Phases of First Year Teaching
How to Navigate Ups and Downs as You Start Your Career
[Source: New Teacher’s Complete Sourcebook, K-4, p. 14]
Studies reveal that teachers typically experience ups and downs during their first year of teaching. The following table describes the phases that new teachers go through and offers strategies to help you navigate each one.
New teachers begin the school year full of excitement, certain that they are going to change the world. They are ready to put their hard-earned teaching credentials to use, making a difference in students' lives. They know that they will love all of their students and that that all of their students will love them. They have a vision of the ideal teacher as the first day of school draws near.
- Hold on to your vision of what you expect teaching to be. The key is to learn how to teach without losing your excitement and idealism.
- Begin building connections with positive teachers at your site, at other schools, or online - when things become overwhelming, you will already have supportive relationships in place.
- Start a notebook of "Ideas for Next Year." Throughout the school year, make notes of things you'd like to try or change, then revisit the notebook as you begin planning for next year.
The first month of school can be overwhelming. No matter how well prepared new teachers are, unexpected situations arise. They struggle with the day-to-day operations of the classroom and work countless hours each week. During this time, new teachers are on the hamster wheel, working as hard as they can, making it up as they go along, and running... until... they... finally... run.. down.
- Maintain your momentum by reflecting on what is going well.
- Talk to other teachers about specific ideas for lessons - why reinvent the wheel this year when others are willing to share the wisdom of their experiences? Use what others share THIS YEAR, and perfect it for yourself NEXT YEAR.
- Forge a solid connection with at least one teaching peer, if you haven't already done so. Establish a sharing relationship and spend time together doing "teacher things."
A combination of stress, exhaustion, illness, and overwhelming responsibilities can throw a new teacher right into the "pit of despair." The new teacher tends to focus on what they have not accomplished and what has gone wrong over the last several months. Report cards, parent-teacher conferences, and the dreaded first teacher evaluation are looming, bringing with them the realization that this is a never-ending job.
Classroom management issues can be discouraging. Self-esteem may be at an all-time low. During this phase, new teachers may begin to consider leaving the profession.
- Take heart! Getting through this phase will be one of the greatest challenges you face as a new teacher. Because it can last for approximately three months, you will need great persistence during this difficult time.
- Reach out to friends and family who may be feeling neglected. Let them know that while things are difficult right now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Ask for their continued support and patience.
- Reach out to your peers. All that relationship building with peers at the beginning of the year will now result in support when you need it the most.
- Ask for help or even just a shoulder to cry on. We've all been through this stage ourselves.
- Visit other classrooms and watch teachers work with their students to gain new ideas for managing your classroom. Another teacher may even be willing to come to your classroom and demonstrate a lesson or two. No matter how you go about connecting, just do it! New teachers who have a solid network make it... those who don't, usually don't make it.
- Keep journaling! It is important to find at least one good thing from every day. Remember that your teaching probably doesn't match your vision yet. It's ok. Success is a journey; give yourself time.
- Continue to identify baby steps that will lead you closer to your vision, and celebrate each achievement, no matter how small it may seem.
Teachers have survived the craziness of the holidays and had some time to relax with family and friends. They have made progress with classroom management and finally have time to do some planning and organizing for the rest of the school year. Spring is right around the corner, and the children are beginning to blossom right along with the flowers. It's apparent that the hard work is beginning to pay off!
- Focus on curriculum development and teaching strategies using your newfound confidence and energy.
- Try something new with your students and talk about the results with other teachers, even if it doesn't work out the way you had expected it to. Now that you have made it through the fire, you have valuable experience to share.
- Expand your professional circle of peers to include new and experienced teachers from other schools. Pooling ideas from multiple schools gives you many more resources.
- Go back and examine your vision of successful teaching. Bump up your action plan a notch.
There is a rhythm to the class now and student learning is actually evident. It isn't as exhausting to plan, prepare, or teach, so creativity is starting to flow. New teachers are able to spend more time talking to veteran teachers. Now they begin refining their teaching, keeping what works, changing what doesn't, looking toward next year. "Reflection" leads to "Anticipation" for the new year, a new opportunity to grow.
- Refer to your vision of the successful new teacher as you begin to think ahead. Determine what you accomplished sand where you need to continue refining your skills. Revise your vision if necessary.
- Actively seek out partnerships with other teachers as you begin to envision the possibilities that the next year holds. Select a teaching buddy who will plan with you and even observe and coach you during your quest for success.
- Go through your "Ideas for Next Year" notebook and pull out the best ideas. Set goals for next year and determine steps that will allow you to reach those goals.
- Have a special celebration with your students - you will never forget your first class!