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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Fresh Start: A Novice Teacher Tries Again After a Tough First Year

Mark Nichol

Editor / Writer

In my last entry, I recounted my challenging first year as a teacher. Here, I'll describe my second-year misfortunes, and my decision to call it quits after my third strike.

As my second year of teaching began, I felt a renewed sense of hope that I had chosen the right career. One week into the new calendar, however, the school district announced that, because of budget cuts, each school's most recently hired teacher -- me! -- would be laid off. Other district educators had been hired even more recently than I had, however, and the higher-ups told me I would be reassigned to another school to fill the position one of these people would vacate as a result of being sacked.

Parents throughout the district rallied in their opposition to this absurd plan -- after all, it would require many class rosters to be reshuffled -- and the administration somehow found another way to trim the budget. My position at my school was secure, but it was another awkward start to a school year.

I volunteered for the district's New Teacher Task Force and chaired a committee charged with preparing a model support program for newcomers to the classroom. After a round of after-school meetings, I proudly typed up the final draft of our report and handed it to the district administrator who facilitated the task force. Though he was a sympathetic and universally beloved fellow, he rewrote it drastically to ease bureaucratic digestion (basically gutting it), and nothing ever seemed to come of all our time and effort. I was crushed.

Again, I had many wonderful kids that year as well as a few who were great sometimes and difficult at other times and a few I grew to dislike but tried to treat fairly. Again, my classroom-management skills left something to be desired, and again I was buried under mounds of homework and class-preparation materials, and again I fell behind and despaired of ever mastering the art of teaching.

Still, at the end of my second frustrating, exhausting year, I was granted tenure. I accepted. But as I began my third year, I contemplated it being my last, and as the months passed, my resolve deepened. By spring break, I had all but decided to give it up. Regrettably, I told no one at school about my decision, and I didn't officially resign until midsummer, but when I did, I felt a sense of relief that surprised and saddened me. What of my bloodline? What of my youthful enthusiasm, my determination to be a vigorous, creative, progressive educator? I was a failure.

Not quite. Despite my poor classroom-management and organizational abilities, despite being overwhelmed by my responsibilities and flustered by my more troublesome students, I was popular with not only most of my own students but also many in other classrooms, and for every parent who complained to my face -- or, more commonly, behind my back -- about my class, another effusively thanked me for making his or her child's school year so rewarding and memorably enjoyable.

As every teacher must, I learned a great many things. Among them was that I might have succeeded in a less traditional educational environment, or with older students, or with a better system -- hell, any system -- established to support me and others in the first few years of our teaching careers. The significance of this last point cannot be overstated: It behooves every school and every district to establish and maintain a carefully considered and faithfully implemented program for recruiting, orienting, supporting, and retaining teachers.

Even now, more than fifteen years after the end of my crash-and-burn teaching career, many new educators fall through the cracks and decide that, despite their passionate desire to make a difference in children's lives, the systemic pressures, the degrading bureaucracy, the long hours, and the low pay are just not worth it. What a shame.

Have things improved since my short-lived public school career? If you're a relatively new educator, please share your experiences with us. If you're a veteran, describe the changes, if any, you've observed in new-teacher induction and mentoring over the years.

Comments (175)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

Ellen Moir, Director of the New Teacher Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz has a monthly column in the Edutopia magazine. See the answers to questions submitted by new teachers and submit your own questions to be answered in a future column. Here's the link to all the columns she's written thus far.

Leigh Ann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is a good idea for novice teachers to have support, because it is a very overwhelming job. In my state, we are required to complete an internship during our first year, as part of a support system. During the internship year, we are 'supported' by a team made up of a fellow teacher, an administrator, and a college education professor. Although it sounds like a good idea, it actually caused more harm than good, for me anyway. I had a difficult internship for reasons I won't mention, but on top of it, interns are required to complete a portfolio, and go through several observations. It was very difficult, especially for a first year teacher, on top of full time teaching. My second year was much better than the first. So, although I had a support system, I think I would have been more successful without it. I guess it is only a good thing, if it is done properly, but who is to say what that is.

Isabel Vieira's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is so great to connect with all you wonderful educators. I am very honored. I absolutely loved my first year of teaching. It was in 2002, and I was a fourth grade teacher at a private school. The teachers were appreciated by administration and parents. Parents worked hard to send their children there because they didn't want them attending the public schools (they were dangerous). Unfortunately, I had to move on because the pay was very little. I moved on to a public school position as a second grade teacher. It was a very hard year. Because I had a year under my belt, I wasn't given a mentor. I began in November, and I was the third teacher the students had seen and they didn't want anything to do with me. Needless to say, it was a very difficult and challenging year. I spent most lunch periods in my classroom, crying and wondering how I was going to make it. Luckily, I stuck it out and I'm having a great year heading the second grade inclusion classroom. I have the best students. So some advice--it does get hard..very hard. It doesn't matter if you are a first year or a veteran teacher, you will have your days. These kids depend on us!

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Lisa, Your experience sounds very similar to my sister's! She had a BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support System) person ask her if she was ready for "this". My sister was hired on in a very affluent neighborhood in Orange COunty, Ca. They even have a reality show on Bravo.... interesting. So much for wealthier communities being easier to teach in! Hang in there, and know that others have gone through what you have! Find a support person. I have to wonder where are our unions? I know CTA in California is a huge force, what do you have on New York?

Melissa Stottmann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark- Reading your entry felt like I was reading an entry of my own. My experience in my first, and even second year of teaching is so similar to yours. Like you, I also had so many issues to deal with that I felt as though I could not do my job while dealing with them. That first job was one of the hardest things I had dealt with in my life up to that point. I was not facing a lay-off like you. In fact, it was the opposite. Our school system needed so many new teachers due to the large number of people leaving the system. For this reason, we took almost any warm body. I did not feel like a professional, but rather just someone to throw into a classroom. I am sad for this experience that we both had to go through, but glad that someone else understands. It makes you wonder about all professions and what people deal with that we have no idea about.

