New Teachers: Lean on Those Digital Resources

By April Angel

Teachers are incredibly resourceful and resilient people, but they shouldn’t have to be all the time. Novice teachers in particular need a helping hand, a support network, and the tools and resources to make their jobs less stressful.

Fortunately, there are new technologies that can create a more harmonious teaching and learning environment, so I’m hoping that today’s teachers won’t need to fall back on some of the things I did as a a new ELA teacher to find the help I needed.

Confession 1: Scrounging for instructional materials

During my first three years of teaching, I was never issued a textbook. That made instructional materials incredibly difficult to find. As a novice teacher, I didn’t yet have access to the personal library of resources that most educators develop over time.

I envied my neighboring teachers with filing cabinets full of years of materials. Most of my lessonplanning involved going door to door to other English teachers in my department, asking for photocopies of those treasured files. I also frequented the public library and found troves of options that I could incorporate into my lessons – but that took hours of my time, all unpaid.

Resource gathering was very piecemeal and often inadequate: If I had 112 students in the course, but I only had 75 copies of a particular book, I likely couldn’t teach that book that year. There often wasn’t a budget for extra paper copies.

As the teacher with little seniority or “time on the job,” many materials simply weren’t available to me. Once I even had a professor recommend that I “dumpster dive” to acquire materials that other teachers no longer wanted and use them to supplement what I already had.

In my second year of teaching in a large urban school district, I wrote the curriculum for a Hispanic literature course. I didn’t get paid for it, and I got no professional development (PD) hours for it, but with the large Hispanic-American population in our school, I felt compelled to find materials that reflected the students in my classroom.

I spent the summer in my local public library gathering materials to introduce the Hispanic literature class that fall. I didn’t buy any materials; it was all photocopies and searching online for things that I could use to put lessons together.

Students and educators deserve better. Rather than dumpster diving, teachers should be able to turn to their school librarians as a resource to find differentiated materials to support all learners across various Lexile levels, and to spot deals and grants to purchase additional materials.

Furthermore, librarians can help teachers find digital materials that provide the resources they need, even with limited budgets. When I was a teacher, there were so many times that I would find a great video, article, or news clip when I was lesson planning – but when I actually went to use it for class, the link was broken, the site was down, or, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get to it again. I rarely had access to digital resources with permanent URLs, so I know first-hand how critical it is to have those static URLs for today’s teachers.

These kinds of digital materials also save teachers the trouble of performing “book surgery” with duct or packing tape as they try to hold together paper copies that are literally falling apart because they’ve been shoved into kids’ backpacks and desks, dropped on the floor, and generally mistreated by even the most well-intentioned of students.

Confession 2: Working while sick

I can remember it like it was yesterday: I woke up with the flu, I had a 104-degree temperature, and I needed to leave something for my class to do. Like most of my colleagues, I had an “emergency sub plan”—a crossword puzzle or similar game-like activity for just this circumstance, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use it.

I drove 30 minutes to the school at 6 a.m. in my “sick clothes” and put together sub plans that were relevant to what we had done the previous day in class so that the kids would have something meaningful to do. If that were to happen today, I could accomplish the same thing digitally from home and simply send an email to someone on my team so they could take care of the details for me.

Teachers don’t need to buy into the toxic culture and pressure to work long hours, work while sick, or spend their own money. Resources now exist that allow teachers to work smarter, not harder.

Regardless of the vendor, the digital components that come with textbooks or the many fully online resources ensure that teachers can complete their prep work at their convenience and supply their students what they need, when they need it. Not only can that help reduce burnout, but it can also lead to better-quality content for those students.

Confession 3: Avoiding critical conversations and sensitive topics

Increasingly students are asking questions about potentially sensitive and difficult topics. As teachers, we have a responsibility to provide them with information so they can learn and draw their own conclusions. With the current climate in education, teachers must be able to provide diverse perspectives and cannot insert personal bias into these discussions.

By presenting multiple perspectives on topics, teachers can feel safer facilitating these conversations with students. Having a trusted place to go that represents multiple voices on a given topic helps educators not only bring awareness to their students, but also feel more secure in knowing that they are representing all the students that sit in their classroom every day—and helping them learn to understand and build empathy toward one another.

I believe these conversations are worth having because connecting lessons to current events increases student engagement. They understand why topics are relevant to them, especially when they wonder, “Why does this matter today?”

Use the digital resources that are out there

If I could give other educators one best practice based on my confessions and other classroom experiences, I’d tell them that respecting and honoring the diversity of the students in our classrooms, recognizing and including their backgrounds and life experiences in our lessons, and helping them draw meaning from what they’re learning are the essentials of a successful learning environment.

I’m so glad that thanks to digital technology – from ed tech providers like Gale, Newsela, Discovery Education, and CommonLit, and free resources like ShareMyLesson,,, and, yes, MiddleWeb – the help teachers need to accomplish these goals is more accessible than ever—no dumpster diving or book surgery required.

April Angel is a former secondary ELA teacher and holds a Masters in Secondary Education from Emory University. She is now a strategic account manager at Gale, part of Cengage Group. She can be reached via LinkedIn.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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