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The Slump Revisited
This e-Newsletter provides advice, insights, and suggestions helpful to mentors, lead mentors, mentoring and induction program coordinators, directors of professional development, and school-based administrators as they strive to support new teachers. The focus this month is on supporting new teachers during the time of the year when self-doubts and workload cause them to question their decision to become a teacher.
It’s that time again. In the life cycle of new teachers, this is the time of year when their moments of frustration, doubt, fatigue, and anxiety crescendo and they ask, “What was I thinking? Why did I ever think I wanted to be a teacher?”
As I wrote earlier, one of the most important actions mentors can take is to acknowledge the reality and significance of these feelings. We need to explicitly let new teachers know that they are doing a great job, provide clear examples of that good work, and that we all go through these stages of self-doubt. We also need to make plans to support new teachers proactively and reactively as they move through these trying times.
One support strategy that has proven very successful is You’ve Got Mail! In a new teacher support session participants describe a situation with which they are struggling on the outside of an envelope. Other new teachers, mentors, or colleagues write suggestions on index cards and place them inside the envelope. If they do not have suggestions they write empathy messages. After several people have had the opportunity to provide suggestions, the envelope is returned to the new teacher. Complete directions for organizing this exercise are attached at the end of this newsletter.
Another strategy that establishes the norm of asking for and providing one another assistance is On My Mind. At a new teacher support session, provide new teachers several index cards and have them write a question or describe a problem, one to a card. After issues are listed, have the participants circulate the cards around the room. As other new teachers read the cards, if the question or situation is one that is of concern to them, have them put a color dot on the card. As the cards circulate some will end up with lots of dots. This way, consensus about the issues of most interest is reached and the group can then take several approaches to identifying ways to address the concerns. One popular approach is to write the issue or concern at the top of a piece of chart paper. Place the new teachers in small groups and have them engage in a Graffiti exercise to generate possible ways to handle the situation. Once the charts are completed, collect them, create lists of the suggestions, and email them to all the participants.
At this time of the year new teachers often report that they are struggling with planning, feel lonely, and are unable to find the time to plan or collaborate. One way to maximize time and build a collaborative culture is to engage in parallel planning as suggested by Leslie Vecchiotti of Palmyra-Macedon CSD, New York. Since both new teachers and the mentors need to plan, in this approach they simply sit side-by-side and do their own planning. As questions or great ideas arise they can share them with one another. One regularly scheduled hour after school each week spent planning together can really make a difference.
Two other recurring issues are mentioned by new teachers at this time of the year: paper work and recognition. They find the amount of paperwork overwhelming. One of the best gifts we can give someone who is buried in piles and piles of disorganized paper is an hour of our time working with them, digging through the papers, tossing what does not need to be kept, and sorting the rest. Arrive with a big garbage bag, file folders, and a crate for sorting to support this effort. In fact, a three-hole punch and a couple of old binders might be useful as well.
The need for recognition comes amidst all the support and suggestions mentors and coaches are providing. New teachers sometimes bemoan the fact that they receive far more suggestions than they can possibly absorb and little feedback on what they are doing well. It is essential that we monitor the quality and quantity of the suggestions we make and that we are purposeful about including acknowledgement about performance in our interactions with our protégées. Appropriate recognition could be based on the teacher performance criteria. Use the stem “I noticed that…” and complete the sentence with phrases like: you accessed prior knowledge, you paused for processing, you surfaced misconceptions, students made real world connections, or students asked each other clarifying questions. Statements like these are empowering because they note important teaching and learning practices without moving into the realm of “I liked it when you…” Use of the “I noticed that…” stem provides a perfect introduction to follow-up reflective questioning. The truth of the matter is, sometimes we need to simply provide a pat on the back. As Grant Wiggins says, “Praise keeps us in the game; feedback helps us grow.” Let’s be sure that we focus not only on helping new teachers grow but also on keeping them in the game. This is especially true at this time of the year.
Note: You’ve Got Mail!, On My Mind, and Graffiti are explained in depth in the Mentoring in the 21st Century® Facilitator’s Handbook, a component of the Mentoring in the 21st Century® Resource Kit. You’ve Got Mail is attached to this newsletter as a PDF file.
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Rutherford, Paula. “The Slump Revisited” Mentoring in the 21st Century® Issue XVII. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2008 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.