Tag Archives: New Teachers

Don’t Be Fazed by the Phases

Studies examining  first year teachers have sadly shown that 35% of teachers leave the profession during that first year. By the end of the fifth year, 50% of teachers have left the field! (From Teachers Helping Teachers, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MA) For those of us who have made it beyond that fifth year, we know it never gets easy, but we’ve found ways to make it meaningful enough to stay and thrive.

In mentoring new teachers over the years, I’ve become familiar with these phases.

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Moir Model*

Now, this is not to scale, but a representation of the dips and rises in attitudes toward teaching that are predictable based upon the research of Ellen Moir*.  But I think many of us veteran teachers still experience these same fluctuations in our perspectives about the challenges and rewards of our profession.

Anticipation– For new teachers the excitement about finally getting our own class, being autonomous, taking all those years of study and getting to apply it is an almost giddy feeling, tinged with a little anxiety. For veteran teachers getting our rooms ready, looking forward to a new crop of students, remembering why we got into teaching in the first place are often hallmarks of this phase. We’ve had a chance to rest and rejuvenate so we can come to the year energized.

Survival- For new teachers, the reality of the complexities that couldn’t possibly be covered in college classes comes at us full force. We begin to compile a list of Why didn’t somebody teach me about this? concerns. We don’t have a toolkit of experience or resources to dip into as needed-we are often spending 70 hours or more on school work each week.  For veteran teachers, trying to balance the completion of assessments for dozens of students, building relationships and classroom community, and implementing a curriculum with new students is challenging. We quickly begin to notice which students are going to need more support and scramble to put those in place as early as possible.

Disillusionment-For new teachers, the long hours and stress begins to take its toll. Many of us begin to doubt our ability to do this job for the rest of our lives. Parent conferences and report cards add another layer of anxiety, especially when there are challenging students. Classroom management is a huge source of stress for new many teachers at this time-we feel like we can’t teach when we have to keep putting out fires. Many new teachers get sick during this phase. For veteran teachers it may not be disillusionment as much as discouragement. The shorter, colder days take it’s toll, balancing family holidays and commitments with work is a challenge. Our eating and exercise often falls by the wayside which can cause us to feel less well.

Rejuvenation– For new teachers, coming back from a winter break often gives us a fresh attitude. Surviving those disillusion months gives us a taste of positive growth mindset as we experience a sense of accomplishment. Our toolkits are beginning to have some resources that have been successful and we are feeling a part of the school community.  For veteran teachers, we know this is prime teaching time where routines have been established and some solid learning is happening. A few vacations thrown in breaks down our work into manageable chunks of time that don’t feel as overwhelming.

Reflection-For new teachers, we look back over the year and realize we made it. We are often asked to reflect on challenges and successes and really notice just how much we’ve accomplished. We think about what we wish we had known before, and appreciate that we know it moving forward. For veteran teachers, we are in the homestretch. We know how much our students have learned during the year and there is a tremendous sense of pride in working with these children. We know our time with them is coming to an end and in a bittersweet way, helps us to appreciate them more.

So What? Awareness of the predictable phases of teaching is not intended to scare or warn anyone about the challenges for teachers- we are already well aware. Rather, understanding the ups and downs as cycles that are somewhat universal can help us realize it’s normal not to be euphoric each day we step into the classroom. It’s normal to feel stress and it’s not just us experiencing it alone. We can reach out to one another to give and ask for support.

Don’t wait for new teachers to ask for help, check in with them and be a shoulder. Giving unsolicited advice may add to their sense of disillusionment as they question, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or worry, “She doesn’t think I’m competent.” A kind note, some chocolate, an invitation to go for a walk might be just what they need to get through a tough day.

Don’t assume veteran teachers are “all set”. Each year they have a new group of students with new challenges. Most are trying to balance work and home and suffer from guilt that they aren’t doing enough. Be there for each other. Sometimes when we are most stressed, doing something kind for someone else is the best prescription for what ails us.

Teaching is tough, but remember we are all in this together. It takes a village to raise a child-let’s make our villages as loving and supportive as we possibly can-whatever phase we are in.

*Moir, E. (1999). The stages of a teacher’s first year. In M. Scherer (Ed.),A better beginning:Supporting and mentoring new teachers, 19–23. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 9.12.02 AMThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

WOW! The way Ann Braden is able to weave the layers of complexity for her lead character, Zoey, into a compassionate debut novel has blown me away. Ann takes us into the lives of people struggling below the poverty level to help us understand it’s not as simple as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” to overcome the crushing challenges that prevent so many from making ends meet and getting ahead-challenges that most of us haven’t given a second thought in our own lives. Interlace the topic of our recent gun debate and how our initial convictions might be confronted by thoughtful and reasoned debate, and I think most readers will walk away from this book with a sense of enlightenment as well as enjoyment from a well told tale. A must-read (for mature readers as this deals with difficult subject matter).



7 +1 Steps for the Care and Feeding of New Teachers

I work in four elementary schools as a literacy/instructional coach, and every year we have new teachers (or new to the district). This year we have more new teachers than I can ever remember. Some come with years of experience from other districts, some from other careers, and some right out of college. Supporting them will require differentiation and that can only happen when we get to know them. In the first few weeks I am already able to appreciate the unique gifts each will bring to our schools.

