Dunkirk native publishes book for new teachers

Jeff Julian has been teaching in Chautauqua County for more than 30 years. Currently, he teaches social studies and serves as department chair at Maple Grove Central School.

BEMUS POINT — According to recent data from New York State United Teachers, a state-wide union with nearly 300,000 members, New York will experience a teacher shortage in the near future, and many parts of the state have already experienced this shortage. Reasons for the shortage range from retirements to increases in Pre-K through 12 enrollment, and fewer individuals are entering the teaching profession than ever before. However, to Dunkirk native Jeff Julian, there has never been a better time to enter the profession, and he has recently published a book that guides new and prospective teachers at the start of their career.

While there’s no better teacher than experience, Julian, a social studies teacher at Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School, offers new teachers the next best thing: practical advice and wisdom based on his 32 years of teaching experience. “Classroom Advice for New Teachers: a Proactive Approach for Meeting the Daily Challenges of the Profession” is Julian’s new book that offers new teachers a proactive approach to many aspects of the profession, from deciding to become a teacher, to applying, interviewing, setting up a classroom, designing curriculum and interacting with students and colleagues, all the way to avoiding “late-career burnout.” The book is available for pre-order from now until July 12, when it will be officially released to Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Julian’s first published book, the idea came to him when he was speaking to a group of college students at his alma mater, SUNY Fredonia, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and dual certification in grades 7-12 English and History, and his master’s degree in English in 1991. “I noticed how eager they were to hear advice about the daily challenges of teaching, as well as to hear a positive, optimistic view of the profession,” Julian told the OBSERVER. “I began writing the book about five years ago, and based it on my experiences and my own philosophy. My son Brian, who teaches high school science, encouraged me to keep writing and to search for a publisher, and I dedicated the book to him.”

After Julian completed several chapters of the book, he researched how to write a non-fiction book proposal to gain the interest of a reputable publisher or agent. Uninterested in self publishing or “vanity publishers,” Julian wrote a persuasive and detailed proposal, which included market research to support his case for why his book should be published. “I knew that my chances were about the same as winning the lottery, but again with the encouragement from Brian, I sent my proposal, table of contents and sample chapters to as many reputable publishers as I could find,” Julian explained. “When Rowman & Littlefield, a prestigious publisher of college textbooks and professional books, indicated an interest in my idea, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.”

The company soon offered Julian a contract and gave him a deadline to complete his book, which involved many revisions. “When I read through the completed manuscript, I felt satisfied that I had reflected my experiences and philosophy, and that my book can help teachers overcome challenges in a positive way,” he said.

Neither a dry textbook nor a teacher’s autobiography, Julian’s book is the ideal balance of practical advice and real-life scenarios that can leave new teachers in a quandary. Chapter topics include “How to Conduct Your Job Search,” “You won a Teaching Position! Now What?”, “How to Start the School Year,” “How to Overcome Favoritism,” “How to Utilize Instructional Technology,” “How to Handle Your Colleagues,” and “How to Handle Parents, the Community, and Public Relations,” among others.

Each chapter includes practical lessons and “In Practice” scenarios, in which Julian presents readers with a scenario and multiple responses. For example, in his chapter on setting and enforcing rules, Julian writes, “You are a new teacher chaperoning a group of 12th-grade students on a field trip with a colleague who has been teaching for over thirty years. During the long bus ride home, two female students approach you and ask to stop the bus at the nearest service station so that they can visit a restroom. The veteran teacher overhears and angrily rejects their request, accusing them of the ulterior motive of wanting to smoke a cigarette. They turn again to you, and implore you to grant their request, telling you that it is an emergency. What do you do?”

