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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!