Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

For the first few years that I taught, my stomach hurt constantly in the weeks before school started. The anxiety was a mixture of dread and excitement and anticipation. Every year, I mourned the end of summer, but I'd also get revved up, ready to start and get my hands messy with learning.

Now I have insomnia. In 2007, after teaching in the school district in Oakland, California, for twelve years, I stepped out of the classroom and into the role of instructional coach at one of its middle schools. During the weeks before school starts, I often spend 3-5 a.m. making mental to-do lists and solving issues. Last night, I brainstormed about how to get furniture donations for one of our brand-new teachers. Today, I will give her a tour of the school, but when I open the door to her portable, she'll see an empty room.

I'm particularly sensitive to this scenario. To be honest, it triggers my teacher posttraumatic stress disorder. My first year of teaching was in an overcrowded, underresourced elementary school in East Oakland. They led me to a carpeted space and told me to teach bilingual second graders to read. There were no desks, chairs, or books -- or walls.

Back in the 1970s, some people who had never spent time with children promoted "open classrooms." Imagine a long, wide corridor, and add 200 kids but no dividers or doors or sound barriers. Then, lump 30 (or 36) kids with each teacher, and include a teacher who teaches everything by singing and chanting.

Next, consider that this is a school with a rapidly growing population, so that when new classes are created, everyone has to squeeze closer together. Also note that this school does not purchase furniture, and that your fellow teachers hoard supplies and books (which were published twenty years ago), but if you teach a bilingual class, none of that matters, because no one knows what teaching a bilingual class means or when or how the students should learn English.

Now, stick a young, uncredentialed teacher in that room, one who doesn't know anything about how kids learn to read and can't remember her own year in second grade, but who quickly finds herself caring deeply about her students.

But this blog is supposed to be about you, the novice teacher. It's not a place where I plan on processing my own teaching traumas. I do hope that these posts might make a tiny dent in the agony and confusion beginning teachers often feel.

Though there is never enough support for beginning teachers (or any educator), I'm hoping I can enlist the community of Edutopia.org visitors to engage in a discussion with new members of our profession and dish out some practical tips and a few morsels of advice, consolation, and encouragement. I hope that new teachers will find this to be a forum where they can ask any and all questions and brainstorm about any problems. I'm going for a peppery blend of logistical and emotional support.

On a side note, my definition of "new teacher" is very broad. After teaching elementary school for five years, I became a middle school teacher, and I felt very much like a beginner again. Some aspects of teaching will be (and should be) new every year. So, I hope this blog can be a place where we pull back and zoom in and take a close and scary -- and sometimes anonymous -- look at what's going on in our schools and classrooms.

Back to the pre-school-year anxiety. I have insomnia because there's so much to be done. I want to do this year right. I am overwhelmed and afraid I'll fail. I want to sleep more and exercise more and spend leisurely afternoons in the park with my son, but it's all about to start, and it'll be a year before I can read another novel. Is anyone else experiencing this?

I'm learning how to deal with this without the help of pharmaceuticals. I often get up and do the work I'm lying in bed thinking about. I make long lists and plot when and how I'm going to do them. I ask for help and know that not everything will get done. And I constantly remind myself of why I do this job.

And that's my number-one piece of advice to any teacher: Know why you're an educator. Remind yourself about it regularly. Write it up and post it in a prominent place in your classroom. Ask yourself many times throughout the year, particularly when things are hard, "Why am I a teacher? Why do I do this?"

And after a few years, if those reasons aren't loud and compelling, don't do it. When the reasons are really strong, teaching is much, much easier. It becomes enjoyable about 90 percent of the time. As challenging as my job is, I can't imagine doing anything else.

So, why do you -- new, or veteran, educator -- teach? Please share your stories.

In my next post, I'll share my own reasons, and I'll give some practical tips on getting ready for the school year. In the meantime, let me point you in the direction of some recently written blog posts by experienced teachers on Teacher magazine's Web site. Check out Jane Fung's "Teaching Secrets: The First Days of School" and Cindi Rigsbee's "Teaching Secrets: Five Tips for the New Teacher." (Free registration is required.)

