Teacher Leadership Subscribe to RSS

Fresh Start: A Novice Teacher Tries Again After a Tough First Year

| Mark Nichol

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.

see more see less

Comments (169)

Comment RSS
Jen (not verified)

Second Year and Feeling Lucky

Was this helpful?
0

I am in my second year of teaching and I feel extremely blessed. I teach in the Midwest, and would never be reassigned to such a drastic grade level change. Do those of you who mentioned such drastic shifts not have specific certifications? We are required to be certified for either K-3, 4-9, or 9-12. That way, we can specialize in our content areas and never be thrown such a curve ball of moving from middle school to primary grades.

I work in a very high pressure district. Most families are wealthy at my school and have very high expectations. This was the only thing that drove me nuts my first year, and this year. We are so lucky to be assigned a mentor teacher our first year. This teacher is preferentially in our same grade level and school. I could run right across the hall to mine. I feel I wouldn't have survived without mine. I do understand that overwhelming feelings, and I feel very saddened that no one was there to help save some great teachers from leaving the field. My principal asks me daily, still, if I need ANYTHING. She raises money to get us resources, etc. I teach 5 subject areas, tutor 6 sessions a week, am in Grad School, and work on the weekends part time. Even through the madness of my schedule and mess of paperwork, I have never once wanted to leave this field. The kids make it worthwhile. I leave school with a smile on my face every day, although exhausted, and look forward to my many tomorrows.

Anonymous (not verified)

When I first began to teach,

Was this helpful?
0

When I first began to teach, I too felt that I was just thrown into my job expected to sink! There was little assistance in helping me to learn the ropes of teaching. It was hard getting to a point where I actually felt like I knew what I was doing (about my 4th year of teaching). There should be more support with novice teachers, especially in the critical beginning stages.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wow, I can't believe how

Was this helpful?
0

Wow, I can't believe how many of you feel the same way I do. I am in my fourth year of teaching and had it not been for a teacher I sought out for assistance and guidance, I might feel like I have taken on more than I can handle. Many of you have stated how little real support you receive from your school and district. What a shame that something so obvious to us is continued to be overlooked by those who can help make the difference. Is it money concerns or what?

Anonymous (not verified)

Mentor

Was this helpful?
0

The other 8th grade math teacher at my school was my 8th grade math teacher. He was a great help to me during my first couple years. He would offer help whenever I wanted, and would stay out of my way if he felt I wanted that as well. I agree that a good mentor can make all the difference in the world, and I don't envy teachers that don't get a good one!

Annie (not verified)

We are very similar in our

Was this helpful?
0

We are very similar in our teaching situations. However, I started teaching first grade during my first year of teaching because that was the only job that was available to me. You're right, it is a difficult grade to teach and at the end of each day I was drained. Then I was transferred to fifth grade. I too was frustrated, overwhelmed, and feeling at my wits end well into my third year of teaching. And what's worst is that every year my contract was up because I'm still at a temporary status due to declining enrollment in the district every year. Of course that added more stress to my teaching. Talk about not feeling appreciated. I have to say that it does get easier, and remembering the positive effects you've made on students' lives definitely helped me to keep going. Maybe that grade, school, or district is not right for you, they are all different, but you have a passion for teaching and that's what you are good at. Give it a couple more years before you call it quits, you'll find each year is different.

Kacey (not verified)

3rd year and struggling

Was this helpful?
0

This really hit home for me. I am in my third year right now and I am struggling. There is so much stress outside of my classroom this year that I am started to feel like I can't even teach my students. I was always told that if I was in the same grade level for third year would be a breeze, but I have not felt "any breeze" come by yet.

I know I was meant to be an educator so I am going to stay with it. I recently just started my masters in education and I hope to learn new concepts and meet new people. I am even thinking about changes grade levels next year to switch up my confidence, but only time will tell how I feel at the end of the year.

I guess it was just nice to read how others feel the same way I do at times.

Annie (not verified)

My first year of teaching

Was this helpful?
0

My first year of teaching was overwhelming and difficult. I spent so much time getting ready for my class than I did teaching it. Also, I didn't get much help from the other teachers at my grade level, and I was too shy at the time to ask them when they were so busy. Luckily I had a excellent reading coach who helped me tremendously with organization and more importantly classroom management.

