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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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A.H.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am very sad that teaching did not work out for Mark. I understand the frustration though. My first teaching job was 8th grade special education (inclusion) at the middle school I had attended as a pre-teen. This was not the ideal job, especially since my degree was in early childhood education. The whole situation was bad. I had a principal who let it be known if he wanted you gone (luckily he liked me),and an assistant principal who walked around yelling at all the teachers and belittling them in front of students and other staff members. Needless to say, I began to think I had chosen the wrong carreer. The students did not respect me. I came in in Decemeber and was young so they thought they could just walk all over me. Luckily, I was offered a transfer to third grade for the following school year. I was provided a mentor, but I was also pregnant with my first child. I was out for about 9 weeks total and while I was gone, everything about teaching language arts had been changed and I was clueless. I was so overwhelmed. I did not have much problem with discipline, my students were, for the most part, very well behaved. I came back to the same job this year and things are not ideal. We have such a large group that we have had to totally change our teams. The students are very hard to manage and I feel like I do not have the time to save the struggling readers. I am very frustrated with the year so far.

Mr. Ballard's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Reviving my profession,

After reading about the many disappointments and misfortunes for Mr. Nichols, I realized that I am not the only one that was not pleased with the way my teaching profession started. I was in a similar situation with budget cuts and last one hired is first one fired concept. To my suprise, I was offered another position. I am now in my second year with this school system. At first, I felt as if I was trying to become something that I was not suppose to become. My first year teaching, I was on a temporary contract filling a position for a teacher deployed to Iraq. I was promised so many things. I spent countless hours coaching football and helping out in any way. I was told that there was no position for me once that teacher returned. I was treated unfairly and cought up in beuracracy that was not in my favor. I remained focus and applied for other positions. I was hired immediately by my current school system. I was so bitter at first with how things were handled at my old school. I realized one day that I was in a better school system and all my hard work was not in vain. I am very happy at my current job and thankful for all the adminstration's efforts in giving me the opportunity for success.

Diane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

With the new teacher dropout rate being 20% within the first three years, a mentoring program is essential (Nieto, 2003). I had always thought our school did a decent job of mentoring new teachers until I read this article and some of the responses. We do assign a teacher mentor, but he/she is given no training, and no time/or compensation to sit in and watch or advice. It hit home when Lisa said that "new teachers cannot recognize the tings that they do not know and mentors can't mind read." Do you have any suggestions for a school where no training is given to the mentors?

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Please be encouraged that it WILL get better. My second year has been infinitely better than my first! Much of it is being able to look back on my first year and go "Oh! THAT'S what I was doing wrong!" and fix it. You'll know what to expect from your colleagues and your administrators, and you will have a better idea of what the students coming to you are able to do. Don't worry. You'll hit your stride. Becoming a great teacher takes time, and while some systems definitely help a LOT more than others, it IS possible. Set an example for your students and overcome your own hardships to become the best you can be!
Shannon
Viva La Musica!

Latrelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had a really rough first year. I began my teaching career in Pre-K. I had the typical first year group of students. I had some that were good, some that were not so good, and a few that were "Special ed." and had not been tested yet. The paraprofessional I had was no help to me. Most of the time, I felt like she was just sitting back watching me struggle. I will admit my classroom management was not the best. I had a principal that was new to the job and relied on the veteran teacher for a lot of her support and information. I did not have a mentor teacher or a teacher to go to for help. There were only six teachers in the school and three of them were new to the teaching profession. The special education students that I had in my classroom were not tested until Jan. I chose not to return to Pre-K the following year and spent the entire summer questioning if I would return to teaching. I felt like I had failed my students and myself. However, I did return to a different school in Aug. I now teach third grade and this is my second year. I love it. It has been a whole different experience. I have had support from the administration and my coworkers. I now know that this is where I belong and I was not so sure after that first year.

Xandra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jamie, I agree with you on something else! The inservices provided to us on 60% days are useless. It seems that if professional development was truly for teacher enhancement, our needs would be considered when choices are made concerning what inservices will be about. I spend the majority of inservice time thinking about all of the things I COULD be doing in my classroom. A simple teacher needs assessment could be done to make inservices more beneficial and productive.

Kenny Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently a third year teacher, but in my second school district. I understand your frustration with the feeling that the administrators are not on your side. Fortunately, I have had good experiences with my direct building principals, but there have been other administrators that seem to have lost touch with what it was like in the classroom. I feel a lot of this unfortunately comes from the pressure put on by the standardized testing and the push to meet AYP. As teachers, we have one subject or class whose scores we are responsible for. The administrators are looked at for explanation of all scores in their building. This brings up the importance of your idea that the principal should be working with us toward the well being of the students. Because of this weight on the administration, it seems that things would run more smoothly if there was more of a partnership with the teachers.

Roberta's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been a teacher for less than a year. I graduated last December with a degree in special education. I thought that I was fortunate when I was hired by my school district in February. Well in March was I told that my employment would be terminated in June because an older teacher in the district had bid on my job before I came. I then waited all summer long hoping to return after I was told on the last day that the teacher may not take it. Well I got the job back but with a new principal. I had to fight for a mentor since I was technically new and no one had explained how to do things the spring before. I had been fortunate that an older teacher would come in and I could ask her what to do with paperwork as it came to me. Now I'm dealing with no discipline being handed out. I mean a 30 minute lunch detention for being called a name. I have decided that I will not return to the district next school year and am looking into jobs in other fields.

AH's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am very sad that teaching did not work out for Mark. I understand the frustration though. My first teaching job was 6th grade special education (inclusion) at the middle school I attended as a pre-teen. This was not the ideal job, especially since my degree was in early childhood education. The whole situation was bad. I had a principal who let it be known if he wanted you gone ( luckily he liked me), and an assistant principal who walked around yelling and belittling teachers in front of students and coworkers. Needless to say, I began to think I had chosen the wrong career. The students did not respect me. I came into the job in December and was youngso they thought they could just walk all over me. Luckily, I was offered a transfer to third grade for the following school year. I was provided a mentor, but I was also pregnant with my first child. I was out for about 9 weeks total and while I was gone, everything about teaching language arts had been changed. I was so clueless and totally overwhelmed. I did not have much problem with discipline, my students were, for the most part, well behaved. I came back to the same job this year and things were less than perfect. We have such a large group that we have had to totally change our teams. The sutdents are very hard to manage and I feel like I do not have the time to save the struggling ones. I am very frustrated thus far, but still believe I am in the right profession for me. Nothing worthwile ever came easy!

Erica Houle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to say, it is somewhat of a relief to hear someone else share some of the same frustrations I feel day to day. I have spent my first 2 years of teaching in a charter academy with little to no mentoring or assistance for new teachers. I have clawed my way through year one, learned where I made mistakes, tried to correct them, and in the midst of year two, still can't seem to keep my footing. I try so hard, and I still feel like I am drowning. I hope against hope that what doesn't fit is the school environment I am in, because I am so afraid to discover that what doesn't fit is my chosen career.

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