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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 (177)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Betsy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello,

I have worked in an office for most of my career but have been flat out bored and unchallenged as well as unfulfilled. So I decided to go back to school and get a MAT with a certification. I'm a little nervous though due to not starting out at square one with getting a degree in education - received my undergrad 11 years ago in Psychology. It feels like I'm starting somewhere in the middle which I guess I am since I will miss out on all the education classes as an undergrad. It has been great to read this blog and hear about the realities of being a novice teacher so that when I enter the classroom for the first time I will be armed with some knowledge about what to expect.

Hopefully I will work in a district where there is support for first time teachers. Does anyone have any other advice for me that would help someone who has worked in another career that will not have the benefit of being "young" and fresh out of college with a degree specifically in education?

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The Journey to Becoming an Expert Teacher (If you can make it that long)

I am in my 9th year of teaching and find myself to be somewhere in the middle on the continuum between a novice teacher and an expert teacher. I certainly remember what it was like as a 1st year teacher and feel fortunate to have had the support necessary to continue in this wonderful profession.
I began teaching in November, filling in for a teacher who had to leave due to family illness. My position was only part time but I spent just as much time at school as a full time teacher did, in additon to all of the work I brought home. My principal knew that I wanted a full time position so when one of the 1st grade teachers had to go on bedrest and her position became available in January, I became a full time 1st grade teacher. This transition was made easier by the fact that I was working with many of the same teachers, however my students changed. At the time I began teaching, each new teacher was assigned a mentor teacher in their building (who had taken classes and was receiving compensation to mentor a new teacher). Luckily, my team leader was my mentor and I was able to learn so much from her about lesson planning specific to the curriculum, scheduling, behavior management, time management, communicating with parents, and everything else you need to figure out on the job. However, I don't think that this is always the case and I think that is unfortunate. Interestingly, for me this caused a new transition. How would I survive without my wonderul mentor?
When I moved to another grade level my third year of teaching, I discovered how much I still had relied on my mentor and had to learn to make decisions on my own. For me one of the main changes that occurs as you progress from a novice teacher to an expert is a certain level of confidence. Through reflection on your experiences and further training and staff development you begin to trust your decisions and are able to stand behind them. For me this allowed a huge weight to be lifted off of my shoulders. I was no longer worried about having parents volunteer in my room because I knew how to utilize them effectively rather than worry if they were there to watch me. And if they were there to watch me, I knew that they would be pleased with what they saw. I think that 1st year teachers also lack the perspective needed to know how to priortize and what they can let slide. Because of this, they are so overwhelmed (as I was) because you can't get it all done, even if you worked every waking moment, there is always something else you can do to benefit your students. Learning how to work smarter and utilize your in school and out of school resources certainly comes with becoming an expert teacher. While I am not there yet, I look forward to continuiung to progress in my career and all of the learning opportunities I will encounter along the way. However, I don't forget where it all began and all of the help I had along the way to get where I am now.

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor when I began teaching 8 years ago. She was an amazing teacher, in my grade level, and trained to mentor. However, I know of others who don't have as wonderful of an expereience because the mentor is not in their building or not teaching the same curriculum and so you only benefit from one aspect. It seems that in my county the mentor training has taken a back seat to other things and I think that is unfortunate. It truly helps you make it through the 1st year, which seems an impossible task at times.

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Xandra,
I am also taking the same course at Walden and agree with your comments. My school has begun differentiating staff meetings and inservice trainings. Some information of course is pertinent to everyone but then we break out into groups to get information that is specific to our grade level, specific need, or interest (depending on topics and purpose). I think your needs assessment idea is great, and it is precisely what we do when we teach. We determine the strengths and needs of our students and group and teach accordingly. It only make sense that our trainings would follow suit. We would get so much more out of it and be so much more engaged if it were pertinent to our specific teaching needs.

Colette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a relatively new educator and wanted to let you know that things haven't really changed much. I completely understand why you left teaching because I sometimes consider it. If I could only walk into the classroom and teach my kids....and only teach.....I would be the happiest teacher in the world. However, it is everything else that I have to do that makes my job unbearable on some days. We are constantly "mandated" to do things that we shouldn't be doing in the first place. Although, I stay in teaching for my kids. They are the only reason that I am still here.

sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My first 2 years teaching were very unusual. Being a teacher is in my blood, and I am ashamed to admit it, but I was "given" my first teaching position purely based on connections. I was never interviewed, instead I slipped in threw the back door. Many of my friends thought that I was lucky. I was placed in a wonderful school, as a part of the "Cooperating Teacher" program. Luckier still, I was given my own "mini-classroom" (formerly known as the resource room) with 14 third-graders.
From day one, I knew that I needed to work twice as hard as my fellow 1st years to prove myself.
My hard work and long hours payed off and I was able to prove myself to the Principal and other staff members eventually. Five years later, I am finally beginning to feel like one of the team. In many ways I wish that I had been given the chance to interview and feel as though I was hired based on my own merit and potential.
I have many friends who went about getting their jobs in the usual manner, and many of them realized that teaching wasn't what they wanted to do afterall.
Though I was handed a position, and come from a long line of educators, I have realized that I truly love what I do everyday, and though some days are definately "do overs" as my students say; those days never out weigh the amazing ones.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After teaching for three years in a shamefully money driven educational setting, I switched jobs. I was nervous and skeptical about staying a teacher, but I have found a place where I feel right at home. The staff is wonderfully supportive to new members, the administration is behind their staff 110%, and the community surrounding it is stellar. I'm sorry that your experiences were not as ideal as most college graduates hope them to be, but I hope you have found happiness in your current career.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can relate to many in this bolg. The one thing I wish for first year teachers is to have a mentor who actually works with you. I have never had a great mentor, I can honestly say I never had a mentor. I learned everything on my own and it shows. I love to teach and I do it well, but I am very unorganized and I have no idea how to correct it. I will admit that I was and am scared to admit this but I would love to go back and start again having a mentor who worked with me. I missed that part of the experience and I would never wish it on anyone. Bless you all, you are all important!

Karmen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in my second year of teaching and I have felt and continue to feel the same feelings. I spent my student teaching in 6th grade Science and then spent the rest of that year as a long-term sub in 6,7 & 8th grade. I was very fortunate to get a job in the school district teaching 5th grade. I was so excited because I was teaching at the same school as my kids. My first year was tough because the team that I was teaching with were not the most helpful and my mentor was a 4th grade teacher. My mentor was helpful however she was not able to help wtih curriculum questions. In the spring of that year, I was pink slipped however called back to teach First grade. I could not believe it because I spent all of my time in upper el or middle school and had NO desire to teach first grade. Unfortunately I did not have a choice, so I went to first grade. I am telling you, I think first grade teachers should be paid more because it is totally exhausting being with 6 & 7 year olds all day long. Not only that, I come home to a 7th grader, a 5th grader and 2st grader of my own. There are days when I feel like I want to throw in the towel and call it quits however I just can't imagine that. I love teaching and have a lot to learn to become a master teacher, however right now I can say that I feel used, not paid enough and at my wits end many nights at home.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my fourth year teaching and when I first started, I was fortune enough to have a mentor. She was very helpful and knowledglaable, which helped alot. However, with or without a mentor I believe I would still be teaching, I have such as strong desire to help children and to make a difference that I was will to do what ever it took to succeed. I guess what I am trying to say is, if you what something bad enough you will do what ever it takes.

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