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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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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a first year teacher and I am already looking forward to a nice, fresh start with my second year! This year has been a nightmare. I have a mentor who doesn't even like me. There is so much competitiveness on our grade level between the new and veteran teachers. I am still trying to figure out why because I have no clue what I am doing! There is nothing to be jealous of. I struggle each day just trying to jeep my head above the water. Our district's teacher induction program is literacy based, and I feel like it is more of a headache than a help for me. It just adds to my workload. After reading about your experiences, I am not so sure that my second year will be any better!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel terrible for your friend. She did her best to make the most of a difficult situation. It is unfortunate that the parents (& staff?) were more concerned with her lack of classroom decorations than how things were going in the classroom. It's a matter of common courtesy to see how the new person is doing. I hope she is doing better where she is now. :)

Shiloh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel your pain. I thought I was a shoo-in for an elementary position this year; I knew all the right people, had subbed in the district for several years, knew many of the teachers & staff personally, and had the middle school principal & a teacher write letters of recomendation for me. I didn't get the job because they wanted the lone man who applied to get the job (there were no men in the building).

Good luck to us both :)

Suzanne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can understand where you are coming from. When I began teaching I was hired to job share part time(two teachers in one class). Three days into the school year, the other teacher took a job in another district. While I was, and still am, gateful to be teaching full time I had to take home the entire curriculum and figure out how I was going to make it through. My first year had its ups and downs but I was lucky. One of the other teachers was new to 5th grade as well. We leaned on each other and made it through our first year together. But I often wondered if I would have made it without her. I was never given a mentor teacher and I too wonder where is the support for novice teachers?

Kimberly E.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello,

I am an 8 year teacher in the primary grades, and I love it, now more than ever.

This is my first visit to a blog. I am a graduate student at Walden University, and my assignment is to visit a blog, and this blog is sure one I would like to enter in on--perhaps to offer a word of encouragement to new teachers.

I first want to say that my first years of teaching were horrible, and the thing that kept me there and still loving it was the kids. I love children and that is why I am a teacher.

However, my first year, was especially the hardest. My school had no textbooks, so my lesson plans had to be created out of thin air, which took me hours every weekend. Other teachers always seemed too busy to help me when I needed it, and that's if I could even find a minute to ask. Many students and their parents were non-English speakers, no parent communication was little to none. These parents also were not involved probably because they did not feel comfortable participating when they were not able to speak English. Then, the janitors hated me because I was at school every night until after dark, just trying to survive. These are just a few problems that I identify with all of you new teachers on.
Believe me when I say that I definitely identify with you.

Nonetheless, I can say that sticking it out is definitely worth it!!! The more I teach the more I love teaching. Just hang in there, and as you may have heard before, teaching does get easier. Although you always have a tremendous amount of responsibility as a teacher, you learn to cope better, you build a repretoire of teaching strategies and resources, and you find what works for you. Every year gets easier as you move along the teaching continuum from being a novice to becoming an expert teacher.

The rewards for teaching do increase along the way, and even though it does not seem like it in the beginning stages of teaching, every year you will feel more and more competent at being a teacher.

I do think it is sad for veteran teachers to be competitive with the new teachers. That makes for a miserable environment. I never experienced this problem during my first years. The teachers around me did want to help me, but they and I were just too busy. My suggestion is to just let them be, and shut your door and teach. Focus on the positive, and you will be glad you stuck it out.

In my graduate class, we have been assigned a very interesting article on the very topic of teacher burnout. You may want to check it out at this website: http://www.ericdigests.org/2004-1/burnout.htm

Furthermore, I have a helpful website, teachers.net, you can visit, and it is a very helpful teacher chat zone. I wish I knew about this my first year. You can ask any questions to teachers nationwide, and recieve responses within seconds. For example, I needed homework ideas when I began teaching kindergarten the first time, so I posted a message on this, and I had at least 3 responses within about 5 minutes. Anything you need help with is here. Just ask and you will get help fast.

Best Wishes!

