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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.

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Diane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Until reading this blog on new teacher mentoring, I was naive enough to believe that my school district had a good mentoring system. I now realize that although we have mentoring teachers, they have no guidance or training. The comment made about not knowing what to ask makes sense. What type of items are on the checklist? I am also interested in learning about a stipend for new teacher mentors. How does that program work? Does the mentor have extra time to visit the classroom? If not, would it depend on how busy that mentor was as to how successful the program became. I agree. With the new teacher ddropout rate so high, we should have a program for No Teacher Left Behind.

Xandra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Thank you so much for posting your experiences as a novice teacher. I am presently taking a class, Teacher As Professional, where we have been discussing the novice-to-expert teacher continuum. We have been doing a lot of self-reflecting on where we think we are on the continuum and and discussing ideas concerning what could be done to keep good teachers in the field. I stated that in my opinion, teacher education programs do not prepare teachers for the "real world". Therefore, it is necessary for districts to provide mentors and support to new teachers to help them survive the challenges of the first few years.

I remember my first year teaching. I was so excited about decorating my room and doing fun stuff with my students. It was not as simple as that, though. Classroom management was a problem and it just seemed as if I had students that weren't interested in learning.

I have been teaching for 10 years now, still going strong! I still face challenges but the small things don't bother me as much. Whereas, I used to want complete quiet, I enjoy noise, because discussion amongst each other is the key to learning. Thank you for your post and my first opportunity to respond to an interesting read. (This is my first time blogging).

Da-Ce''s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too remember my first year teaching. I left a state to find a teaching position. I received my first position within a week of my interview. I was ready to embark on the new adventure of education. I was going to use my classroom mangagement portfolio that I created in college. I had my Madeline Hunter lesson plans ready to execute.

My first teaching position was in the 4th grade. I was excited for all of one month and then I was trimmed to another school. Can you say "Cooley High" I was sent to a school where students threw desks and roaches were pets (Not in a container) I was happy to have a teaching position though. I stayed at that school for 3 years and endured teachers who were set in their ways, attempting to go where I was when I left college. So I was made to be quiet with any new ideas. I must say that through it all I learned how to maintain and be satisfied with myself. I knew ultimately what my goal was and noone could steal my joy. It also helped that my father would call me and tell me that "You have to love the children" Somedays I didn't and don't want to love the children but I am glad those days do not count.

Kathleen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Like you, I am taking Teachers as Professionals class. I agree with you about teacher education programs. I feel that that these programs train teachers to put on a "horse and pony" show, but fail to train them for the realities of teaching. In my first year,I was completely overwhelmed by paper work, testing, pacing calendars, grading, lesson planning, deadlines, etc. It seemed everything I learned in college did not really apply to the "real-world" of teaching. I think that preservice teachers should be required to student-teach for two years instead of a semsester. This would provide preservice teachers a realistic and worthwhile experience.
I have been teching for five years, and I finally feel like I can handle the pressures of teaching. Like you, I still face challenges, but I do not stress myself out over them. It is nice to know that other teachers feel the same way about the preparation that teachers receive in college does not paint a realistic picture for preservice teachers.

Danny's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Marks "adventure" in teaching reminds me of my first year. I wish I had the support I needed from my teammates and school, though I'm not sure I had the capacity or experience to do anything with it!

I took over for a kindergarten teacher midyear and it was a total disaster. I consider myself a pretty good teacher now, but as a kindergarten teach I was completely terrible. My confidence was pretty much non-existent, and I probably would have left the country two weeks in if not for my wife and 6 month old son who probably needed me here.

I later found that my perseption of the situation wasn't probably as bad as I thought, but I knew that my confidence and mental outlook required a much needed change of scenery. At the end of the year I ended up going to the school at which I did my student teaching. I had already established myself as a creative and promissing teacher through my student teaching and a few years of working in the after school tutoring program there. My mental outlook was totally revitalized and I was a different teacher.

I'm glad I came across this post because there is a new teacher in my building who is going through the same situation I did when I started. Our backgrounds and inherent abilities seem very different, but I do recognize that she needs all the help and support anybody around is willing and able to offer her.

Mandy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree that school districts need to provide a program for incoming teachers. My district has done that. However, I am a little disappointed. It seems that the first meeting I went to was well thought out, and the information and discussions pertained to me. In the following meetings, the presenters have been unprepared and seem unsure of what it is that we need. Although this is not my first year teaching, it is my first year back in 5 years. Since I quit, we have begun NCLB, all the testing, schools meeting AYP. These are areas I could use help in, not to mention I went from teaching K-3 to 7th and 8th grade math. It has been a learning experience to say the least. My district offers little opportunities in the way of professionsal development.