Ebony Forte's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too have been teaching for ten years and I echo what you have already said, the job does not get any easier. Every year the challenges get more challenging and there is still little or no support. But, I made a decision a long time ago that I was not going to let the challenges stop me from doing what I was called to do. I was called to teach and that is what I do.

When I first began my teaching career ten years ago I was the teacher that was going to change the world. I believed in my students, their parents, my mentors, my administrators, the board of education - everyone. I truly believd that we were all in education because we wanted what was best for kids. I quickly learned that this was not so. I went home stressed many nights because I did not understand what was happening in my school, nor did I know how to change things. Struggling with these and many other very negative feelings, I made a decision that I was going to close my door every morning and do whatever it took for my students during the time that I was working with them. I decided to ignore the fact that their parents, their other teachers, and my administrators did not believe in them because those were things that I had no control over. I did just that, I closed my door and began to love, nurture, and teach my students. This made the difference for me.

I believe that had I not made this decision early on, I would not be teaching today. Nine years later, I still close my door and I still teach. For me that makes the difference everyday. It keeps me going and it keeps my students going. Despite what many other educators have said, and continue to say, I have discovered that my students want to be loved, and they want to be taught. I am not saying that everyone has the positive experience that I have had, and I am not saying that everyday is a good day. I am simply saying that what matters the most is what we do in our classrooms with our students.

I still face many challenges, but I have learned that stress and complaining does not help me to overcome the challenges. Beyond that, my stress and complaining does not make things any better for my students, it actually makes things worse. I have made a committment to being an educator and that is what I am going to do. I am going to stay in and stick it out because that is what I have been called to do.


Adrienne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I am a novice teacher that often goes through much of what you were speaking of above. There are some days (most) that I feel I have chosen the wrong profession. However, just as you did, I entered my second year of teaching with hopes that I will improve and things will get better. However, each day I still feel exhausted and warn out from my stress of planning and entertaining. I teach very young children, therefore, I constantly have to entertain them. I cannot simply read a story and ask them to go draw a picture and write a sentence or two about what we read. Instead, I have to write everything they want me to, and with 20 needy children, working independently is difficult for them to do.
Since, I have began my grad classes, I do feel more hope to continue struggling through teaching, because there has to be some light at the end. Everyone keeps telling me that it will get better, the planning will get easier, and I will not stress out as much. Sometimes I ask myself if, maybe I do not like teaching in a urban school district and the state demands are much harder on teachers in poor school districts. Possibly, it is the grade level that I am currently teaching, I am not sure. I guess I will just stick it out through my masters program in hopes that things really will get better.
Although, I am trying, I completely feel the same pressures and can see myself quitting this profession. I think the first thing that I will do is change school districts, and apply to one that is much closer to where I am living to see if I would like teaching in a suburban school district. After I try that, if I still feel this way, I may have to try another direction.

Craig's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can relate to Mark when he was talking about how discouraging knowing you are going to be "laid off" after the school year. I was in my first and second year of teaching when the principals sat down with me and a new teacher during late March and told us we were going to be laid of due to budget cuts. That was basically all that was said and somehow I had to find a way to finish the rest of the day and the rest of the year. Why would I continue to put in the extra time at school and do the extra things I was "not paid to do" when they were going to let me go anyways. I had felt betrayed and my moral was very low. I was fortunate to be called back after my first year only to have the same thing happen again after my second year. When I had enuogh and found a job at a school that was wealthy and had no budget problems. What a relief it is knowing you will have a job the following year. As far as mentoring programs, it is a necessity for every school to have some program implemented. College education does not prepare a teacher to handle all the extra things that occur during the school year. Coming from a school who has a program, what a relief it is knowing a mentor can be there to not only assist you with the classroom items, but also there to kind of guide you and let you know what is expected from the administrators.

Christy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I graduated college in 2003, I could not get a teaching position. I became a substitute teacher, instead. The next school year, I landed a fourth grade position at a Catholic school. To be honest, I was terrified of my new job. I had persistant doubts and fears about my ability to educate children. We have a support system for first year teachers in my state. Even though the year was challenging, I had support. My mentors encouraged me on the days I felt like a failure. I also had supportive staff who were willing to come alongside me. I am thankful for this. I firmly believe that there should be effective support systems for every new teacher.

Kesha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My first year teaching math at a high school level was GREAT! I had the best 3 classes so far! They did their homework, came to school, and no fights. The administration was on one page and it was stable. My second year was ok, still good with the student and administration. Now, third year is with a vengeance. The school administration has changed, the make of the school has changed, and we are having fights galore. The administration is not on one accord and it makes the campus not run smoothly at all. I have looked to leave education. Just relocating to another school is definably out of the question. If these things can happen here, they can happen anywhere. In my opinion, the freshman class is getting worse every year. I totally understand where you are coming from Mike. It is hard to give your all and feel like you are getting no support. Not to even mention the pay...it is not worth it. Like I have always said, you have to love your job and what you do, to be a teacher. We as teachers never do it for the money, because there is none. Don't feel bad that you did not make it. I have not quiet decided what road I am going to take yet, as to stay or leave. It is hard...so hard at times but I try to keep my long-term goal in my mind to keep me grounded in teaching. Yes the students depend on us, like Isabel stated, but who can we depend on if the administrators is not there. It is a circle of life and the circle is not complete, if it is broken!

To all the teachers out there, HANG IN THERE FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN OR NEED TO!

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