Comments (96)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

haikki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to add the idea of project assessment. At the alternative high school I work at we are encouraged to be creative and are blessed with more flexibility than many district schools. Thesis Writing.
Regards,

cara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so nervos yet excitd that I am going to be a teachers assistant for second grade however ihaven't worked in awhile and Ifeel a little rusty. Someone give me some eccouragment I feel anxiety and am a liitle scared to get back in the swing of thing. Thanks Kindly

Amy W's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently in my third year of teaching. I am beginning to feel more comfortable instead of being terrified. For me, the first day of school still feels like it did when I attended elementary school. I am still anxious yet scared of the students not "liking" me. I try to be, to a point, on the same wave length as my students. First day jitters defiantly puts me on their level of nervousness. I always read this book to my class on the first day. It's a great book that every class I have read it to has loved.
As a colleague has written in this blog site, novice teachers have a lot of passion, energy, and creativity; I do try. I know that my students have feelings just as I do. They also get stressed just like I can get stressed. I believe that they sense the days that I come to class stressed. Because of this I always try to show my students compassion and understand that they could have "bad" things going on too.
I know that I have to put all the effort I can into my teaching. If I ever hope to achieve the title of an "expert" teacher, I must be willing to give it my all. I know to keep learning obstacles realistic for my students. They must know that the tasks I give are not impossible ones. We are all capable of achieving new things if we focus on effort based ability.
Effort based ability is a belief that all students can do rigorous academic work at high standards, even if they are far behind academically. I know in keeping with this belief I can make my students see that I will never give up on them.

Amy W's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently in my third year of teaching. I am beginning to feel more comfortable instead of being terrified. For me, the first day of school still feels like it did when I attended elementary school. I am still anxious yet scared of the students not "liking" me. I try to be, to a point, on the same wave length as my students. First day jitters defiantly puts me on their level of nervousness. I always read this book to my class on the first day. It's a great book that every class I have read it to has loved.
As a colleague has written in this blog site, novice teachers have a lot of passion, energy, and creativity; I do try. I know that my students have feelings just as I do. They also get stressed just like I can get stressed. I believe that they sense the days that I come to class stressed. Because of this I always try to show my students compassion and understand that they could have "bad" things going on too.
I know that I have to put all the effort I can into my teaching. If I ever hope to achieve the title of an "expert" teacher, I must be willing to give it my all. I know to keep learning obstacles realistic for my students. They must know that the tasks I give are not impossible ones. We are all capable of achieving new things if we focus on effort based ability.
Effort based ability is a belief that all students can do rigorous academic work at high standards, even if they are far behind academically. I know in keeping with this belief I can make my students see that I will never give up on them.

Michelle Peters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Beginning Teachers Difficulties

I agree that a novice in the teaching profession do have many anxieties. I remember, when I began teaching, I was very nervous and worried about petty issues (would the children like me? would they listen and so). Note, that I had no pre-service training before entering the teaching profession. I entered and learnt while in the process. Of course, many of the factors and issues that teachers undergo on a daily basis rudely awakened me. Classroom and time management techniques, I ineffectively used. The main strategy of teaching, I utilised was expository teaching. I came in the class, and gave students a set of well-organised materials, most of which came from my old school notebooks. I was unaware about guided discovery, peer- tutoring and other students' active involvement strategies. This ignorance led to enormous damage of students' self-confidence, disciplinary problems and poor planning. Novice teachers lacks the skills needed in planning, motivating, among others. They are not as fluent and efficient as expert teachers.

Today, I have moved a bit up the ladder on the novice to expert continuum. Therefore, I have more hope than before. I look forward then, to the difference I can make in students' lives. Hence, I continue in the teaching service. I agree with Neito (2003) who cited hope as the reason many teachers remain in the profession, even though they face many problems. Teachers are constantly coping with situations. We must remember though, that teaching is a life-long process and so we will move, from a total novice closer to an expert, with time.

