New Teacher and (Seasoned) Teacher Development…

I hate when people say “old teacher,” and “senior teacher” is just a little better — I definitely prefer “seasoned teacher,” personally — but also know that it can all be a matter of semantics to some. I like to look at myself as being reflective — and also highly critical of the way that I’ve done things throughout the years. I was recently looking back at a list of my classroom rules from my first year of teaching — wow is about all I can say!

I definitely went in with a do it to them before they do it to you mentality, and while I felt I had to be that stern disciplinarian then, I have since found other ways to achieve the same goals. I listened intently to those seasoned teachers whom I trusted and soaked in everything I could. Honestly, I can’t say as I agreed with everything that was said — but I knew that there had to be some truth to much of it and that I just had to figure out how to make it work for me. I was so fortunate to work with some incredibly gifted and dedicated individuals who took it as a responsibility to pass on their knowledge to us new guys.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that I had a lot of ideas, that I had a ton of things I knew I wanted to do in my classroom. I talked about these things incessantly with my mentor and I could always tell when I was headed in the wrong direction — her chuckle let me know this loud and clear. Thankfully, I typically listened, but there were times when I was too hard-headed to do so. And she may as well have been standing at my door telling me I told ya so, Lenzi as I fell on my face. But I like to think that I learned through the process.

Greensburg Salem has created an environment in which we are encouraged to take chances, that it’s okay to try something and fail. We’re also encouraged to continually reflect upon what we’re doing. What worked? What didn’t? Why didn’t this work this year when it was a success last year? Was it the group of students? Was it my presentation? Was the lesson sound in its structure? All of these things go through my mind on a daily basis as I critique what I’ve done.

Contrary to what some people would tell you, especially those who are continually attacking teachers, I feel that the vast majority of us actually do this on a daily basis. We want to get better and we would love to be recognized for it. I’m not talking about awards — honestly, I don’t care one bit about an award — I’m talking about a thank you from a parent or an administrator or a peer. That’s the one area I find to be lacking the most in our industry, a genuine thank you. We don’t get a turkey or a Christmas Bonus, but man, a well-placed thank you or great work on (insert one of the many great things you’ve done and weren’t recognized for here) can be worth a million bucks.

And all of this brings me back to the original point of this post. How in the world do we get from being that new, fresh teacher to that seasoned teacher? How do we figure out how to get through the hard times and the heartbreaks and the setbacks in order to continue on? I’m sure you’ve seen or heard the statistics — new teachers are dropping like flies. It’s unbelievably difficult to retain the best and the brightest — but why?

We’re told that Teach for America is a way to go — and I have no gripes with those looking to go that route, in fact I applaud you — but I just can’t believe in that model (if you didn’t get the chance to see my original post dealing with TFA, you can check it out here). I refuse to believe that six weeks is enough training to turn somebody in to an effective teacher. I had years of training and a semester’s worth of student teaching (not required for TFA) and I can assure you that I thought I was ready — and yes, that word is in italics for a reason. I was nowhere near ready. I can’t begin to explain to you how many times I went home from a day of school ready to find a new line of work. Heck, I had tended bar and made a lot more money and never had these kinds of headaches.

I can assure you that I didn’t make it through because of the New Teacher Induction Program or because of some magic potion Administration sprinkled upon us. Looking at it honestly, I think I probably survived for two reasons — my refusal to give up on it due to how embarrassed I knew I would be and the group of friends I made who also were new and who also were facing the same difficulties. It didn’t take too many Friday afternoon social situations to realize that we were all going through the same thing. And that means so much — to know that you’re on an island, but that there are others with you on that island? well, that can make all of the difference in the world. (Incidentally, I came in with a great group of karaoke singers – the patrons of Bella Luna can certainly attest to this…)

This morning I got an email from Erika Phyall, who works for the USC Rossier School of Education. Honestly, I almost deleted it — it looked like many spam emails I’ve been getting lately dealing with this or that (I swear our school email accounts were sold…). I’m glad I didn’t, though. Erika read my post dealing with TFA and it interested her, as they are also working to figure out how to retain new teachers. This is truly a serious problem, as evidenced by the graphic below:


I applaud USC Rossier for creating this — it’s easy to read and digest. It provides a ton of information, but it’s understandable at the same time. Perhaps what I like about it the most is that it not only addresses the problem, but also provides possible solutions.

Governor Tom Corbett has ensured that the idea of throwing money at the field of education certainly isn’t going to happen in Pennsylvania, so this eliminates some of the solutions. However, I truly believe that we need to focus our efforts on areas that were addressed in the graphic — specifically through: face time with administrators, mentoring, time to collaborate with colleagues, ongoing new teacher seminars and beginning teacher networks. I agree with each and every one of these ideas.

At the same time, I feel that we need to make sure that this training is effective. I can’t tell you how many professional development sessions I’ve sat through thinking we paid money for this?  Oftentimes we need to realize that we are our best asset — that we have the knowledge amongst us to truly help each other the most. Other times that may come from the outside. All too often, though, what has served as professional development is a complete waste of time and money. We need to make sure that we are planning these sessions with as much care as we would on our own for our students.

We need to trust our teachers in their professional development responsibilities just as we do in the classroom. We need to expect as much from ourselves in our mentoring and leading as we wanted when we were in the newbie’s shoes. We need to set the standard high and make it very clear that we will all fall back at times — but that we will support each other as we all climb back toward that goal. We need to think outside of the proverbial box and not be afraid to take chances or make fools of ourselves. But then we need to take a look at what we’ve done and ask those questions again: What worked? What didn’t? Why didn’t this work this year when it was a success last year? Was it the group of students? Was it my presentation? Was the lesson sound in its structure?

Forty-six percent of all new teachers are leaving within the first five years of entering this profession. Think about that — let that number sink in. It’s appalling, actually. We all must take responsibility in bringing that number down.

And we can all do better…


(Incidentally, click on that graphic — it’ll take you to USC Rossier’s blog — definitely some good stuff going on there…)

Where does an educator go from here?

I am fully aware that there is a bullseye on my back. As a teacher, this has certainly been the case for quite some time, but never has this been more obvious than in the past year or so. I’m not really sure when the anti-teacher sentiment truly got rolling — I honestly don’t remember this type of vitriol when I was growing up. But I’m not looking to turn this into one of those I walked two miles to school, uphill, every day stories.  (In actuality, it was about a mile and a quarter, and only uphill on the way there…)

Make no mistake about it — this is a critical time in the lives of ALL teachers. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or South Dakota — it’s a critical time. Respect for what we do is at an all time low and people are quick to jump all over the system at the same time. I’ve heard all of the criticisms and I’ve shared my thoughts about many. But when you really take a step back and take a look at what is being proposed, I hope that you’re as appalled as I am.

This morning I learned more about the current reforms that are being proposed to alter the way education is “done” in Pennsylvania. Included are the following: no more carrying over of sick days, one pay scale that is based upon a bachelor’s degree only (so you will not earn more for having a Master’s or Doctoral degree), no bereavement leave, no sabbatical time, no tenure, and school nurses will no longer be required to be a Certified School Nurse. These are just a few of the things that are hidden in the current bill that’s working its way through the Pennsylvania Legislature — changes I might add that have not been out in the open for the public to see. So much for a need for transparency, I guess.

In addition, our school board conducted its discussion meeting last night and, as can be expected, had to discuss some very grim topics. An article detailing last night’s meeting can be found here. Simply put, this is definitely not a time that I envy the role of a school board member or an administrator who is in charge of trying to figure out what to do when the state suddenly feels that you are less worthy than you were last year — to the tune of $1.6 million less worthy. Making the decisions to cut programs that benefit students and whether or not to furlough teachers in these economic times cannot possibly be an easy one for anybody involved. We will all be asked to do more with less — and I realize that, but we have to be fair in how we make these cuts and changes as well.

What can’t be lost in all of these tough decisions is that we have to keep the most important factor in the forefront of our minds when we make these decisions: our students. We must all work together to ensure that everything is done to protect the educational experience that our students have come to (rightly) expect. We must understand that elective courses like Digital Communications and Basic Design and Chorus and Calculus and Yearbook are vital to our students’ educational experience. Life isn’t only about English and Algebra and French and Biology.

Lost in all of these decisions is the fact that the United States continues to fall behind in worldwide rankings of student performance. Do we truly believe that cutting funding is going to change this? I’m all for being fiscally responsible, but this slash and burn technique that so many feel is the way to go is not going to dig us out of any holes. Again, we must keep our students in mind when making decisions, and quite frankly, I don’t feel as though they’ve been in the forefront of the political agendas that have been playing out in the past year.

Reform in the field of education needs to happen — badly. This kind of politically based reform, however, is appalling and it should be appalling to every citizen in our country. Decisions are being made for all of the wrong reasons, and this needs to change — it’s irresponsible at best and it needs to change. I truly wonder if the people of Wisconsin would take back their vote for Governor Walker if they truly knew his intentions. The same goes for Governor Corbett in Pennsylvania. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if there are recalls in the works or how the next election goes.

In many cases, I find that song lyrics can sum up what’s going on in the world — this case is no different. In the words of Depeche Mode’s (more specifically Martin Gore’s) New Dress:

You can’t change the world

But you can change the facts

And when you change the facts

You change points of view

If you change points of view

You may change a vote

And when you change a vote

You may change the world…