Six Important Reasons NOT to Quit Teaching After Your First Year

When new teachers are honest they will admit that this is the biggest question that runs through their minds:

“Did I choose the wrong profession?”

which is often chased by a second:  

“Should I quit?”

If this is you, never fear.  You are not alone!  These questions reflect valid feelings that are a normal part of first year teaching.  By the time you get to late October, these feelings are almost unavoidable.  The overload of lesson preparation is coupled with Meet-the-Teacher night, your first observation, sickness, and compounded fatigue.  Fortunately, it’s also time for Homecoming!

During the first weekend of November, the university where I teach celebrated Homecoming.  Of all the participants who attended, I was bombarded by the first year teachers.  They were visibly exhausted, and greeted me with the comment, “I’m soooo tired, Dr. Clark-Goff!!!”  They were desperate for sleep, friends who could relate, and professor support.  At that very moment I could do little but give them a hug and a listening ear while reminding them of two essential tips that I want to share with you: 

  1. Keep in touch with each other.  Text, email, facetime, whatever works for you.  Going through your first year simultaneously with other first year teachers will help you know you experiences aren’t uncommon, you are not crazy, and you are never alone!
  2. Share your successes too.  It’s normal to share your struggles and ask for help, but it’s critical to take note of a success each day.  You need to say it and your new teacher colleagues need to hear it.  Some days your success may be super small, but I guarantee that you can find a success in every day.

None of these former students indicated that they were ready to pack it up and transition onto another career path, but they did echo a few of the comments I have read on Facebook groups for first year teachers.  Here are some common feelings I frequently see posted in these groups, and I wonder if you feel this way:

  • I am extremely overwhelmed and literally exhausted all the time.  Someone please tell me that this gets better!
  • I wonder if I chose the right profession.
  • Is this ever going to get better, or will it always be this challenging?
  • I’ve been floundering all year.
  • My students have learned nothing and I’m terrified of what their test scores may show.
  • I’m tired and frustrated.  Are my feelings about teaching normal?
  • I’m struggling with classroom management.  I’ve tried a host of approaches and I’m at a loss of what to do next.
  • My mentor is nice, but isn’t really providing the support I need.
  • I would do what I am supposed to do if someone would tell me what that is.
  • When I am observed, all I hear is what I’ve done wrong.  Maybe this isn’t the career for me.
  • I feel like I’m not doing the kids justice.  How am I going to survive this year if I am constantly in tears?
  • My feelings range from quitting to exhaustion to a desire to change the world.  Will I ever achieve the control, knowledge and pleasure in teaching that the more veteran teachers possess?  If so, how long will that take?

Do a few of these comments sound familiar?  You may relate to the majority of them.  The fact that first year teachers share such comments publicly shows that you are not alone. What you feel is real.  However, don’t get stuck in the difficulty of your reality.  Look for a positive in every day and document it by sharing it or recording it.  Successful first year teachers keep connected, and intentionally seek the positive in each day.

How can there be a positive when teaching is so incredibly difficult? What if you relate to the hopelessness expressed by these first year teachers?  Why give teaching another year?  Why go through this again?  There are plenty of less demanding jobs to be had.  So why not make your first year of teaching your last?  Let me give you a few quick reasons to think twice before giving up on teaching.

