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Navigating Back to School as a First-Year Teacher

Shortly after graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Muhammad Jan was itching to get back in the classroom.
 
As the teacher, this time.
 
Muhammad was a part of the first cohort to complete UABTeach, a branch of the UTeach program sponsored by NMSI and the UTeach Institute. The program allowed Muhammad to earn a secondary teaching certification without adding cost or time to his four-year degree in Biomedical Science.
 
"I always had an interest in teaching but never thought I’d end up becoming a teacher. However, when I came to UAB I saw a flyer that said 'Free FYE course and try teaching.' I took a risk and fell in love with it. I made a family with the first official cohort to complete the program and the amazing faculty who were always there."
 
Eager to build upon the skills he gained from UABTeach, Muhammad attended NMSI's Laying the Foundation Summer Institute. There, he learned how to facilitate engaging, hands-on lessons to engage his students from day one in the classroom.
 
"UABTeach set me up for inquiry-based learning already. What I'm learning [at Laying The Foundation] is how to actually do the labs. It's the perfect transition."
 
Just one week after finishing LTF, Muhammad set up his first classroom at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama. In August, he began teaching Biology to ninth grade students near the place where he grew up.
 
Muhammad was determined to create a classroom environment that invited students to move around, ask questions and tangibly experience science. He hoped that his passion for biology would inspire students to look beyond the textbook.           
 
"We're making helicopters," he said. "We're making paper airplanes. We're learning how to take notes. I mean, we're doing hands-on activities almost every single day."
 
Note from studentWhen his students succeed, Muhammad likes to celebrate in a slightly unconventional way: he calls their parents.
 
"I've probably called 10 different parents, and I think I'm the only teacher who does this where it's only good. I just tell them that their kid is exceptional, is bright, helpful, and just a joy to have in my class, and I thank them. I'm telling you, it makes their day."
 
Students approach Muhammad and thank him for reaching out to their parents. He says it changes their confidence and engagement in class.
 
When asked why he takes that extra step, he simply replied, "I don't know. Maybe 'cause nobody ever did it for me."
 
One of the ways that Muhammad pushes his students to learn at their highest level is by setting high expectations from the start — a strategy he learned at LTF.
 
"I just said, 'My expectation is for you to make an A.' And then I was like, "I believe in you and I promise you I'm going to give you everything you need to make an A.' A lot of kids just looked at me and smiled. Some kids were like, 'I don't know if I can do it,'" he said.
 
"But that's where it's my job — to make them realize that they can do it."
 
As he dives deeper into his first year of teaching, Muhammad continues to be grateful for the preparation and wealth of knowledge he received during his time at UABTeach. 
 
"I would say 99.99% of my kids actually love coming to my class just because of the UTeach Institute."
 
He said that, because of UABTeach, his students haven't figured out that this is his first year teaching. He seems content to keep that secret.