Monday, September 17, 2012

Help for New Teachers

My loyal readers have probably noticed a general decrease in my number of postings in the past few weeks.  Now that school is back in session, I have been busy as can be with beginning of the year behavior problems and crisis intervention.  One thing that always comes up in the first few weeks and months of school is new teacher melt-downs. 

Teaching is not what it once was.  Picture the one-room school house with mixed-aged kids, smiling and grateful to be in school, obediently facing forward while the teacher (you) writes ABC's on the chalkboard.  A child raises his hand.  You call on him.  He quietly and politely asks, "May I please sharpen my pencil?" Ah, how lovely.

Now completely erase that image from your mind.  Replace that tranquil picture with a room packed full of rambunctious, overactive children.  There are too many children for the amount of desks in the room, so some children are sitting on the floor.  They don't stay on the floor long.  Instead, the decide to roam around the room.  You ask them to sit down.  They don't.  Maybe they don't even hear you.  You try again.  You really need to get back to teaching your curriculum, as your Kindergarten students will soon be given a reading assessment (no time for ABC's - parents should have taught them that).  They still don't listen.  Now, they are stabbing each other with their pencils.  Someone screams out, "Teacher! I have to use it!"  Ah, what a nightmare.

It has been estimated by the Alliance for Excellent Education that every day, nearly a thousand teachers leave the field of teaching.  Another thousand switch schools in search of better teaching conditions.  The rate of attrition is nearly 50% higher in poor schools than in wealthy ones.  This attrition rate has been estimated to cost schools 2.2 billion dollars a year (cost of recruiting, training, and replacing teachers).  Of teachers leaving the field, most cited lack of planning time, too heavy a workload, and problematic student behavior as the reason. 

These numbers are no surprise to me. Teaching is a hard profession, and it becomes more difficult every year. The stakes get higher, the hours get longer, the children become more difficult, and the pay is not compensatory.  You have barely a minute during the day to catch your breath, and during your "break" you are expected to meet with other teachers, plan lessons, grade papers, complete a mountain of paperwork, and maybe even supervise a couple of kids.  Most teachers I know stay late and take work home.  It's no wonder that new teachers often wonder what they got themselves into.

I recently asked my experienced teacher friends and readers via Facebook and Twitter what advice they would give new teachers.  Here are some of their suggestions sprinkled with some Dr. Momsie advice:
Life can be frustrating! But, don't give up!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Most of your colleagues know what you're going through and would be glad to watch your class for a minute, give you quick advice, or just be a listening ear.
  • Find a mentor teacher.  If your school provides you with one, you're lucky.  Use them.  If not, pinpoint that teacher who seems to have good behavior management, high test scores, or some other quality you covet and ask them for advice.  Most will help if they know you need it.
  • Keep in mind that the first two months are the hardest.  After you get the knack of things, it is easier.
  • Take advantage of lessons that are already done.  Don't try to re-create the wheel.
  • There are some great websites for new teachers like that share some practical, time-saving suggestions for new teachers.  Check them out in your free time (which is, like, never).
  • Remember that the student that is giving you the most difficulty is likely the one that needs you the most.  And, s/he may end up being your favorite student by the end of the year.  Don't give up on them!  You don't know the impact you're having, even on your most challenging days.
What else?  Do you have some encouraging words for new teachers?  Please share them in the comments below.

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