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Helping New Teachers Through Their Hardest Days

Roxanna Elden

During my first year of teaching, I would never have written an Education Week post about the first year of teaching. Especially not in October.

For one thing, I wouldn't have had time. My first set of report card grades was rapidly approaching and I was behind on grading. There was a long list of parents I needed to call. Meanwhile, I was barely clinging to the treadmill of preparing the next day's lesson. Every day I stayed at school later and got less done, slowed by exhaustion, pumped back up by panic. I knew if the kids got confused or bored, the class would get chaotic again, and I'd end the day the way I ended most days: Yelling.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was right in the middle of what the New Teacher Center calls The Disillusionment Phase. This is the time frame between mid-October and Thanksgiving when many beginners hit their low points.

Rookies with supportive administrators and high quality mentor teachers are the lucky ones. Yet this season is no picnic for mentors and administrators, either. In October and November, energy throughout a school is in short supply. It also doesn't help that one symptom of disillusionment is defensiveness. Well-meaning guidance can be rewarded with attitude, or a series of dejected uh-huh's.

This hesitation to open up is not personal.

For better or worse, there is no good way for struggling teachers to out themselves during the first year. Even meetings meant to support new teachers can feel competitive, with participants more eager to share success stories than confess mistakes. As a result, beginners spend lots of time comparing their unedited footage to other people's highlight reels, each secretly worried that they are the weak links.

By October of my first year, I, too, had learned to put a positive spin on any stories I shared. And yet, what I needed most was for someone to be straightforward about how tough teaching can be. Especially when you feel like the weak link. Especially when everyone around you is sharing success stories.

Rather than repeating that terrifying catchphrase about how the first year of teaching "makes you or breaks you," I needed someone to reassure me that the great teachers of the future know they are not great yet.

New teachers need to know that they can bounce back from their worst moments and still go on to become successful. And then, they need to know the next manageable step to being a better teacher tomorrow morning.

Roxana Elden made it through her first year of teaching and another 10 years after that. She attained National Board Certification and wrote See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, which has helped thousands of new teachers make the transition from training to the classroom. Most recently, she created the Disillusionment Power Pack, a free, one-month series of emails meant to help new teachers through their toughest days. You can sign up here to receive the emails.



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