Reference:
Article: Wood, T., & McCarthy, C. (2002, December). Understanding and preventing teacher burnout. ERIC Digest (ED477726). Retrieved May 24, 2007, from http://www.ericdigests.org/2004-1/burnout.htm

Danielle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe it all starts with where you are teaching. If you are in a supportive school, with supportive staff and parents it isn't as bad as it seems. This is my second year teaching in a private special ed school. I absolutely LOVE it!! We have the best staff support and the best parent support. Yea there are days I go home and say I don't want to go to work tomorrow, but honestly in the past year and 3 months I have been teaching I can probably count on one hand how many times i've said it. I think its the nature of the beast. Kids aren't perfect and neither are we, we have to go with the flow. And take it a day at a time especially in a special ed situation.

Rachele's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach in an inner city school in MA. Our school system until last year, has gone four years without a contract. We have had to fight for everything that we have until this point.
This is my fourth year teaching, yet sometimes I still feel like a novice. Part of the process to achieve a higher degree is to meet with a mentor that is provided for you your first year; I am still waiting to meet mine. I have had to rely on my colleagues for insight and informtaion regarding any issues I encountered. I am grateful to them for making my first couple years a little easier.
Many times throughout the year, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Sometimes I lose sight of why I chose this profession in the first place. I question my career choice and often ask myself "Can I do this for the next 30 years?" I still do not have an answer to this question.
I know that I chose teaching in an inner city school because I wanted to give children opportunities that they never thought they would have. I wanted children to know that while society places labels on them of failures, I wanted to show them that there is a place for them in this world and I would help them find it. I face struggles everyday, disgust of politics and lack of support from the system. I encounter challenging students who push the limits and teachers who have simply just given up.
Despite all the negative that surrounds me in my career, the simple luxuries are what keeps me going for now. The smile from a passing tests score from a child who is used to failing. The cards for all occasions saying "you're the best, we love you" and the commonly used title of "my adopted mom." I love my students and when all else is looking dim, they are ultimately what keeps me going. My support comes from within myself and my classroom.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can remember my first three years of teaching feeling as if I was drowning and constantly gasping for air. I do not think the novice teacher realizes all of the responsibilities that come with teaching. It is a very challenging occupation. I do not think teaching gets easier because the same responsibilities are still there year after year. I think we gain more knowledge each year on how to better handle and implement the responsibilities.

Jeff Hammer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you about teachers having more demands today than in the past...from many different directions. However, but I feel that parent expectations for their kids are on the skids, but their expectations for us, as educators, are on the rise. I've seen a gradual progression of parents expecting the schools to do what was normally expected of parents. Discipline is an example. The other day, a parent called me on the phone demanding me to keep his son in for recess because he didn't finish his homework. I would normally do this anyway, but at no time did he express any indication that he would offer the boy any consequences at home.

I would not say that my expectations as a teacher are declining. I still try to do the best I can with the time and resources that are available to me.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading some of the comments on this particular website, it reassures me that I am not alone in the thoughts that I have as a teacher. Sadly, when I was going to college to complete my teaching degree, so many people would advise me to seek another degree to go along with my teaching degree due to their insights that they had about teaching. It is not that I am looking for negativity about the teaching profession, but that was a comment that I heard more often that what I wanted to hear. Now that I am graduated and have been teaching for several years, there is alot of truth to those comments. Sometimes, my students ask me how much I get paid, and I respond by saying,"not enough." In my opinion, teachers should be paid the salary of any doctor or lawyer. I feel that is how much time that I put into my profession.

I feel that it is very important in life to constantly tell oneself, to stay positive, no matter what negative circumstances we have to go through. In a way, I feed off those sorts of things, like when someone tells me I cannot do something. I guess that is the athlete and competitive spirit in me, because I take those "you can't" comments and turn them into my personal "fuel," I guess, to succeed. I have had th opportunity to work at many different jobs, and actually held off from teaching for a while because I was somewhat scared of people listening to a 23 year old teacher and thinking, "what would a 23 year old know?". I had no faith that it would happen, so I waited until I was about 26 to start teaching. In the many jobs that I have worked, from cleaning motel rooms, to waitressing, to management, to teaching, there is always going to be those "bumps" in the road, and I just came to the conclusion that I would deal with those "bumps" and learn from them, no matter how hard it may be. So, all that I can say, is that I can relate to many of the comments on here, and life does not seem fair sometimes, and we do want to quit, but the real reason that we are in the classroom is for the kids. We may beat our head off the wall sometimes thinking about reaching a student educationally, but it is important to know in our hearts that we are doing everything that we can to "do the right thing," and that is all that matters, even with the people that may disagree with us whomever they are.

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