Six Reasons To NOT Give Up on Teaching After Your First Year

  1. Your best days in teaching are yet to come.  Do you remember what we said in “Five Honest Reasons New Teachers Need Support” about you not being able to learn it all before you got to your classroom?  The first year of teaching is really an extension of clinical teaching in terms of all you have to learn.  You are still a teacher in the making.  There are things you simply cannot learn until you are in charge of your own classroom and your own students.  Give yourself time to learn your craft, and permission to make mistakes. With any skill, you have to practice it for thousands of hours in order to master it.  Keep practicing!
  2. If you change professions, you are going to have to endure another first year all over again.  It may have different trials and tribulations, but you will still struggle because it is your first year in the job.  It’s easy to romanticize having someone else’s job.  Don’t buy the lie that the grass is greener on the other side.  Get gritty, dig deep, and grow in your knowledge and skills.  You were made for a purpose—your purpose—not someone else’s.
  3. It gets better!!!  As one of my former students said, “Your first year is going to be a tornado.  You have to learn to accept that this is going to happen and you have to ride it out, because next year you are going to be Pecos Bill!”  I’ve never met a teacher who said that the second year got harder. You refine your craft and eventually, there are more good days than bad ones.  With time, the bad days are few and far between. 
  4. You went into teaching for a reason.  You have a calling.  Piles of grading and office referrals may have caused you to lose sight of it, but you have one.  Take some time to reflect on the reason you started this journey of teaching in the first place.  Maybe you became a teacher because you wanted to make a difference. Perhaps you had an amazing teacher and you wanted to be that person for someone else.  Hold onto your reason, write it down, and read your reason…daily. 
  5. You have the power to improve your teaching.  You may have heard about folks being “born to teach.”  Though teaching is a skill that comes more naturally for some than others, teaching is a learned behavior.  There are many ways you can improve your teaching, develop your classroom management skills, and take steps to grow into effectiveness.  Take time to reflect on and evaluate your own teaching.  Seek out the most effective teachers on your campus and during your conference period, to watch them teach.  Ask them to come observe you and coach you on how you can improve.  By taking initiative, you have power.
  6. You’ve had plenty of tough times, but few of the good ones.  The second is easier than the first—by far.  By the end of it you really feel like you have a solid grasp on your profession.  If you never teach for that second, you endure all the struggle but miss out on the accomplishment. You invested years in a college degree and certification.  Don’t get impatient now!  Commit yourself to two years before even thinking about a career change. 

My first year of teaching was tough.  I had to create my own curriculum and I genuinely struggled with classroom management.  When I was completely frustrated with students’ behavior, I would change the seating arrangement.  That happened a lot!  My Friday nights were spent at school preparing the next week’s lessons.  My evenings were spent preparing materials. I had one child who I held through many a seizure, and another who defiantly hid under her table.  But if I had given up on my calling after that first year, I would have forfeited a whole incredible career!  Don’t miss out on all the great experiences in education that are to come.  Growing into greatness requires more than one school year.

Admittedly, life is too short to spend a career doing something you hate.  I wouldn’t want you to continue in the teaching profession if you don’t really love your students and feel like you are making a difference.  Yet when you are physically exhausted and emotionally depleted at the end of your first year of teaching is not the time to make a career change.  I encourage you to not even entertain the consideration of resigning until you have completed two full years of teaching. 

The veteran teachers I saw at homecoming today have taught long enough to feel the confidence bred by experience and success.  They are established and content. That achievement comes with time and effort.  It really does get better!  In the meantime, make connections with strong, positive veteran teachers and other beginning teachers.  Associate with and observe the very best teachers in your school.  Also, whether it is first year teachers with whom you took college coursework, or other first year teachers in your district, reach out to other new teachers.  The veterans and the newbies both need you just like you need them.

Resign?  Leave teaching?  Quit after your first year?  Becoming a teacher is no mistake; it’s a calling. Leaving too soon:  That would be a tragedy.

Kylah Clark-Goff, Ph.D.

“When someone asks why anyone would ever become a teacher, remind them why it’s worth it.  Every job has its ups and downs, but not every job can change a life.”

5 Candid Reasons New Teachers Need Support – and Why It’s Time to Talk About It

After a decade of teaching university students how to be teachers, I’ve come to a daunting realization.  Pre-service teacher graduates are simply not fully equipped to be classroom teachers.  They are mid-process.  Traditional educator preparation retains the final semester of their college career for a teaching internship called clinical teaching.  This is the culmination of years of preparation and is designed to be the time that theory meets practice and pre-service teachers hone their skills before they graduate and get their own classroom.

Passing certification exams and completing a semester of clinical teaching finalizes the educator preparation process.  Yet what I’m recognizing is that this “finish line” is actually a new “starting line” in the process of learning and support.

