The first year teaching can feel like trying to complete the LSAT while running a marathon, all under constant threat of bear attack. A different approach to supporting first-year teachers is needed, stat.
Talk of how the first year of teaching is akin to sheer survival can be found everywhere. Back in mid-April, The Atlantic ran two stories two days in a row on just that topic: The Exhausting Life of a First Year Science Teacher and The First Year of Teaching Can Feel Like a Fraternity Hazing.
The opening paragraph of the first article is a good indication of what the typical daily experience of a greenhorn feels like:
“By October of his first year teaching, the reality of Amit Reddy’s new job was clear: He would not be getting much sleep, and any he did get would be interrupted by bad dreams and anxiety about his classroom.”
From my own experience, this is all too true.
Much of the struggle stems from the 90-degree learning curve of being in the classroom. Navigating the emotional realities of investing in 50 – 150 young people, learning how to interact with them, keeping them focused, engaged and in order, as well as, you know, actually teaching them something, feels…
Like trying to ace the LSAT while running a marathon alongside the perpetual threat of a bear attack.
I hit some personal lows that first year teaching as a result. The human toll of what the classroom demanded can have mentally unhealthy consequences. I slept little. I drank, perhaps. I cried… um, daily?
I had never felt so incompetent. But even more debilitating was an unavoidable truth:
There was no chance that I would get my act together in time to give my students — these beautiful children who I loved so much — the kind of transcendent English class they deserved, much less even the basics they needed.
In rethinking how we run schools, the plight of the first-year teacher needs serious attention.
We don’t leave medical students during their residency stranded to their own devices. There’s a support system in place.
We need the same for teachers. Here is one idea:
Co-teaching, or administrative support, for the first three years
One of the harshest wake-up moments I experienced my first year teaching was that most of my time got spent outside actual lessons or lesson planning.
A teacher is not just responsible for standing in front of kids and pontificating on the finer points of their preferred academic subject.
Their job additionally includes:
- All their own secretarial work (making and ordering copies, taking attendance, signing formal paperwork, organizing student papers and projects, etc.)
- All their own Human Resources (emailing and calling parents, responding to parental contact, scheduling meetings between students, parents, principals, and sometimes teacher cohorts to discuss behavior and behavioral improvement strategies).
- All their own Interior Décor (everything from class artwork, long-term syllabus schedules, student-progress charts, and other paraphernalia that is expected up on the walls)
- All their own Motivational Speaker duties (contrary to ideas in certain non-teacher circles, getting angsty young people excited about Chemistry or Mark Twain is actually NOT an emphatically straight-forward task)
There are more and other extracurricular duties, but I’ve been out of the classroom three years now, so my memory is fading a bit.
With just the above-mentioned responsibilities in mind though, it is easy to see how splitting the tasks would allow a teacher to focus on their most important job: creative, engaging lesson plans that pack the most learning punch.
This co-teaching strategy would be costly, no doubt. It would require doubling up the number of teachers currently employed. Additionally, the way responsibilities are shared could create HR problems of its own.
Another idea? Each teacher gets a sort of “aid,” so the administrative duties could be split amongst several instructors. Maybe a new position could be a kind of shared “Teacher Secretary.”
Look, any help would go a long way in improving teacher morale, and thus keeping teachers…. yeah, teaching.
Photo: Flickr/Micah Sittig