Not only does this scenario address rule setting, but it also demonstrates how situations overlap; in this case, the scenario involves relationships with colleagues, too. In his response, Julian weighs the difficulty of judging an individual’s reasons for needing a restroom against the authority of an experienced colleague. Ultimately, Julian explains that an appropriate response is to confer privately with the veteran teacher and speak honestly and respectfully about one’s feelings — that denying a student’s request to use the restroom could be worse than the possible consequences of trusting the student. This conversation respects the opinion and experience of the older teacher, while also respecting students’ needs.

This and many other scenarios are explained in detail throughout the book, which is born of Julian’s many years of teaching experience. While a student at SUNY Fredonia, Julian completed his student teaching at Fredonia High School with Joseph Calarco, who continues to influence Julian’s teaching. After graduation, he taught English for two years at Ripley High School and then spent two years at Chautauqua High School as a social studies teacher. For the past 28 years, he has taught social studies at Maple Grove, where he has also served as social studies department chair for the past 27 years. Julian has also been teaching public speaking in the evening at Jamestown Community College’s north county campus for the past five years.

While some enter the profession based on a childhood dream of becoming a teacher, Julian was inspired by one of his professors at SUNY Fredonia. “I made the decision to become a teacher during a college assignment in which I had to lead the class in a discussion about the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who happened to still be in office at the time,” Julian explained. “The thrill of leading an exchange of ideas, combined with the encouragement of my professor, Dr. Joseph Gallagher, convinced me to change my major from Engineering to History and English Education.”

Julian was further inspired by his grandmother, Adele Kuzara, who had great respect for the teaching profession and hoped to live to see her grandson reach his goal — which he did, with 22 years to spare.

“When I entered the profession, my hope was to spend my days discussing complex historical issues and high-level literature,” Julian recalled. “I very quickly learned that the essence of teaching is, at its core, the bond that is created between the teacher and each individual student.”

For Julian, creating this bond is his ultimate goal in every class, with every student. “The impression you make on your students by handling adversity with strength, treating others with empathy and respect, and generally conducting your life with integrity, will remain with them forever,” he said. “In fact, decades after they have forgotten the minor irritations we all encounter on a daily basis, and even the details of your subject matter have faded from their memories, they will still remember the example of your decency and good character.”

One of the challenges Julian encountered in writing the book, besides landing a publishing contract, was continually putting himself in the mindset of a brand new teacher. His advice is realistic, and although it does not paint a perfect picture of the profession, it is quite encouraging. “I tell new teachers what I wish someone had told me: Everything is going to be all right,” he explained. “You’re going to make mistakes and have errors in judgment, and sometimes those actions might cause problems for others. It’s important to maintain humility, admit your mistakes, do your best to make restitution, and learn from the experience.”

Julian goes on to add a humbling caveat: “Then, you have to forgive others who have done the same to you.”

Like any career, teaching has its share of critics, and Julian is no stranger to them. “Like any other issue, it’s important to view it from every perspective,” he pointed out. “Some of those detractors have had difficult encounters with teachers, and also might be having negative experiences with their own career choices…My suggestion is to show sincere gratitude and humility: gratitude for the advantages of the profession, and humility for the honor of playing such an important role in the lives of your students.”

As Julian nears the end of his career, he is looking forward to speaking to new and prospective teachers, and he hopes his book will encourage them on their journey. Julian is grateful for all who have supported him in his career, including his parents, Phil and Audrey Julian; his son, Brian; his daughter, Laura DuBois; and his sister, Michele Bain, a high school math teacher.

He is also grateful to his supportive colleagues, administrators, community members, students and their families over the years. “How can I repay a debt so large?” Julian reflected. “Possibly by encouraging good people to see the advantages of choosing education as a career, and helping ensure a positive future for the profession. It’s true that job opportunities in many walks of life offer their own advantages. However, if you can offer knowledge, skills, comfort, inspiration, and make a student feel welcome in your classroom when he or she many not feel welcome anywhere else, I would consider that to be a life and career well spent. I’m proud to be a part of this profession.”

For more information about Julian and his book, visit his website at jeffjulianauthor.gq.