I’ve only done part of the job if teaching my students ends when they walk out of my classroom and across the stage at their college graduation.  Developing educators are most ready for what I have to teach them when they walk into their own classroom and enter the teaching profession.  That is when they really need me.  And with this blog, I’ll be able to be there.

My story

I absolutely love teaching; it’s a natural fit.  I never seriously considered doing anything else.  I had the advantage of acquiring teaching skills by watching my mom, a classroom teacher of 20+ years.  When helping with bulletin boards in the summer, I experienced the initiation into the profession by stapling through my finger before I ever had my own classroom.  I inherited teacher vests with apples and ABCs appliqued on them.  How could I not be a great teacher?

I attended an excellent private liberal arts university with an impressive educator preparation program.  I had lots of field experiences in a variety of classrooms and contexts.  My clinical teaching placements were in both public and private schools.  I taught letter sounds to kindergarteners, and Hank the Cowdog in fourth graders.  By the time I crossed the stage at graduation, a principal had taken a chance on me.  Knowing that I grew up in a teacher’s household and the quality of my educator preparation program, he hired me to teach kindergarten. 

The opening moments of my first day of teaching are etched permanently in my mind.  Upon the last parent exiting the room, I closed my classroom door and faced 25 kindergarteners, and not one great thing my professors had said came to mind.  All I could think was, “What in the world do I do now?” 

Do you remember that moment?  The terror, the excitement, the heavy sense of responsibility?  Despite my experiences and credentials, nothing could have prepared me fully for what I had never faced until that moment.  For the first time, I was completely responsible for a room full of students—their safety—their educational development—and every other tagged on task that came with the title “teacher”.  That is the moment when it all got very, very real.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!!  My professors weren’t there, nor were my classmates, supervising teachers, or even my amazing mom. 

As a new teacher, do you ever feel that way?  Do you feel like you’re on your own; it’s you and them in a classroom, you are at a loss, and you ought to know what you are doing without asking everyone for help? As fun and creative as teaching can be, the responsibility of educating children is too big and heavy of a task to do without support.  All those things you learned in college seem a like a lifetime ago.  So where do you go for help?  Where do you get fresh ideas?  Where do you find encouragement?  I hope you will use this website as a valued resource and share it with friends.  I hope you will contact me and tell me what you are going through so that I can provide relevant feedback and support.

Why do new teachers need support?

  1. They don’t feel prepared for the task at hand.  I recently listened to Texas’ Commissioner of Education and representatives of the Texas Education Agency at a conference. They confirmed what I see in my job as a university professor who teaches pre-service teachers how to teach:  there is a desperate need for increased support for new teachers. We can’t expect beginning teachers to do this alone!  The commissioner reported that 2016-2017 data shows unequivocally that a significant majority of first year teachers believed that their teacher education programs did not prepare them to be successful for their first year of teaching. 
  2. There is disparity between the preparation and the practice.  There is a tremendous gap between the traditional educator preparation program (or alternative certification experience) and the responsibility of being a classroom teacher.  That gap was what hit me when I closed the door and faced those 25 kindergarteners.  It’s a harsh reality check that every first year teacher encounters head on when there is no one there to own the responsibility of the situation.  No supervising teacher.  No professor.  No one.  Just you.
  3. The point of readiness is after the preparation.  Whereas my college students need to learn what I am teaching them about pedagogy, their greatest recognition of their need, their point of readiness to learn, is not until they have their own classroom.  Their time with me is too early for them to fully internalize what I teach.  Why?  They cannot wholly grasp or appreciate what I teach because they live in a student environment with a student mindset.  They are focused on the homecoming float and an exam in their history class. 
  4. Dual credit does future teachers no favors.  Students who would have entered college as freshmen a few years ago can now enter college as sophomores or juniors.  Instead of having a couple of years to mature, they come into upper level coursework and responsibilities on the first day of their university experience.  They were sitting in a high school class three months prior to admission to an educator preparation program and are expected to shift their mindset to that of a teacher. 
  5. There’s no way to simulate being a new teacher. Unfortunately, we are unable to replicate the first year of teaching.  Subsequently, clinical teachers are limited by the lack of opportunity to apply the newly learned information.   At most, they retain complete responsibility for the teaching aspect of the classroom for a week or two during clinical teaching.  It is a big step to be tasked with completely planning and implementing lessons, and grading assignments.  Yet, these are some of the more straightforward aspects of the job.  The struggle often lies in the ambiguity, weight, or the unrelenting pressure of the “other jobs as assigned”.  There is a much bigger picture for which clinical teachers have not held responsibility.  They have not faced the sizable and critical task of establishing the procedures and routines of the classroom.   They have not had sole responsibility for the RTI referrals, building classroom climate, or implementing IEPs and 504s.  Clinical teachers do not carry responsibility for benchmark and standardized test scores.  The buck never stops with the clinical teacher when it comes to appeasing the parent of that extremely high-need child or finding a way to connect with the beginner ELL. 

