George Lucas Educational Foundation

There's No Such Thing as "Just a Teacher"

There's No Such Thing as "Just a Teacher"

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Happy Students Around a Teacher

I have been an educator for almost thirty years, which means I have seen new teachers come and go. Some were never meant to be teachers. Teaching, to them, was supposed to be a cushy job with hours from 8-3 and weekends and summers off. Hello!? I am thankful that it didn't take these people twenty, ten, or even five years to figure out that teaching was not their calling.

THEN, in walks a new teacher! S/he is the real deal and brings an aura, a presence, a passion, a willingness, a direction, and a drive to reach and teach. The first three to five years will make or break this great educator.

It is our responsibility as the lions to help the cubs to mature and become masters! We can help to acclimate them, help them grow, be available when they stumble, encourage and support them, and share our valuable experiences and strategies with them--the positives more than the negatives, please and thank you.

We can champion them to their calling by acknowledging effort and offering words that soothe their souls after a long, tiring, seemingly unappreciated day. When the feeling of insecurity (as a new teacher) about whether or not they did all they could do weighs on their hearts. 

Though student teaching does help, it is not enough. The first-year teacher is hired for a specific position, given his/her own classroom (yay!), and overwhelmed with curriculum and "other assigned duties." They are asked to write lengthy lesson plans for every subject taught each day of the week, to keep student grades updated (which absolutely needs to be done), to sponsor clubs or organizations or classes, to contact parents and explain the reasons for little Johnny's failing class (which terrifies a new teacher), to go to meetings and conferences, to give state and district mandated tests! tests! tests! (so they can fret about their upcoming evaluation--no stress there), and attend an immense amount of professional development on top of it all. 

Lions & Tigers & Bears---for sure! It can be a zoo unless zookeepers show up to teach the teachers about teaching. 

Let us roll up our sleeves and support and encourage these new teachers.
Let us be a path of light when the alley looks long, dim, and dark.
Let us invigorate them when the days are long and tiring. 
Let us share simple but effective tools, so as not to overwhelm the newbies anymore than necessary.
Let us remember that once we were first-year teachers.
Let us let give them space to teach with innovative ideas, with vigor and passion.
Let us guide them and teach them survival skills with the rigor a lioness teaches her cubs because she realizes that one day they will be on their own, without her.

If they fall and scratch their knees, so be it. They will walk again. We all learn from our failures, and they will learn skills they need to survive--skills not found in any textbook or on the internet--skills that only experience can offer.

Help them to remember the successes too--they are so very sweet. 

To those novice teachers:

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Teaching! There is no more rewarding profession. Our value is not monetarily based; it is worth much more, which you will come to understand (smiling). Let it be known that after 29.5 years, I would have had it no other way. Know that you will never be "just a teacher" in the young minds that you impress. 

Now, go forth and teach!  

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Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Michael, isn't that the truth. I don't know where I would be if it wasn't for the mentors early in my career.

cdtaglavore's picture
Early Intervionist Birth to Five Years Old

I was just telling a colleague the other day that I would not have been a successful teacher without the help of the mentor program, really awesome supervisors, and co-workers during my first few years of teaching. I will start my 14th year of teaching in August.

WafaMiqdad's picture

I wish all schools and teachers followed that kind of willingness to help new teachers. I am a new teacher and I was teaching a school which literally broke me down to the extent that I gave up. I was under so much stress that I lost almost 10 pounds, had bags and dark circles and was short of iron. I was losing my health. After four months of teaching, when I got my immigration and my husband and in-laws insisted on moving to Canada, I did not resist even for once. I was heart-broken on leaving my students in the middle of the year but if I hadn't done what I did, I would have landed with a nervous breakdown or a complete hatred for teaching. I do not know if I did the write thing or not. I was miserable for days for being selfish but then my health improved drastically. If and when I resume teaching, I would seriously wish for a mentor or at least colleagues who are willing to help and guide.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

I really don't think you were selfish, WafaMiqdad, to take care of your own health! We teachers do care so much that we often put our own needs after our students', but as you said, if you hadn't left, you would have ended up with more serious health problems, and that wouldn't have helped your students at all. I do hope you give teaching another shot -- and look hard for that mentor who will support you as you get back on that horse again. :-)

Wallerblmfld's picture
Educator, Mentor, Historian

Thanks for the article and reminder that we are ALL in this together! More teachers need to step up as leaders (teacher/leader). Mentoring is the essence of generating more qualified, enthusiastic educators.

Judi's picture

After 23 years of teaching I had the awesome opportunity to be a mentor teacher this year. I hope,( I think) I did a great job. Although not an easy task, it was rewarding to see another teacher grow and model your wisdom and skills.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Judy, maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that habits, skills, and practices picked up early in a teaching career really stick. A mentor therefore can have a huge impact on all the students the mentee teaches over the course of their career in addition to their own. That's powerful.


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