December 23, 2007

Be Not Deceived?

I am not sure of the exact statistic, and I am sure its different for different areas, but I’ve heard that a large number of new teachers quit the profession before applying for their clear credential after five years on the job. While I’m not surprised that some people don’t figure out that teaching is not for them until after they have spent time in the classroom actually teaching, I am concerned for the well-being of our students and I do not want quality teachers prematurely leaving the profession.

A handful of my university students were hired as teachers at my high school campus this year. Two have full-time contracts, one picked up a single semester, another a long-term sub, and one more was hired as an assistant coach. I’ve been checking in periodically with them to see how things are going, what are their major obstacles, and if there is anything I can do to help. For the most part, everything has gone great for these bright young warriors, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

I am always surprised at how new teachers are often given a raw deal when it comes to the schedule of classes they teach, or the length of contract they are offered. My first year at this high school I was given four different English preps. Ouch. But I muddled through as most new teachers do. New teachers will often accept temporary contracts for single semesters or partial work days just so that they can get their foot in the door. A smart move to show administrators just how talented and ready a new teacher is for a full-time contract. But it can be frustrating for both teacher and administrator when a truly outstanding candidate lands one of these assignments without somewhere else to be placed next when the abbreviated contract expires. This is the puzzle that one of my former students and our administrator are now deciphering. Two weeks after we return from winter break a wonderfully talented and able teacher will be released from our staff if the principal cannot find an open second semester teaching assignment to fill. Pity.

The long-term sub stepped into a messy situation. The contracted teacher took ill shortly after the start of the school year. A series of short-term subs then tried to take control of the classroom until the ill teacher’s diagnosis was confirmed. Then after nearly an entire quarter had passed, my former pupil stepped into the catastrophe and began the process of trying to set these students straight on course and bring some order and introduce some learning to what had yet to be a productive classroom. I’m pleased to report that after a diligent commitment to success the long-term substitute teacher has transcended his substitute title, righted his ship’s heading, and is currently experiencing outstanding success with a population of students who most veteran teachers would agree had been already lost at sea. No one knows for sure the length of the long-term assignment; but the longer the better for the kids now learning in that classroom.

Young teachers have to battle not just inexperience, but also their youth among the young. Some of the new younger teachers are struggling with inappropriate overtures from some of their immature students. Inappropriate comments or suggestions by any students toward a teacher of any age is simply unacceptable but especially from older teenaged males directed at younger adult female teachers in the classroom. Unfortunately, it seems like every exposed inappropriate teacher/student relationship gets national attention (and no inappropriate teacher/student relationship is ever acceptable exposed or private). The pressure this puts upon teachers entering the profession in their 20’s is creating and environment where some are becoming overly sensitive to any type of appropriate relationship with their students, and that will ultimately have a devastatingly negative result on their effectiveness as educators.

Without question the largest challenge for young teachers is overcoming the realty shock brought about by facing students in the classroom daily. It’s one thing to study, ponder, and discuss what it might be like to mold and shape the minds of tomorrow. It’s another thing to actually work 35 blobs of clay day after day, week after week. And if you teach middle or secondary the 35 blobs are multiplied by the number of times the bell rings. It can be frightening. Plus, no blob can be left behind so… It’s tough even for the hardened veterans. But of course children are not blobs of clay, they are instead eager young learners who are hungry to discover and improve their world. Right?

Wrong! The shiny appeal of a 2:30 dismissal 38 week schedule change-the-world crusade quickly dulls when the un-stimulated, under-prepared, unmotivated, unimpressed fill the seats of your castle of knowledge disbursement center. All the best lesson plans and scaffolded learning experiences can be quickly derailed by a smart aleck sophomore who asks the teacher out loud in class, “Is beer good for you?” How do you recover from that one? But recover we must and recover we will because we, the teachers, are often the last hope for young people who are struggling to find and make their way in the world.

Some students use their class work to communicate just how desperate they are for some positive human connection. While teachers are not therapist (and should never assume the role of any other professional) we do have the opportunity to refer students to those who can help them when we cannot. Kids often see their teachers as safe confidants they can trust when needed, even if the students do not always show the teachers the respect that all adults deserve. When some of the most challenging and distant youngsters find themselves in difficult times they will often turn to a teacher who once showed them kindness and compassion for help.

So be not deceived my fellow educators. Those little darlings are worth your best efforts and your long-term commitment.


