In the toughest time of year for new teachers, encouragement helps
Ask a few experienced teachers you know why they chose to teach, and you’ll get a sense of the optimism and enthusiasm that leads so many bright, energetic, devoted new teachers to the profession. But talk to a first-year teacher right now, and you may be surprised to find yourself in a conversation focused more on self-doubt and frustration than how he or she wants to change the world.
Since they first set foot in the classroom this past fall, new teachers across the country have been quietly struggling – too often in isolation – to meet their own high expectations, as well as those of their principals. They’ve lost precious class time managing student behavior. They’ve spent sleepless nights wondering how to meet each and every need of each and every student. They’ve worked hard to create engaging lessons that meet state standards. By early winter, few have seen results from their hard work. In fact, it’s around this time of year we at New Teacher Center hear from new teachers who feel guilty about letting their students down and who, consequently, start to talk about quitting.
Their frustration is disheartening, even more so since it’s not uncommon. So many new teachers start the year feeling confident about what to teach, and then find themselves totally unprepared for how to teach. Right now they’re at their lowest point, struggling just to keep up.
In my article, “Phases of First-Year Teaching,” I describe how first-year teachers move through several phases: from anticipation before they begin, to survival in the first month, to disillusionment in early winter, to rejuvenation in January, to reflection in May, then back to anticipation over the summer.
It’s important to let new teachers know it will get better, and soon. First-year teachers who work with a mentor as part of a high-quality new teacher mentoring and induction program are at an advantage. A mentor, an accomplished teacher trained to coach beginning teachers, provides the exact support new teachers need to thrive in their classrooms, to remain teaching, and ultimately to improve student learning. As new teachers hit the Disillusionment Phase, mentors can guide them through it with proven strategies and reassurance that they’re not alone.
In this video, elementary teacher Dana La Rue describes the difference her mentor made during her first year: “My mentor was like a light that helped guide me through. I felt like she was giving me that light, and then I could give back some of that light and that energy to my students.”
Hearing stories from teachers like Dana brings into focus a critical need in our schools. We must dramatically change how we bring new teachers into the classroom by making sure each has access to a support system designed to help them become the incredible teachers all students deserve.
But we must also make sure every first-year teacher we know hears these three words: It gets better.
Ellen Moir is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit organization that she founded in 1998 to improve student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders, especially in underserved areas. Today this organization has a staff of over 150 who work closely with educators and policymakers across the country to ensure that the nation’s low-income, minority, and English language learners, those students most often taught by inexperienced teachers, have the opportunity to receive an excellent education.