How Do We Treat New Teachers?

bambi2I’m new to teaching. Sometimes I wonder if it’s obvious to others in ways other than my optimistic smile and twinkling eyes. Talking with veteran educators every day is one way I test the waters, and feel out their perceptions of me. No matter the level of experience over me, rank, or area of specialty, I’m always treated delicately. They handle their conversation with me as a one might a small child who’s holding up a “picture of you” scribbled in abstract crayon shapes. Compliments and encouragement pour over the work, but I’m not sure they represent the efforts I’ve put forth. I defend what I’ve done and try to explain things, but after a while the kid gloves they hold me with are simply chaffing. That being said, there’s no way I can thank those people around me enough for their support.

ddaylewis_yellingNot everyone tries to baby new teachers though. The other camp of veteran educators is more founded in reality (none of that touchy-feely crap!). They walk me to the edge of a cliff and point down. “See that river? It’s full of hungry sharks and crocodiles waiting for a meal.” I don’t get the impression they want me to fail, just that they know I will. They know I’m in for it this year, that I’ll be burnt, scarred, tried, tribulated, and most likely that I will quit in the next five years. They’re only here of course because they coach a sport or maybe their spouse is the “successful” one.

Sheesh! What’s the new kid on the block supposed to think?

Over the past nine weeks, I’ve made at least one thing clear in my mind: the only way to survive is to figure it out for myself. As amusing and true as they are, I’ve got to put all of the optimistic platitudes and pejorative perspectives aside and focus on what is happening in my own classroom first. I certainly don’t plan on turning away the advice and kinds words or warnings of others, but I need to rededicate my focus to my own actions rather than worry about becoming the teacher my neighbor is (or isn’t).

This is about as stark a contrast as it gets!
bambi

I can’t change who my fellow teachers are or what they say to me, but listening to them is like looking into the future. It makes me ask myself, “where will I be in five years? what will I say to new teachers in ten years?” What they can teach me is invaluable, I know I won’t find their specific experience anywhere else. What I hope is that I will be open and ready to accept what I’m given. I hope not to have chips festering on my shoulder, hoping to spread the promise of tissue damage to the other limbs of my profession. I hope, but I also realize that I have to take action; hope is not enough on its own, however vital a component it is. How are you affecting those around you at school?

8 thoughts on “How Do We Treat New Teachers?

  1. Steve,

    You don’t have to go it alone, but you do have to be discriminating. Yes, there are seasoned teachers out there who are cynical and jaded, but there are others who choose to focus on the positives (and yes, there are positives!). If your school itself doesn’t have honest, yet encouraging mentors for you, look for a PLN that can provide that for you. There is a whole network of educators out here who can give you what you need.

    Good luck! I’m going to add your blog to my list of blogs to read – I think the perspective from a first year teacher will be fascinating.

  2. Believe it or not, my first reaction while reading was “wow there are people who care enough to even talk to you. Can’t remember anyone who ever stopped to give me any advice.

  3. I’m very glad to have a high quantity of support and feedback even if I can’t use or process it all. Contact with other teachers is the only way as a newbie to make big strides forward I think.

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  5. I remember subbing once for a science/ p.e. teacher when I was still in college. It was only a half-day gig, near the end of the school year. His lesson plans (copied verbatim):

    5th hour: collect textbooks
    6th hour: set in blechers (sic)
    7th hour: nothing

    That was the plan, even though he did have full classes all of those hours.

    Then, the next year when I got my first teaching job, I experienced the same kind of help. I guess that experience has influenced much of my thinking about mentoring.

  6. I think the biggest key is not only to know that there will be failures, but to embrace that reality. For me and my perfectionist tendencies, I burned myself out a bit. Sure, I’m still trucking along, but it’s harder to me to be as *consistently* excited and passionate as I was last year.

    I should note that I was working pretty much around the clock between planning (which often took hours because I was not satisfied with the most obvious or simple options) plus excessive grading.

    It’s SO true when they say to take care of yourself first. Over the summer, Jim Burke blogged about this. I can’t remember his exact words but it was something to the effect of not letting yourself be a “one hit wonder” but that we should plug away at improve gradually over time so that it is sustainable.

    I think sometimes as new teachers, we see so much when looking at other classes like you mentioned, that we want to fix everything at once! How tempting. And yet, what a huge mistake.

    Good post!

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