My tardy comments to a guest article placed on the Thoughts on Public Education website run by John Festerwald follow. The article was posted in December 2011.
Ms. Moir’s “Phases of First Year Teaching” model does a great job depicting a first year teacher’s attitude through the first six months.
Since I am a first year teacher, I can only attest to the August – January portion of the curve. As a former engineer, I must add that the real curve is much noisier with many of the phases of the year-long cycle occurring daily, sometimes multiple times, reflecting the frenetic experience of this first year teacher. However, her smoothed curve makes it easier to see the underlying, longer term trend over the first year, which effectively conveys her ultimate message: it gets better. And at this juncture in the academic year, I now believe it!
For those of you who have not taught in a primary or secondary school setting, please think twice before you cast stones in a teacher’s direction. Teaching is the most challenging job I have ever held in my thirty years working, and I am no slouch having worked for start-ups and sleeping on my office floor, or commuting via regional jet multiple times in a week for years in a row (a three-hour commute each way, with a full work day sandwiched in between). Much of my challenge teaching is a result of the newness of the role, however, a significant amount is also due to public education’s arcane structure, systems, processes, and roles, some of which rests squarely on the teaching profession itself. As an example, I was chastised twice in my first two weeks for not following the proper procedure when requesting a couple of pens and a white board eraser. Needless to say, I have rarely requested anything since.
Also, as someone who teaches algebra 1, I naïvely thought that there might be a tried and true “course in a box” available to me that contained daily lesson plans, activity worksheets, assessments, etc. which was honed after decades of use. No such resource existed. Although, I am most appreciative of the algebra 1 teacher edition textbook and the student workbook, without which I would be even further stressed each day as I envision what needs to be covered in the next day or two. As someone who spent most of three decades in high-tech, I felt as if I traveled through both time and space when I started teaching, landing in an environment reminiscent of a visit to a circa 1970’s DMV on one hand, and like a new start-up with one employee, you, and success rests solely on your ingenuity, commitment, and desire. And while many of the individuals within a district care tremendously, and help when and where they can, they are also stretched very thin, and hamstrung by a century-old architecture for educating our youth.
By the way, Ms. Moir’s comment about mentor teachers and induction programs is directionally correct, in my experience. Having someone to talk to about your challenges, or to stop by and offer an unsolicited, encouraging word can be powerful. At the same time, I question the descriptor “high-quality” for mentoring and induction programs. I do not question most of the people involved with these programs, mind you; they can be terrific, of the highest quality, and with the sincerest intent. However, the induction program itself is more of a loadstone around, than a load off of, a first year teacher’s shoulders with nonsensical requirements to collect dispersed, disparate information which should be provided to first year teachers on or before their first day teaching rather than compiled by an overburdened first year teacher as if the act itself provides a deeper appreciation for the content.
While I understand that many of these requirements are part of an induction program due to the many stakeholders involved in, and concerned with, the induction process to include federal, state, and local departments of education, districts, boards of education, schools of education, community groups, teachers unions, elected officials, education pundits, the public writ large, and etcetera, it nonetheless is an ineffective, and grossly inefficient, instrument for its purpose, at least when coupled with the sink or swim rite, through which new teachers must pass. In a scene that reminded me of a World War II movie, a colleague told me recently they did not bother learning the names of new teachers like myself until they made it past their first two years. Nothing oozes encouragement like that!