We lost another one. Another new teacher has left the building, the classroom, and the students. But we didn’t just lose a teacher. A teacher has lost her faith and trust in education. Every time I watch this go down, I recall the scene from Peter Pan and sadly hope that someone out there would start clapping in support of teachers. Is there anyone out there? Because our Tinker Bells are dying.
Last year after a teacher quit at this time of the year, I wrote a practical blog article for first year teachers, trying to aid in their retention in the field of education. This year I am writing again, but this time I am writing everything that no one says.
The first year of teaching can eat you up and spit you out on the side of the road of life. It’s not for the faint of heart. You can only survive with faith. There are three elements of faith: you, others, and the unknown.
First, have faith that you can do it. Don’t second-guess yourself and don’t let others second-guess you!! So what if you’re a new teacher? Have faith that your judgement and abilities have been fine-tuned by years of higher education, and be confident. Trust that you know what’s best for your students. Don’t let the overwhelming amount of curriculum and required time frames for subjects take away your creativity. Find a balance to keep the individualistic sparkle of YOU in the rigid requirements of education. Students want to hear and see YOU. Be confident in that. Just don’t let your confidence grow into a monster called Arrogance. The way you fight off this is with faith in others.
Having faith in others helps you stay humble. “Others” could be defined as anyone who gives you support and honesty. Lean on those who can give you a listening ear, an honest word, and a big hug when you want to quit. Locking yourself into your classroom and trying to do it all will quickly lead to a mental and emotional breakdown. Get out there and ask for help! Seek wisdom while reflecting on lessons and classroom management. Even if your teaching peers seem standoffish and unhelpful, bring in a Starbucks to a teammate, sit on a desk, and just start talking. Talking it out helps you have faith and power to deal with the unknown.
What is “the unknown?” It’s like the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size) the Smoke Monster, or the Demogorgon. All three evil beings are lurking out there, and it takes faith in their somewhat unknown existence to flesh them out. You can’t beat a monster until you fight the monster. But believe it’s out there to proactively combat it. Here is the list of the “unknowns” you should be ready for:
- Lack of administrative support. Yes, your principal will look and sound amazing in your interview. You may even have high standards about which school to sign up with based on your relationship with the administrators. Your principal will be intelligent, funny, and supportive the first month of school. Then the real world issues will start eroding the utopic “back to school” environment, and the real personalities will come out. Usually the administrators are still intelligent, funny, and supportive. BUT beware that sometimes they are not. There are so many factors for this perspective. It could be a bad day. It could be that you have different personality and communication styles. Just know that you can overcome concerns with administrators by not letting it define you. Remember that they are people, too, who have to follow even more policies and procedures than you, and find a way to talk it out.
- Lack of parent support. Yes, the parents will love you on “Meet the Teacher” night. They will shower you with compliments and questions, asking for your advice and support. Then their son or daughter has an issue at school, and the parents disagree with your decision with how to deal with the problem. There may be a heated confrontation via a call, email, or conference. First, listen. Don’t argue or even talk. Listen with your heart and mind. Secondly, absorb where the parent is coming from. Are they really screaming at you about an assignment, or is there something else going on? Listen for the subtle hints. Third, respond with respect but be firm in your decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask for peer or principal support in meetings. It doesn’t make you less of a teacher but shows your wisdom in seeking support in mediation. If parents continually harass or bully you, then have all communication go through administration. Unfortunately, these people exist. Know that it’s not personal, but be ready so you can stand firm in your decisions to deal with them.
- Lack of student support. From my expertise and length in this profession, I can state without a shadow of a doubt that this is *the* unknown monster that most frequently drive teachers away from education. We all have the vision of 30 happy children who are productive and positive in the classroom. Then one year you get a student whom no one can reach. And that will be the year that will test you not only as a teacher, but as a human being. There are children with severe emotional and behavioral issues who are frequently immersed into the general education classrooms, and no amount of structure, classroom management, behavioral coaching, discipline, etc. can help them maintain a “normal” interaction with a general education class. I feel for these children and their parents, I do. I know it’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s time to speak up about this issue. When these overly distraught children are hurting other children, punching and kicking teachers, and destroying classrooms, why are they continually forced back into these settings? New teachers have to be ready for these children to emerge. They will, and be ready to speak up. Document every time you are hurt. Go to the principal *in person* every time an incident occurs. Arizona State Law 15-841 states, “A teacher may remove a pupil from the classroom if either of the following conditions exists: 1. The teacher has documented that the pupil has repeatedly interfered with the teacher’s ability to communicate effectively with the other pupils in the classroom or with the ability of the other pupils to learn. 2. The teacher has determined that the pupil’s behavior is so unruly, disruptive or abusive that it seriously interferes with the teacher’s ability to communicate effectively with the other pupils in the classroom or with the ability of the other pupils to learn.” You can ask for a child to be removed from your classroom. When students show a lack of support for you, their teacher, then you need to stand up for yourself. Don’t be the martyr. The only way to help this child is to help yourself.
I applaud the effort and dedication of all the new teachers, especially the ones in Arizona. You have joined a profession that is needing a lot of support. We can only survive if we have teachers who… STAY. And teachers who have faith, trust, and some pixie dust.