New teachers get lots of advice, not all of it is relevant to their situation, but I won’t let that stop me from sharing what I have found to be helpful in working with new teachers the past ten years.  Here is what I would offer at this time to new teachers. And to those veteran teachers who work with them-think about how we can help in the “care and feeding” of our novice colleagues if/when they take this advice.

  1. Get a mentor.  This could be the one assigned by your school (if your school does this), but you can also find mentors you feel a personal connection with.  Having someone you can trust to go to with concerns will alleviate so much anxiety and help you to focus on what really matters more effectively. It also provides that colleague with opportunities for growth and reflection so it is truly a mutually beneficial arrangement.
  2. Ask for help.  Don’t try to figure out everything on your own-it’s just too hard. Your mentor, your colleagues, your administrator can answer questions that could consume too much of your time trying to solve-and even then you aren’t often sure if your assumptions or expectations are aligned with the school’s. You won’t look ignorant to others, you’ll look assertive and determined to do a good job.
  3. Build a PLN.  A Personal (or professional) Learning Network can be a group of colleagues locally or globally who collaborate to increase our knowledge and agency in teaching more effectively.  Book study groups, grade level teams, or writing groups at your school are examples, but I’ve expanded my PLN with social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to follow and connect with passionate educators, authors, and school leaders. It has been a game changer. Check out this list of Education Twitter Chats to connect with other educators and get tons of ideas and support. https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-calendar
  4. Don’t get sucked into Pinterest or TpT.  It’s easy to get lost browsing all of the amazing ideas, lessons, and classroom designs on Pinterest- and they can be inspiring.  Just be careful that it doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or always searching for that perfect idea-you need time to discover who YOU are as a teacher. Take some ideas and play with them, let your own pedagogy emerge through trial and error and reflection.  Your school probably has a curriculum you need to become familiar with before you start buying lessons from TpT (Teachers Pay Teachers). Just because it’s cute, standards based,  or on sale doesn’t mean it aligns with your school’s expectations.
  5. Build Relationships. You might feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do this year and feel like you don’t have time to socialize or make phone calls.  Success as a teacher is built upon the relationships we make with our students, their parents, and our colleagues.  Make those phone calls, send those texts, write those notes to parents before there is an issue. Let them know you are enjoying having their child in class. Mention something you notice about them, ask them what some of their favorite books, activities, or interests are.  You and the parents can become a team.  Get to know your students as children who have hopes and fears, and not just learners. One of my favorite sayings is “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”-Teddy Roosevelt. I have found this to be a truism and there is an incredible amount of research to show the importance of relationships for success in school. Remember, those students who are hardest to love need love the most. Genuine relationships are an investment that pays huge dividends.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  You will!  We all do. Everyday. Some are small and no one else notices, and some are doozies.  Mistakes do not equal failure, they are opportunities to learn and grow. Think about taking a test when you were in school-did you give a second thought to any of your right answers? If you are like me, you zoned in on the mistakes and did some deeper thinking to see where you went wrong. Life is like that-mistakes offer us the chance to reflect and grow. If you haven’t made any mistakes yet, you probably aren’t moving out of your comfort zone-and that’s no way to learn. “Don’t waste a good mistake, learn from it.”-Robert Kiyosaki.
  7. Seek joy.  If you aren’t enjoying what you do, your students won’t either.  Now I realize teaching isn’t a laugh-a-minute, but if you are stressed to the point of unhappiness you aren’t helping anyone.  We often get so busy doing things that we may miss noticing things.  Kids are amusing; they say and do quirky things.  Take time to appreciate that. Laugh at ourselves-hey, as I said before, we’ll make mistakes.  I’ll bet some of them are pretty amusing if you think about it. You don’t have to plan “Fun Fridays” to incorporate more joy into your classroom. If you are looking for ideas, Google “joy in the classroom” and you’ll find tons of inspiration. Learning should not be drudgery. We don’t want compliance from our students, we want engagement. If you find yourself saying/implying “We have to do this.” there is probably not much joy in it.  And then make sure you have time outside of the classroom to pursue your passions, play with your family, feed your soul. We only get one go around in this life-don’t waste it.  When you find harmony between work and play teaching can become a way of life-not a job to deal with.

+1 BONUS TIP- Write about it! -Again, I can appreciate that you are time strapped this year so I am not talking about writing a novel about your first year. What I am talking about is keeping a journal to capture snippets from this year.  You think you will remember everything—you won’t. Unfortunately what many teachers remember are the hard times, the mistakes, and the kids who got under their skin.  There is bountiful research to show that keeping a gratitude or joy journal boosts mental as well as physical health. Writing down questions, concerns, or thoughts frees up mental bandwidth so that you aren’t carrying it around 24/7. I’ll be sharing more about teachers as writers, but for now I invite you to take less than 5 minutes a day to jot down remembrances, wonderings, and joys from your day. Your 2nd year teacher self will thank you!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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Read! Read! Read! by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater illus by Ryan O’Rourke

I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for this book and I can’t tell you how much I love, love, love it!

