Ask any teacher about his or her first year on the job, and you will hear words like “challenging,” “exciting,” and “rewarding.” The first few years of a teacher’s career can feel like a disorienting whirlwind of new experiences and intensive on-the-job training. Surviving these years is tough, but making it through them is what prepares teachers for the unpredictable array of responsibilities that await them.
Since the first few years are so formative for a teacher, I decided to talk to a few of the first-year teachers at my school, Rouse High School in Leander, Texas. I wanted to know if the experience of being a new teacher had changed since I was in their position, or if the main challenges were still the same. I also wanted to know what we could do to help make their experience a little better, since so many teachers leave within their first five years (almost 50 percent, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future).
The interviewed teachers represented a diverse group of professionals with a variety of backgrounds and interests. They were:
I asked each teacher the same five questions about their experiences. Their responses were varied, but common themes also started to arise as the teachers talked about what they had been through. In today's blog post, I'll present summaries of their answers to my first two questions.
Question 1: How has your first year been going so far?
This question can be summed up simply: It gets better.
When asked this question, teachers often said things like, “It’s been crazy,” or, “It’s been rough,” and, “There’s a lot of things I wasn’t expecting.” Many said they struggled to manage all the paperwork. One teacher said he stayed at work until 6 or 7 p.m. every night, and even went in on Sundays just to get far enough ahead for the next week.
Despite the long hours and unexpected challenges, the teachers were also resoundingly positive about their first year on the job. One said, “I like it a lot more than I thought I would.” Another said, “Every day is something new and I never head to work in the morning with a feeling of boredom or dreading to come.” Many teachers remarked on the improvements that they had made throughout the year, saying they had progressed in areas such as classroom management, lesson writing, and organizational skills. “Now I have a much better idea of what I’ll be able to do next year… how to handle certain situations, or deal with certain things,” one teacher explained.
Question 2: What is something that went well this year, or something that you are proud of yourself for accomplishing?
In response to this question, most teachers spoke about the positive relationships that they had built with their students. Some believed this happened because they were still close in age to their students, but after speaking with these teachers, I knew that it was also because they had a natural ability to connect with people. Building good relationships with their students is arguably the most important things a teacher can do, and it was encouraging to see that these teachers were having great success in this area.
Other teachers said they were proud of themselves for being willing to take risks with their curriculum. One teacher talked about incorporating project-based learning into his curriculum. “I don’t care what it takes. I’m going to do it," he said. "I want to do more project-based, more inquiry … I’m going to figure it out as I go.”
Many teachers spoke with passion about the curriculum and how it should be taught, which made me feel hopeful, because it was clear that these teachers were infusing new ideas into the curriculum and working hard to execute them.
Next week: What are some things you want to work on more, or learn more about for next year?