  1. Hi there,

    I am one of these new-ish teachers you speak of. My first teaching job was taking over for my Master Teacher for one semester when she went out on maternity leave. After that I looked and looked for jobs. I even decided to move back home to L.A. from San Diego because, as everyone knows, L.A. is in need of teachers.

    In need of teachers? It was a bit challenging finding a job here. Odd right? You hear all the need for teachers but then you constantly are told, "We really would love someone like you on our staff. However, you just don't have the experience".

    As a matter of fact, my current job went just like that. I was second choice but the teacher who got the job pulled out last minute and so I got a call. I was in San Diego, the school in Los Angeles. The call came 4 days before the start of the year, over 4th of July weekend. I said "YES"! and proceeded to drive up to LA to find an apartment. Amazingly, I got the job, an affordable place 1.5 miles from work. I live in a funky cool neighborhood. My school is considered one of the better in L.A.'s still an urban city school with all the elements.

    On average apx. 8 kids per class fail. Absences are ridiculous and our discipline code on these things is simply not there. My first semester I had 2 preps and five classrooms. I moved room to room (luckily in the same hall) using the rooms of teachers who had a prep period that period.

    Oh, one more thing, I'm sorry this had gone on so long...As a new teacher at a year round school, we all seem to get placed on B track, which notoriously has the rougher kids, lower test scores, and a crappy schedule. New teachers tend to get the lower grades and Sheltered courses too. To top that off, a new high school is opening soon, taking some of our teachers and students. This is based on choice and then seniority. Seniority means most new teachers will get moved or displaced. And if that's not enough?

    New teachers have to do California's infamous BTSA program. I'm going into my 3rd year trying to finish it even though I'm already permanent at my school I'm not clear because of freaking BTSA~!

    (sigh...I ranted...) But truly, I do love teaching, I connect with my kids, I make a difference...if only I didn't have to grade so many papers!

  2. I'm nervous about this too. I moved to Southern CA from Philadelphia five years ago. I previously taught as an intern teacher there for two years in a rough elementary school. So, I can say that I'm pretty thick-skinned. However, I've slowed down a bit since and took an extended credentialing program (thanks to marriage and two kids).

    Therefore, I hope to avoid this statistic. However, I've heard about BTSA from teaching friends. Boy, oh boy, oh boy!

  3. As an experienced teacher with an as yet unused administrative credential, I say to you "newbies", "Please forgive us. We have done you a disservice."

    I find it abhorrent that we place our most vulnerable teachers in the most undesirable positions. It is not fair to the teachers, the students they teach nor the profession as a whole. I have pledged to myself and to my colleagues that I will never allow a 1st year teacher in my grade level/district to take a combination class nor will I dump my behavior problems on an overflow teacher hired late in the year.

    We as experienced teachers need to step up and nurture the future of our profession rather than selfishly standing by with our arms crossed over our chests in our "I've already done my time" posture. We need to take the difficult classes and assignments from 1st year teachers even if the administration doesn't ask and in some cases can't require it. What we refuse to do as educators might just say more about who we are than what we choose to do.

  4. Hey, I am one of those new teachers you mention and yes I will be part of the statistic ... it's 50% quit in the first five years. I cam from the corporate world, teaching is my second career.

    I love the teaching. It is very rewarding and yes it has its ups and downs - doesn't every profession? I also do an after school club, where I volunteer my time.

    But the lack of income, lack of resources, and sloppy administrative practices are pains I am tired of. In the classroom I am energized by the work I have to do in content and classroom management to keep the learning occurring, but I've had enough.

    check out my blog and web site if you want more info. cheers, steu

  5. Hi everyone,
    What makes a good teacher? It seems that Schools, universities and colleges have been struggling with this question for years and have continually experimented with new techniques, theories, and equipment in an effort to answer the question. For those of us who have been through one or two generations of students, the answer we know, is not in techniques, theories and equipment or in changes in curriculum, for many concepts used today are now a part of the system for the second time. Good teaching lies in the ability to reach students and motivate them to learn, good teachers are for the most part, born, not made. It is the teacher who is the key to good teaching. The young people who will be in that teacher’s care need the best educator possible. You simply cannot afford to hire the wrong people to teach your children.
    Experience has shown us that a teacher should "work with what you have not what your given". This is the advice I give to all new teachers.