It’s only the classroom teacher who holds the responsibility of fulfilling the bus duty requirement, filing the CPS report, gathering data on benchmarks and disaggregating that data into a useful format and plan for individual student development based on that data.  Limited responsibility as a clinical teacher means that when that clinical teacher finally has their own classroom, there are a host of things for which they will be responsible that they have never before had to juggle. 

Why is it important to address the struggles faced by beginning teachers?  Supporting new teachers is one of the key ways to facilitate a new teacher’s ability to improve their skills more quickly so that they experience a greater degree of success and are more likely to persevere in teaching.

Our teachers:  You are incredibly important and valuable to our children and our communities.  Society needs you, our new teachers!  You often have more energy, enthusiasm, willingness to try new things, ability to change, and technological savvy than veteran teachers.  Your perseverance in the classrooms of America is critical!  Giving up, checking out, and moving on may sound like your best option, but please don’t.  Give yourself a second year.  If you give up too soon, you will miss out on an amazing career; and a whole lot of kids will miss out on someone who grows into a fabulous educator. 

Our children:   When novice teachers receive support and develop teaching skills at a quicker pace, student achievement is strengthened.  All of our children deserve great educators, but becoming and effective teacher is a process.  To keep qualified candidates in our classrooms, educator preparation programs, school districts, and states must ramp up the support provided to first year teachers, thereby improving new teacher retention and effectiveness.  That is what you will find here:  support, encouragement, advice, and research-based best practice put in terms and contexts that are meaningful, useful, and applicable to your classroom today. 

Our country:  Honestly, we are at too critical of a juncture in education in the United States to permit new teacher attrition to continue at such an alarming rate.  Recent numbers show that 44% of new teachers leave teaching in their first 5 years.  (Will,2018)  The lack of perseverance within the teaching profession is yielding an acute teacher shortage.  While improvement in working conditions and increases in pay are essential, a third dimension lurks below the surface.  There is an urgent need for professors to improve education in a practical way on a daily basis in the classrooms across America by translating educational research in an accessible, relevant way to teachers in the field. First year teachers need reminders of instruction they received in college coursework because that content has finally become relevant and even critical. 

Point of readiness

When attrition among teachers looms at the current rate and you dread Sunday night because Monday morning is coming, is this website going to make a difference to a teacher?  I think so.  Because there is a point of readiness among new and first year teachers that gives you the desire to learn and grow like never before.  You are at the ideal point of readiness to take on learning that might not have been relevant to you before.  You are in a situation in which you can apply this information and grow into a substantially stronger teacher daily. 

You may have been in one of my classes, or you may never have even heard of me, but I have that same point of readiness.  I’m ready too.  I’m ready to hear from you and help you unlock keys to teaching that will empower and equip you to be effective in your own classroom.   We are strong professionals who have an incredibly challenging task and this is a place we can meet so that you not only survive but thrive in your classroom!

Kylah Clark-Goff