Nieto, S. (2003).What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press

Michelle Peters
Walden University Student
and also an Educator

Rebekah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, Michelle, that hope is one of the driving reasons that teachers remain teachers. In Elena's blog, she suggests that we post the reasons somewhere to keep us motivated and inspired, and to make the job enjoyable and meaningful for us. It is a great idea!

I'm sure you did not do significant damage to your students your first year - we all look back on our first classroom and realize how many mistakes we made, wishing we could go back and do a better job. But your students no doubt learned a lot from you and continued successfully in school; moreover, you cared about them enough to do your very best and hope for their success and well-being, and that is so important!

Rebekah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Reading this post has reminded me of my first few years of teaching! With six years of experience, I can now look back in both amazement (that I did it without any support or mentoring) and shock (at how many mistakes I am sure I made as I went along on my own). I agree with Elena that novice teachers often get little if any support, and that it is not enough.

I began my teaching career in a universal (public-school) Pre-K classroom. Due to lack of space in public schools, my classroom was housed in a local daycare center. There was one other Pre-K teacher there and she mostly stole the ideas off my posted lesson plans. I had no mentor teacher, no principal or administrator, and no professional development opportunities. Looking back, I feel slightly amazed I was able to stay motivated and confident enough to do as good of a job as I did that year. While I wasn't anywhere near proficient or excellent in my practices, I do feel that I did well overall.

For the next few years, I was teaching at small private schools that once again did not offer a mentor teacher to me. I did my best to seek out colleagues with whom I could talk through my experiences and ask questions, but there was nothing organized about the way that I was being supported in my professional life.

Now, in a charter school, I am experiencing a mentor for the first time, while at the same being looked at as a sort of mentor teacher myself by my colleagues who are new to the profession. I am lucky to be at a school where my principal values professional development and a professional learning community so much that he hires a series of coaches to mentor us: we have a curriculum and assessment coach, a literacy coach, and a "classroom" coach who helps with everything from routines and procedures to discipline and classroom management. I am, however, one of the most experienced teachers on staff, so my younger colleagues often come to me with questions and concerns and ideas in much the same way I did with colleagues at my previous schools.

I do my best to help them, but I do not always feel successful. This post has given me a few great ideas for how to support them in other ways, including encouraging them to think about why they are teachers and what motivates them to remain in the teaching profession.

I think it is a shame that all new teachers do not receive the support they need to not only succeed but thrive as educators. As Elena mentioned, it can be a nerve-wracking and scary experience to find yourself all alone from your first step into the teaching profession!

Rebekah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Melissa,

I am also a graduate student at Walden, so I was interested to read your perspective on this issue. I tend to agree with you and Sonia Nieto that many teachers will never reach the "expert" end of the continuum. I think that you may become expert in one aspect of teaching, as you mentioned with the subject matter we teach, but that it would be nearly impossible to be an expert in the entire field of teaching due to the process of life-long learning. There are always new ideas, new pieces of information, new strategies, and new situations to learn about and adapt to; perhaps an expert teacher at the end of the continuum does not strive to have complete mastery over every aspect of the teaching profession, but over the process of learning about and adapting to the constant changes in teaching and classrooms. I think the idea of self-reflection that you mentioned from Nieto's video is particularly apt for this process.

You also asked if anyone had ideas for behavior modification strategies. While I am not a Special Education teacher, I did do field work in a special education classroom and, as a Kindergarten teacher, I often have special education students in my classroom who do not yet have an IEP and who I must help to function in the general education setting while they wait to be evaluated. Here are a few things I have learned and tried from these experiences:

1) I know a special education teacher who modifies the comment "red, yellow, green light" strategy for her students. She uses apples (green at the start of the day or period, yellow after a warning, and red after another "offense") on a chart for each student. At the end of the period (either each subject/session, or up to lunch and then after lunch, or eventually the whole day), she gives out stickers according to color: a large or special (shiny/scratch and sniff) sticker for green apples, a small sticker for yellow, and no stickers for red. Then all students return to green to try again. The students collect the stickers on cards. She did not have any prize they got for a full card; they just got to take home the sticker collection and show their parents what they'd earned. However in general ed settings, I have tried this and given out small prizes for full cards.

