines.