This is my final installment of my discussion with first-year teachers at my school, Rouse High School in Leander, Texas. 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 present a summary of their answers to my fifth question.
What can your coworkers, administration, school, and community do to help you want to stay a teacher and keep becoming a better teacher?
The answers to this question were overwhelmingly positive, with almost every teacher saying they felt supported by their fellow teachers and administration. However, they also pointed out some serious issues that need to be addressed if we hope to retain these new teachers.
One teacher said that in order to stay, she would need to teach classes in the area that she was knowledgeable in. She was teaching some classes that were not in line with her background, and she expressed a feeling of unease about it. “It makes me feel insecure every single day," she said, "because If a kid asks me something, it’s not like I can be knowledgeable and share what I know about that, but I have to say, ‘I don’t know, but I can look that up for you.’ Letting me teach some things that I have some sort of background in…I think that that’s the main thing.“
Many of the teachers said they felt very well supported by the Rouse community, but one teacher brought up an issue with the idea of having a mentor. “I do have a mentor, and I know all first-years do, but a lot of times our mentors are so busy. She’s involved in a ton of other things. She has been there for me, but she has her own thing going on. So maybe even providing other specific teachers that we can go to, instead of just our one mentor…I feel bad going to her every single time. Having teachers on campus that we can go to would be really helpful.”
Teachers also mentioned higher pay, smaller classes, and more relevant curriculum as things that would encourage them to stay in the field. Overall, though, it seemed that one simple thing had the biggest impact on all of these individuals. Feeling supported as an educator and as a professional was the one factor that had influenced them the most. One teacher described how the administration had supported him, “The [assistant principal] said, ‘Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to fail.’ They welcomed you taking risks, and they weren’t there for…that moment like, ‘You messed up’…to call you out on it. I thought that relieved a lot of pressure on me, where I didn’t feel somebody micromanaging me. Just the idea of letting the teacher explore and learn through their teaching, but also being supported.”
One teacher pointed out that simply a few words of positive encouragement would go a long way in helping her stay up to the task of teaching. Speaking about some of the feedback that she had received that year, she said, “I think recognition, too. I think throughout the year, I’ve gotten way more negative feedback than I have positive feedback, and that wears on me. Hearing positive things from faculty and other students. First year teachers really appreciate that, because it’s kind of a struggle to keep coming back every day. Encouragement and general support is a really great thing.”
Taking on the challenge of becoming a teacher takes a lot of courage, and a willingness to adapt to any situation. The teachers that I talked to were undoubtedly rising to this challenge, but a few things could have made their experience easier. For one, teacher certification programs need to improve if we are to expect teachers to become experts in their field and not leave the profession out of frustration. The number of teachers who said that they did not receive training in lesson writing or student accommodations was, to be honest, astounding. Without a solid foundation in these areas, it is hard to imagine that a teacher would have the skills they need to survive in today’s educational climate. Secondly, issues such as low pay, large classes, and out-of-touch curriculum have not gone away, but are still just as prevalent as they have always been. Last, and perhaps most promising, is the realization that one of the things that has the biggest impact on teachers is also one of the easiest to implement. Encouraging words like, “Good job!” and “We support you,” can go a long way in making a teacher feel like all their time and hard-work has been well-spent. As their peers and mentors, we should keep this in mind as we start a new year, and strive to help these new educators build a rewarding career alongside us.