Laura's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mark, I had similar experiences during my first years, but was lucky enough to end up in a district that has great new teacher support. I was hired only a couple days before school started, with a class that had been 'carefully' created from the original 3 classrooms (I was a last minute 4th classroom addition). My class was full of behavior challenges and was a struggle. Thankfully it ended up being a very successful year for me, thanks to a very supportive principal. I was also transferred to a new school and new grade level after my first year, but fortunately not laid off. But that is the case with many teachers, it is very nerve-wracking to be the low man on the totem pole. If the numbers aren't there you are transferred or laid off.

Luckily I am in a district that has a great new teacher support. There is an institute with the sole purpose of supporting new teachers and helping them to be successful in their first and second years in the classroom. With this program we are given days off to participate in meetings and collaborate with other new teachers in the district. We receive training on everything from how to do report cards to tips on handling difficult student behavior. We are assigned a mentor teacher who visits us regularly, observes, makes suggestions and basically does everything in their power to ensure that we are successful and have a positive year. I believe that every district should have some sort of program to support their new teachers. It is shocking to hear how many people leave our profession after only a few years. It saddens me to hear about others who do not have support and who struggle to survive their first years in the classroom. The start of this career is extremely challenging and with no support I don't blame people for being overwhelmed and wanting out. Without the guidance and support I was given I know I would not have been nearly as successful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What I have learned after teaching ten years is the job does not get any easier. In the education field, there will always be new strategies to learn, new technology to learn, new requirements and guidelines to follow. All the "new" stuff can even stress out the veteran teacher at times. However as one grows from novice to expert, one recognizes what issues need the majority of their energy - they try not to sweat the small stuff.

I agree with you that the novice teacher needs support when beginning their career. I believe that the mentor/mentee program can be an affective way to assimilate the novice teacher to the world of education.

The biggest disservice to the pre-service teacher is the programs we all work through to acquire our teacher licensure. At least in my experience, I gained adequate knowledge in all areas of teaching except what a day in a teacher's life is really like. No one explained that it would be a true juggling act. I believe the pre-service programs need to be redefined. More time is needed in the same classroom for pre-service teachers to fully gain an awareness of what teachers face daily. They need to be taught how to manage this stress, how to deal with parents, administration, colleagues, etc., and how to reach out for help when needed. These valuable skills can not be taught through a textbook. Just like our students, adults learn best by being submerged in the experience. Pre-service programs must prepare our future teachers more effectively.

Michelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Mark,

I am new to the blogging experience but I have found it very enlightening to communicate and connect with other professionals.

I made so many connections while reading your post. After I graduated in 2005, there were no teaching positions available unless you had inside connections. By the middle of July, I began to feel discouraged. My confidence began to rise after I received an offer to teach 4th grade at a charter school. The principal stressed how challenging the students were but I was ready to stand up to anything. I was in for the ride of my life. There were fights almost every day and most of the students had no respect for any adults. Their only motivation was food or candy but I was a new teacher and could not afford this type of reward system. The school building conditions were very poor and the teacher turn over rate was very high. Morale was low and I felt like the teaching profession was a mistake.

I did not let this teaching situation get the best of me. By spring, I began searching for a job. I was teaching 4th grade but my licensure was Pre-K through 3rd grade so I was looking for the correct fit. I signed my contract in April and I could not wait to begin my new job. It seemed like the perfect job. A brand new building with state of the art equipment, parent involvement, mentor program for new hires, and a resource room filled with classroom supplies. This school is rated one of the best schools in Ohio.

Now that I am in my second year at a new school teaching first grade, I still feel some discouragement but it is the opposite. My school has to keep their high ratings and the student standards are set very high. Parents have a very competitive nature and one of their major concerns is identifying their children as gifted. If their children do not qualify, they want the classroom teacher to develop a gifted program specifically for their child. I have about eight parents who wish this for their children and it gets very frustrating. I never knew first graders took so many tests and had such a rigorous curriculum. My teacher friend and I often wonder what happened to just making friends and having fun. I can feel the stress coming from my students. They are consumed with their reading levels and test grades.

I have come to realize that no teaching situation is perfect. There are stressful student, parent, and curriculum challenges within them all. A teacher must be prepared to take on these challenges and make the best of any situation. At the same time, I wonder how long teacher's can sustain working in these stressful teaching conditions.

Jo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been in Education for 12 years and have seen difference in training and retaining new teachers. I am a mentor too and really do get to see the benefits of the program. Teachers have many responsibilities and duties not to mention all the data. Mentors are there to support them in the classroom with management, keeping up with responsibilities, and professionalism. Also, I have had the fortunate opportunitis to work in schools that have reading, math, and gifted and talented resource teachers. All four of these positions seem to help support all the teachers in the school.

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