Then, my second year of teaching was challenging at first. I changed grade levels from first to fifth, so it was like my first year of teaching all over again. My class was the most difficult class to manage that I was the only teacher who would accept that position (I was the last choice since I was temporary). Again I struggled, but I had another awesome reading coach who helped me to better manage my class and helped me differentiate my lessons and activities. Teaching was getting easier, but I still needed a lot of help.

I too considered choosing another profession by my third year of teaching because of the overwhelming stress, but I had a passion There were really good days and really bad days, but with the support of my fellow teachers and principal I knew that teaching is best for me.

It is now my fourth year of teaching and I am still temporary because of the declining enrollment in our district. However, every year I am blessed to have another contract. I admit that teaching gets better and easier every year. That's not to say I don't learn something new, have more challenges, or am already an expert teacher. I am learning everyday and continue to focus on something new each year.

Devon (not verified)

As I strive to change lives...

Was this helpful?
0

I feel a sense of efficacy with your situation. At the time of my reading your Blog I am in my second year of teaching. I feel that this year is a crunch time for me. I love teaching and I feel that this is what I am meant to do for the rest of my career. However, I know that I have much to learn about self preservation in this world of education. I have to agree with many of the statements of the quite a few people. I work and live in a very high pressure district in the Midwest. Our curriculum standards are high and so are the expectations. I have come to use this information as motivator rather than something that will deter me from my chosen profession. I find that if I rise to the expectations then I will achieve great things in my classroom. The expectations are high in my district because they want only the best. If you want to run with the big dogs you have to be willing to work.

I have learned a few things from these big dogs that have drastically improved my teaching in the last year and a half. First, if you want to slide through on someone's coat tails as an educator and do what everyone else is doing then you will fail. You have be resourceful, looking for new ideas, and exciting. If you read about a cool lesson or a way to get a concept across to you classroom take the idea but then be willing to find your own way of presenting the material or adding your own twist to the lesson. Second never be satisfied with status quo. Now is the time that you need to look at it and see what you need to modify to meet the needs of your students better. Children always change and you have to be willing to meet their needs at all times. And third, love what you do. Come to work with a joyful heart. Build meaningful relationships with your students. It doesn’t have to be a dictatorship in your classroom. Democracy works give it a shot. If you empower your children with the love of learning that you possess then they will soar off into the sunset and achieve better than you ever imagined. I now step off my soap box.

Beth (not verified)

It sounds as though many of

Was this helpful?
0

It sounds as though many of us realize the need to support one another, but many of us have found it hard to find the support we need. I myself have had wonderful support during my first three years teaching. My fellow teachers helped me set up my classroom, and I have been mentored by the teacher right across the hall. We have team meetings each Tuesday to plan during lunch. I think that more schools would create programs like this if the veteran teachers felt supported themselves. The day to day stress of teaching can make it hard to give energy to others.

Anonymous (not verified)

What keeps us going?

Was this helpful?
0

This is my third year teacher and I must admit that I have questioned whether I should continue teaching. In fact, when it came up to end of the year evaluations, I told my principal that I was considering not returning to the teaching field. I felt overwhelemed with a difficult class and loads of paperwork for documentaion for spec. ed., behavior issue, social work referrals, and of course the actual curriculum planning. My principal talked me into staying and told me what a difference I had made thus far and that she was willing to support me in any way. THAT IS KEY! That day I actually received confirmation that teaching was what I had to do. I received a phone call form a parent thanking me for the differnce I had made in their child's life, and I thought about the progress that some of my studenst made that year. I went to school the next day and saw the faces of my students (despite the challenges) and I could not find a job that would be more rewarding for me than this one.

The faculty and staff and my school are so supportive. There is always someone I can turn to for help and my principal fosters that environment. It is unfortunate that many individuals quit. Many realize that teaching is not for them...there's no passion. There are only a few that have the ability to mantain in the face of adversity with not help. These few individuals pull through becuase of their love for the children and their drive to somehow make a difference and make it work. However, for those that quit because of frustration and lack of support something needs to be done. I agree that an effective support plan needs to be set in place for new teachers.

see more see less