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Third-Year Syndrome


I’ve been waiting to write an entry, because my brain feels kind of cloudy. I’m slow, and a little achy, and my head feels tight. It would be easy to tell you I must be getting sick, but I don’t think that’s it. I’m suffering from “teacher flu”. I am kind-of down.

I am asking myself what kind of teacher I am. Am I a good teacher? Usually I think so, but right now I’m not that sure. This past couple of weeks has been hard. I am struggling with classroom management. I know its normal that after a month or so of school the freshmen have lost their initial trepidation and are now eager to find out how far the rules bend. Students who are struggling know their grades are low, and they’ve found out that sometimes it’s easier to avoid work by causing trouble than to attempt something that’s difficult. The “good” students are frustrated by the disruptive students, and are losing their patience with their classmates. They’re losing patience with me, waiting for me to get my teacher act together. I feel like I’m doing the least I can do.

Administration is starting to deal with the problems and we hear a list of “don’t forgets” and “be vigilant”. Our positive intervention system doesn’t have any more “Pride Bucks” to give out and students are wondering where the reward is. I’m working ten-hour days at school, with two hours of work at home every night, and scheduling my weekends around the long lesson planning I need to do. I need more of something – time would help, but that’s not enough. I think I need some love.

I have third-year teacher syndrome. The first year, there are mentors and support programs with seminars and free materials. The second year the mentor follows-up, and you’re still new enough that you can ask questions and not feel ignorant. Last year, my second year, I completed my teacher certification program and received my master’s degree. I had classes, and workshops, and conversations with experienced teachers. I had confirmation.

Third year, that’s all gone. No more mentoring or new teacher training. It’s not just that I learned a lot from those programs. It’s an issue of positive encouragement. The first two years people were around all the time, telling me I was doing well, and offering suggestions for improvement.

I am whining, I know. I need someone to tell me I’m doing a good job, that the students are learning, and that I continue to improve. I guess all teachers feel this way sometime, as if we’re struggling alone. We all need validation.

Well, I know what to do. Polish off my rosy attitude and walk back into school tomorrow with expectations of high achievement - first from myself, and then from my students. If I need help, I’m going to ask for it. If I see another teacher doing a really great job, I’m going to compliment him on his effort and skill. I’ll watch him and learn from what he’s doing. Then maybe I can turn it around and face one of the new, first-year teachers, and share some experience and words of encouragement. I’ll give that new teacher some love. It’s the least I can do.


Hanne as a veteran teacher and mother of a son who went through Special Education, I would like to give you some encouragement. The job you do is very important. When I came across a good teacher, I thanked God for them. They were few and far between. Hang in there.

Keep chopping wood! You are effective because you are willing to reflect on how you do your job. keep pushing yourself and your students.

Hanne, one of the most exciting and challenging things about teaching is that you are always learning, too. This is also exhausting. I thought of the KWL charts when I read your post. Be proud of what you already know at this point in your teaching career, such as lesson planning which will get easier and faster with time. Ask those questions about what you want to learn. At the end of an exhausting day, ask yourself, what have I learned today? Then give yourself a small treat for all of it. Do give those other teachers compliments. I used to put notes in colleagues' mailboxes or send them an email when a student complimented them on something they had done in their class. Just as your students are wondering where the "pride bucks" are, teachers are wondering about that, too.

Hi, Hanne:

I am a veteran educational specialist and consultant. Your October slump is very typical. The energy with which we enter school in the fall is waning like the hours of sunlight in a day.

Unlike the people who say you can and should focus on what great contributions you make to society (unless that is truly enough for you), I'd ask you this: What contributions to your life does teaching make? Are you using your strengths of character? Your talents? Your natural abilities? Are you working in an environment which is consistent with your values? Does your work energize you? If instead negative emotion is typical, then something needs to be changed.

There are lots of options. You can recraft your work. Positive psychology research (I am a 2006 UPenn grad of the MAPP program)shows that workers who learn to reshape their job into a calling are happier, suffer less illness/missed days from work, and stay on the job nearly twice as long as people who are going to a job. You don't exactly need a new career to do this. My research partners and I have a pilot program in a mid-western independent boarding school that has successfully changed the way teachers think and feel about teaching. We also have a project in a large southern public school district which brings positive psychology to teachers there.

I am now located outside of Boston but formerly lived in both Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, so I am quite familiar with your education politics and policy woes in the Balto-Annap area.

Please feel free to contact me. No one should be miserable when there are empirically proven ways to broaden and build positive emotion and be happier and more fulfilled at work. :-) Sherri

For me, it was six years before I could raise my head up, look around and say, "I think I've gotten the hang of this." Six years of thinking, "I'm smart. I'm capable. I don't need to put up with this!" Six years of scary teacher dreams (The chalk won't make a mark on the board! The students walk right through me! The staff meetings begin with a dissection of my management weaknesses! etc.) Six years of giving myself pep talks to get out of bed after a long week-end or Christmas vacation!

But then the miracle began and I knew that I could handle Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. I knew I had enough to fall back on that I could try something interesting and risky. And I knew where to find a supportive network.

I wish I had known the last thing sooner. It's so important. For me it was the NYC Writing Project, for you there will be something, too. Some group of teachers who share your beliefs and are willing to share their work. Some colleagues who love your ideas when you give them and vent along with you when you need to whine. Sherri Fisher (above) seems to have found (or founded) such a group. Keep your ears and eyes open and you will find one too.

