Volume II Issue II
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Supporting New Teachers
An alarming number of new teachers leave the profession either during or after the first year of teaching. Although salary, teaching conditions, and student behavior impact their decision to quit teaching, the reason given most often by teachers is isolation. They simply felt alone in their struggle to “make it.” As I reflect back on my first year of teaching, I recall that I was essentially on my own. There were no mentors and no real structure in place to provide support for new teachers. I went to my room, I planned in isolation, I figured out the rules of the school on my own, and I made my share of mistakes. It is because of this sense of isolation that I felt so strongly during my years as an assistant principal and principal that it was crucial to provide as much support for new teachers as possible. There are very few professions where this sense of isolation can occur. It should be paramount in the minds of principals to ensure the future of our profession by making a first year teacher’s experience a successful and rewarding one.
Studies have shown that teachers go through different phases during their first year of teaching. They begin the year idealistically thinking they can “change the world” by being just the right person who can inspire students to love learning. Reality soon sets in and it is often accompanied by discouragement, personal illness, struggling to keep up with planning and grading, and the realization that some students do not come to school excited about being there. The winter break often provides a respite for teachers to get much needed rest, to do some reflecting on what has occurred during the first months of school, and to come back in January with some renewed hope. Statistically many teachers rebound during the second semester and finish the school year in a relatively positive manner.
As we move into the second semester, it is a good time for principals to think about what has been done to support new teachers. Now is a good time to ask yourself, have I:
- Put in place a program that provides a mentor for each of my new teachers?
- Set the expectation high enough that the mentors should take their responsibilities very seriously, be available to the new teacher, and make instruction the highest priority?
- Personally interacted with new teachers on a regular basis to see how they were progressing?
- Visited the classrooms of novice teachers and given feedback to them that will let them know what they are doing well?
- Met with the new teachers and given them the support in areas where they need improvement?
- Conveyed a “you can do it” attitude that gives them encouragement, especially when they were not feeling very successful?
- Made sure that they have a wide spectrum of support from teachers who teach the same subject or same grade level?
- Given them my most important resource, my personal time?
As a principal I felt very strongly that it was my responsibility to continually learn the best ways to support new teachers, and to establish a solid mentoring program in my school. I felt that in order to do this, I needed to listen to fellow principals, attend conferences and workshops, and keep abreast of current publications. After reviewing many publications aimed at helping teachers, I concluded that the best publication for beginning teachers was Why Didn’t I Learn This in College? I made it a point to provide a copy for each new teacher and to use it throughout the year as I conferenced with them. A recent review of the new ASK resource, The 21st Century Mentor’s Handbook, makes me believe that it will be an invaluable tool for principals who are orchestrating a mentor program and for the mentors of new teachers. It is designed to help principals and mentors use the resources in Why Didn’t I Learn This in College? as coaching tools with new teachers.
I have found that listening to teachers, helping them think through their concerns, allowing them to solve many of their own problems through personal reflection, and sharing with them an occasional bit of wisdom has led them to a renewed sense of optimism and a true sense that the leader in the building wants them to succeed. We can guarantee that our profession will be in good hands in the future by making sure that our fledgling educators get off to the best start possible. It is a priority that we cannot afford to ignore.
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Supporting New Teachers.” Just for the ASKing! February 2005. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2005 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.