2) I have tried to keep individual sticker or star charts for special education students in my general ed setting. The student keeps the chart on their desk or a notebook they use every day. We choose a targeted behavior to work on (i.e. staying in the seat, asking for help, using words not actions/crying, etc.) and every time the student performs the desired behavior instead of making the negative alternative choice, they earn a star or sticker. Again, this can be used as motivation, parent communication, or if desired a reward system with a prize or special event for a full card.

3) For special education students who have attentional difficulties, I try asking them to look at my eyes before I talk to them; then I ask them to repeat what I said. I also provide them with a wipe-off/laminated checklist and dry erase marker for common routines or procedures so they can follow along more easily. These interventions usually go along with a behavior chart of some sort to track success rates.

I hope some of these are helpful; however, you may know them all since you're a special education teacher with more expertise in the area than myself!

Good luck!

Kathryn Blair's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Why I became a teacher:

As a child, I was a struggling reader. I attended after school programs and practiced at home. However, I was not grasping how to comprehend what I read. I remember how frustrating it was throughout elementary school to build that foundation of reading. I chose the field of education because I want to give every student an opportunity to succeed. In my classroom, I want instructional activities to embrace individual differences and learning styles. Students should be provided with opportunities to explore, recognize, and develop based on their individual potential.

Moving from Novice to Expert:
I am attending the University of Walden, in our Discussion Question this week we had to join a blog. I am very glad I discovered this blog because I believe you learn a great deal through dialogue with other professionals.

I am a fourth year teacher in Camden County, GA. I have taught first grade all four years. I feel that I have moved out of the novice stage because I have learned to be passionate about teaching and in turn, making learning enjoyable for my students. I feel that I have made the necessary steps to increase the knowledge of my subject matter by attending professional development courses, attending conferences, and by using dialog in my school and surrounding schools to learn the most I can from other teachers, especially teachers I really look up to. I think I am a good teacher but I want to become a great teacher.

One area that I would like to improve in is increasing my knowledge of diverse cultures and utilizing it in my classroom. I am not just talking about the holidays and heroes of culture. I am interested to learn if any of you incorporate teaching with a cultural perspective in mind. I would love to hear you thoughts about this.

Kathryn Blair

Camden Pace's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Amy,

I feel that I am very similar to you. I also get nervous the first day each school year and always read "First Day Jitters" to my students. I am in my fifth year of teaching third grade at a very diverse school. I still have days when I feel like a novice and then I have other days when I feel that I am closer to the expert level. However, I feel that I will never reach the expert level because I believe that I will always be learning and changing. I believe that I too want my students to like me but I do have to make sure that they know they can't walk all over me so I have to be strict the first couple of weeks. I feel that the more exposure that you have in the classroom the more comfortable you will become. I am sure you are moving up the novice to expert spectrum. I also think that novice teachers usually have passion, energy, and creativity. However, I believe that expert teachers need to have those three qualities as well. Your closing statement is beautifully written. I think that is a great motto to have and keep in mind. All students need to be held to high expectations however, the expectations have to be obtainable. Our students should never feel like we gave up on them and that is something that every novice and expert teacher should live by.

Discussion How to protect yourself from lawsuits?

Last comment 6 days 1 hour ago in New Teachers

Discussion The Inundation of Inexperience

Last comment 2 weeks 5 days ago in New Teachers

blog 7 Learning Zones Every Classroom Must Have

Last comment 3 weeks 4 days ago in Learning Environments

blog Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces

Last comment 1 month 1 day ago in Back to School

blog 7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!

Last comment 1 week 4 days ago in New Teachers

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.