Joe Bellacero

Dear Hanne,
You have taken the words right out of my mouth. I also am a 3rd year teacher fresh out of an alternative certification program and I feel as if I'm doing worse now than when I was in my first year. All of my ideas seem stale, I am constantly tired (maybe because I'm typing this while still sitting at school at 5:40 on a Friday evening), and I have already exhausted about every search I can possibly do on Google to find interesting lesson plans. My intention to write was not to create a Pity Party for Two, but just to let you know that you are not alone. As they say, "misery loves company" so if you need someone to vent with (and if you have any innovative ideas on how to teach high school poetry in an engaging way!), then contact away!

Hi Hanne,
I taught both general education and special education. The hours are long, because you create and never accept less that your best. That is typical of beginning teachers and ideally of all teachers. Unfortunately, society does not realize what it takes. Prep time is limited at middle and high school and usually non existent at elementary school. The hours go beyond 40 hours a week and it is not uncommon to prep and grade papers in the evening which should be relaxing time and weekends. Will this change? It hasn't since I came into the field in 1969 and the expectations are greater of teacher's today. There are fewer teaching assistants and the field of special education shows students with a broader diversity of needs and not the $ to support the needed materials and resources. Foundations and U.S. government chooses to fund other countries needs, but not in our own backyard. Hmmmm.... Where are NEA or the state teacher's organizations? Teachers don't even get their fair share of social security in the state of Calif. and elsewhere. The government partially funds wonderful healthcare plans for postal workers in retirement, but not teachers. Teachers will be supported only when the shortage becomes critical. That was when nursing pay & conditions changed and got better than teachers. Children are worth it and so are the teachers who inspire and teach them! Good Luck!

Dear Ms. Hanne:

I am a pre-intern currently enrolled in the Elementary Education program at the University of North Florida. I am sending you a super, HUGE HUG and love from the sunshine state!

It is teachers such as yourself that inspired me to embark on a quest to teach. I have heard from some fellow classmates that the alternate route is very challenging. Yes, you are going to feel behind the times a little but you have something us newbies don't - life experience. The career woman that you were before entering education did not get as far as she did on a hope and prayer. I know you worked hard to accomplish your responsibilities and hard work is a life skill that students really need to grasp in today's world. This is something that sets you apart.

Another thing that I am learning is that we have to constantly try new things, new ideas, and use methods that have been researched. I want to recommend a book to you that was used in my recent Classroom Management & Communication course. The author is C.M. Charles and the title is Building Classroom Discipline. The book discusses various methods of classroom management including hierachy, rewards, no rewards, discipline v. behavior management. I know that you have a tone of books to read, papers to grade, and a life; however, this book has really helped so many of us pre-interns develop our philosophy of education and face our true self.

Also, here's another tip: You need to find out what your student's are doing on the weekends, programs they watch, cartoons, video games, etc. Link these things to learning. It will blow them away and they will think you are the coolest teacher on earth! One of the suggestions in the book is to hold weekly class meetings and invite the student's to weigh in on the lesson planning. Remember you are all learning, even though you are the Head Learner, children can teach us a thing or two also!

Best wishes to you and write me anytime you need a listening ear!

Dear Hanne:
I have to agree with "Annonymous" about the power of reflection/. When all else does not fall in line - in terms of what you predict and hope for in each class, you take time to reflect - and let others learn from your situation. As an administrator we have to set priorities about the kinds of support we give teachers, new and vintage... You have brought up a point that worries me about a PD direction that simply focuses on new teachers...Everyone needs supports through their career, administrators too. The trend to systematically focus attention on first and second year teachers seems to be misguided, and I sense not grounded in good practice - yet this is a growing trend? Your story put some real data out there that the "early fix" is not enough.

I am a retired everything that is teaching parttime in the local high school. Teachers need all the good comments that they can gather. I know how hard you work and I commend you. Your probably my cousin which would make it worse. Keep on keeping on...
I have a the family tree if you are interested. Remember, yard by yard it is hard, inch by inch it is a cinch. thanks....Joe in Texas

I can't believe what I just read - it sounds exactly what I am experiencing right now! I am a 27 year veteran
teacher who retired for 3 years before going back to teach 8th grade composition/grammar. I spend at least 3 hours EVERY night grading papers and searching the internet for "fun" ways to teach writing. I guess there are none. My retired husband is frustrated because of our lack of time together, but free health insurance, my retirement check, and my salary make it difficult to leave. Plus, I think I need the stimulation of sharing w/my peers to keep me sane. However,
I feel the same sense of ineffectiveness - not every day, but most. I believe the comments have really nailed the issue; no matter your experience, there is that underlying need for approval and validation. My principal is very good about encouraging, but she is extremely busy as our school is growing so quickly.

I think you will notice that the blue days will diminish as the years pass by; this year for me is much better than last. I am able to re-use lesson plans and projects, plus I have stopped being such a perfectionist.

Hang in there; you sound like a wonderful teacher who wants to do the best for her students. I'm sure they know deep down how much you care.

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Recent Comments

  • Darlene: I can't believe what I just read - it sounds read more
  • Joe Denney: I am a retired everything that is teaching parttime in read more
  • Barb Smith: Dear Hanne: I have to agree with "Annonymous" about the read more
  • Elizabeth: Dear Ms. Hanne: I am a pre-intern currently enrolled in read more
  • Marie Williams: Hi Hanne, I taught both general education and special education. read more




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