Amy has penned a collection of poems to celebrate, inspire, and capture the joys and wonders of reading. I wanted to dive in and devour them all, and now I want to share them with students and give them time to savor each and every one.  Invite them to reflect on their own reading lives through the words of each poem. I definitely think this is a MUST HAVE for every elementary classroom. It is just that good!!


Helping New Teachers “Move In”

WelcomeSome schools are already back in session, here in Maine we have a few more weeks.  All across the country new teachers are walking into schools and taking their first baby steps into the most rewarding career/life I can think of.  In my district we nearly always have a dozen or so new hires each year and as a literacy coach, I try hard to help them feel comfortable and welcome before I ever begin to talk curriculum.

I’ve mentored many new teachers and as I watch them set up their classrooms, engage with the staff, and prepare to meet their students I am in awe of their enthusiasm, creativity, and courage.  We are so lucky when our schools are bestowed with this infusion of positive energy.  How can we best welcome them, support them, and embrace the gifts they bring to us?

I compare their arrival to helping someone move in to a new home.  We need to first remember they come with many, many things and may just need some help with the heavy lifting. They are probably pondering where to settle all the ‘stuff’ they brought along with them before they even think about acquiring more. They may not need 5 toasters (stacks of lesson plans, bulletin board ideas, teachers’ guides, etc.).  They may have more modern appliances than we have to offer (cutting edge lessons, digital tools, social media, etc.) They may not know what they need until they have a chance to unpack and organize. In our zest to be kind and supportive, we may not be helpful – if we don’t know what it is they need for help!   So the best thing we can do is…


Listening is one of the most generous acts we can offer others.  We are giving our attention and our time which conveys the message, “You are important.  I care about you.” We can introduce ourselves and then invite them to do the same.  A few questions/prompts that might start the conversation before the school year begins could include:

  • How is it going?
  • Welcome! What brought you here?
  • How was your summer?
  • What are you wondering about our school?
  • What are you most excited about? Nervous about?
  • What would you like to accomplish today?  This week? Before school starts?

As we listen, we can tune in to what it is that could be most helpful.  We can give them an opportunity to voice their thinking-this often leads to deeper thinking and even problem solving on their own. How often have we started talking about something and found that just processing our thoughts has provided us with greater insights?

When we jump in too quickly to offer advice, give ideas, and fix problems we can easily intimidate new teachers.  We all have experienced doubt when venturing into new territory-“Am I up to this?” “Do I know what I’m doing?” “What if I’m not good enough?” When we listen to others and provide support that reflects our confidence in their ability-we are sending the message, “You’ve got this, and we are here for you whenever you need us.” Then we can roll up our sleeves and continue to listen as we help them unpack!

Once the school year begins…we can continue to listen.  We don’t need to rush to offer advice when they share their “failures”.  Letting them talk out these situations with someone they don’t feel is judging them, will again give them opportunities to learn and grow.  Invite them to reflect:

  • “What did you do?  How did that work?”
  • “What were you thinking?”
  • “What are you thinking now?”
  • “Is there anything you need?”

Encourage them to share their “successes”.  Too often we tend to perseverate on what didn’t go well and subsequently forget the dozens and dozens of things that DID work well. We want to encourage repetition of the positive. Success breeds success!

  • “What went well today?”
  • “Why do you think that worked so well?”
  • “What did you learn from that?”

Listening is easier one-on-one. It’s harder in the teachers’ room or in a staff meeting.  Well-intentioned (and sometimes not so well-intentioned) advice is often tossed out in large doses.  We can be mindful about how quickly we rush in to warn about, prevent, or fix issues for new staff.  We can invite them into the conversations and encourage them to share without judgement.


We can encourage them to listen to themselves! I like to give new teachers a journal.  I tell them, “You think you’ll never forget this first year…but so much of it you will. Make some time for yourself to write some of it down.”  Sure, writing captures memories, but there is a growing body of research on writing to learn and as a vehicle for discovery.  As we put our ideas down on paper we are thinking more deeply about them.  Which ideas are ‘important’ enough to write about?  How do we choose to frame that idea?  What am I thinking about as I write it?  We don’t need to write it as a narrative or a diary.  We can ‘doodle‘ our day much more easily to help us focus and think more creatively!  (I’ll talk more about the power of doodling in future blogs!)

Sure, there are MANY things we can do to welcome new teachers (chocolate being very HIGH on that list) but I strongly encourage each of us to start with the gift of listening.  After that the other gifts we offer will almost certainly be the right “size”!

What’s On My Book Radar?

I just finished one of our Maine Student Book Award (MSBA) nominees that I think kids are going to LOVE!  IMG_0041Jaleigh Johnson‘s Mark of the Dragonfly is a fantasy novel about a scrappy orphan (Piper) who saves a young girl (Anna) after she is injured in a meteor shower.  She discovers the girl has a dragonfly tatoo that signifies she is protected by the king.  However, the girl has no memory and they soon find they are being pursued by a man they call “the wolf”.  They escape by stowing away on a train and an adventurous journey begins. Wonderfully strong characters, imaginative settings, and a compelling plot make this a fun read!